Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green tries to shrug it off each time he's asked the question, but still people keep asking it: Is today's game against N.C. State any different, any more special for you?
"Oh, I've thought about it a little," says Green, who just last season was N.C. State's defensive coordinator. "I know all those guys pretty well. They've got some excellent players and some great coaches, and I was really close to a lot of them the two years I was there. I have a lot of respect for them."
Unfortunately for Green, respect and fond feelings won't help him much when it comes to stopping N.C. State's potent offense. But that's the task in front of him today in the Mids' home opener in newly remodeled Navy-Marine Corps Stadium.
"They have great speed and great talent," Green says of the Wolfpack. "Any time anyone touches it, they have the chance to take it the distance. Their quarterback is as good as any I've ever been around, so it's going to be a tremendous challenge."
N.C. State quarterback Philip Rivers isn't the household name that say, Florida's Rex Grossman or Miami's Ken Dorsey is, but he is clearly one of the country's elite. A starter since his freshman year, Rivers has gone 17-9 for the Wolfpack and has thrown for 6,061 yards and 44 touchdowns.
Navy's defensive backs didn't see much pressure in last week's 38-7 win at Southern Methodist, but cornerbacks Vaughn Kelley and Shalimar Brazier, as well as safeties Lenter Thomas, Eli Sanders and Josh Smith likely will be put to the test early. If Navy can't put pressure on Rivers [who was sacked only 17 times in 2001, second best in the Atlantic Coast Conference] the test becomes even tougher.
"You're probably not going to shut [Rivers] down, you just have to try and slow him down," Navy coach Paul Johnson said. "Covering their receivers [will be our biggest challenge.] I mean, it's like that every week, it's not going to be any different. We have to get some pressure on the quarterback ... If they are throwing the ball successfully it's not just the secondary. It's everybody involved."
Stopping N.C. State on the ground won't be easy, either. Though the Wolfpack uses three tailbacks in its attack, the trio still has managed to rush for 183 yards against East Tennessee State, led by Greg Golden's 66 yards.
On offense, Navy wouldn't mind if junior quarterback Craig Candeto saw the kind of holes he did against SMU. Though the Mids didn't have a lot of success running the ball up the middle, Navy galloped through holes around both ends, and Candeto finished with 153 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
"I thought Craig played well last week," Johnson said. "He can play better, just like everybody can, but he made some plays for us and for the most part he did a nice job of taking care of the ball, which is really important."
Navy didn't have any turnovers against SMU, and the Mustangs had five, which goes a long way in explaining why the Mids got their first win in more than a year. Rivers has thrown 21 interceptions in his career, but the key to any Navy success will likely be how many long, sustained drives the Mids can put together. Keeping the Wolfpack offense off the field, and the crowd in the game, would be ideal.
"Hopefully, the home crowd will be the difference," Johnson says. "Hopefully, we will get the Brigade behind us and the hometown folks behind us and make this place a home-field advantage."
NOTES: Wolfpack safety Terrence Holt, the younger brother of St. Louis Rams receiver Torry Holt, has blocked nine kicks in his four-year career (seven FGs, two punts). ... Rivers has seven career 300-yard games, including two 400-yard games. ... The Mids still have a nine-game losing streak at home. The last time Navy won in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium was Nov. 13, 1999, when it defeated Tulane, 45-21. ... Today's pre-game fly-by will feature four F-18s, which just recently returned from patrolling the skies over Afghanistan. Two of the pilots, Matt Shubzda ('98) and Tom Poulter ('97), are former Navy football players, while a third pilot, Matthew Michalowicz ('99), is a former Navy baseball player. Michalowicz is also the brother of junior reserve quarterback Andy Michalowicz.