With West Virginia quarterback Marc Bulger sidelined for this game with a fractured index finger on his throwing hand, Navy will go to Morgantown knowing that the player who threw for 354 yards and two touchdowns in last year's 45-24 Mountaineers victory is not going to reprise that performance.
Still, nothing has come easy for Navy, which has suffered two tough losses in succession -- games it could have won.
West Virginia coach Don Nehlen said he's not worrying "so much about" Bulger's replacement, Brad Lewis.
"He's a big, strong kid who has a strong arm and is probably a little faster than Marc."
Navy, 1-3 after a 20-17 loss at Rice on Saturday, is taking nothing for granted.
"We have to assume that the new quarterback is just as good," said defensive end Gino Marchetti. "We're not going to play any different."
Bulger, who threw four interceptions in a 33-0 loss at Maryland on Sept. 18, was injured when he rammed the finger against a Syracuse player's helmet Saturday in a 30-7 defeat.
He is not expected back for three to four weeks.
"We're not going to change much," said Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie. "We've got a defensive scheme and we're going to run it."
The Mountaineers' offense hasn't been clicking behind Bulger. It has produced seven points in the last two games and last week was destroyed by six penalties, two lost fumbles and two interceptions.
No 'desperate situation'
Despite its disappointing start, Navy is not looking at this game as a crucial one in its 12-game schedule.
"We want to win every week, so everyone is aiming for this Saturday," said slotback Dre Britting- ham. "There will be no letdown or anything like that. The season is far from over and we're not getting down on ourselves."
"I don't take this as a desperate situation," Marchetti said. "I think of it as a need; we have to have a win to keep morale and spirit high.
"I look at it as similar to Boston College last year when we had a losing record and went there and pulled out a victory."
Weatherbie said Navy has to be much more efficient on third down. It converted only four of 12 such situations against Rice.
"We're really close to being a heck of a football team," he said. "We're at 33 percent converting third downs, and I'm sure it's at 45 percent or better for our opponents. We have to be better than that."
Variations a concern
Nehlen is concerned about the wrinkles Weatherbie can throw at West Virginia and the diversity possessed by Navy's option offense.
"Charlie's got more [stuff] in that offense than a Christmas turkey," Nehlen said.
"No question they are very, very good. They execute on offense probably as well as anybody I've ever seen and they run every option known to man."
Weatherbie pulled out practically every trick in the book last season in the matchup against a West Virginia team that was nationally ranked.
"He just used what he felt would help us win," said Britting- ham. "That was a pretty exciting game from the flyover to the end."
Keeping it coming
The lack of a killer instinct is a concern for Weatherbie, whose team led Rice, 14-0, then let the Owls back in the game with two touchdowns within two minutes late in the first half.
"When we get up, we have to learn how to go for the jugular," he said. "We have to put them in the coffin. We didn't do that at Rice. We need to keep pouring it on on offense."
The game has been chosen as the Big East game of the week for television and will be shown locally on channels 2 and 7. Game time remains at noon. Navy has not been to West Virginia since 1963, when Roger Staubach led the Midshipmen to a 51-7, opening-game victory en route to the Cotton Bowl. Center Terrence Anderson will play in the second All-Star Gridiron Classic Jan. 29 in Orlando, Fla. Tim Shubzda's 49-yard field goal against Rice was the third longest in school history and his personal best.
Pub Date: 9/29/99