Being the nation's No. 2 rusher, ahead of such magazine pinups as Oklahoma's Billy Sims and Southern Cal's Charles White, would have most folks doing hand stands and cartwheels.

But exciting Navy tailback Mike Sherlock took the news rather calmly today when informed that only Maryland's Charlie Wysocki was ahead of him in the ground-gaining department.

"Maybe it hasn't hit me yet," said Sherlock, who had a two-game total of 281 yards rushing for a 140.5 average. "It's a good feeling. But the offensive line has been fantastic. They should be ranked."

The Midshipman offense has piled up 794 yards, 601 of it on the ground, in beating nonpowers The Citadel and Connecticut.

Saturday's opponent, Illinois (1-2) has been generous in its first three outings, allowing an average of 360 yards per game, 215 of that rushing. Thus Sherlock and company are looking forward to another productive afternoon, in a regionally televised game.

"We're looking forward to this one. It's on TV and you want to do your best," said the 5-foot-11, 196-pound Sherlock, "but something has been missing for our team. We haven't been to enthusiastic, it seems."

Dealing with the likes of The Citadel and Connecticut could dim anyone's enthusiasm. That probably accounts for the problem that has mystified Navy Coach George Welsh, Sherlock and his teammates.

While averaging a shopping 300 yards rushing per game, Navy has fumbled 12 times, fortunately recovering half of them. All 17 points scored against Navy came following Mid mistakes.

"I don't know why we're having this problem," said Welsh today. "I don't think we took either team too lightly but maybe we weren't serious enough. Usually that shows up on defense, but it didn't.

"We need to be more intense and concentrate a little more. We haven't done anything different this week in practice and don't plan to."

A slashing, punishing type of runner, Sherlock was guilty of three fumbles in Navy's 26-7 win over The Citadel. Last week the junior, who finished with 156 yards on 27 carries, didn't fumble.

"The first game I was a little nervous and we hadn't been hit for a while. Last week I was much more confident. Connecticut hit me with some good shots," said Sherlock, who suffered some back bruises but is expected to start Saturday.

Navy's leading scorer with 18 points, Sherlock says he's been keeping an eye on the exploits of Wysocki, who is averaging 159 yards per game.

"I knew he'd be up there near the top in rushing," said Sherlock. "He carries the ball a lot and he's broken off seome long runs. I wouldn't mind carrying the ball 30 or more times but I'd be a little more bruised up at the end of the game.

"Right now, I like alternating with Steve Callahan. I appreciate the break because it makes a lot of difference in the fourth quarter. I'd like to have a good game against Illinois and try to keep up with Wysocki, I guess I need a couple of long ones."

The one thing Sherlock definitely wants to do Saturday is hold on to the football.

"I don't want to fumble on TV because the announcers call you names. They put the camera on you in front of all those people," he said.