Unbeaten Navy will attempt to quiet its critics and show that last year's 21-11 triumph over Pittsburgh was no fluke when the Mids tangle with the heavily favored 12th-ranked Panthers at Pitt Stadium Saturday at 1:30 (WRC-980).
Navy, 6-0 and ranked 14th in the Associated Press poll and 17th in UPI, is a 13 1/2-point underdog to the surging Panthers (5-1), who will outman the Midshipmen at virtually every position. Intimidation may not be part of Pitt's game plan, but revenge is.
"Navy played probably its best game of the year to beat us last year," said Mark May, Pitt's 6-foot-5, 278-pound junior offensive tackle. "We probably played our worst."
"I don't know if revenge is the right word to use, but we definitely want to win this one," Pitt Coach Jackie Sherrill said. "Our players remember getting beat up there last year."
Pitt appears to have more weapons, offensively and defensively, than last year's 8-4 team. The Panthers are averaging 359.8 yards on offense and 22 points per game. They are ranked 10th in overall defense (allowing 232.0 yards per game), ninth in rushing defense (104.3) and fourth in scoring defense (7.8 points) among the NCAA's Division I-A schools.
Hugh Green, a two-time All-America junior defensive end described by many as the best defensive player in the country, is a one-man wrecking crew. He has 68 tackles -- 35 of them first hits -- five sacks, two fumble recoveries and one interception. Last week, in Pitt's 26-14 victory at Washington, Green had 12 tackles, one sack, pressured the passer eight other times and made his interception.
"He'll be tough to run away from because he plays all over the field," said Navy Coach George Welsh. "Their defense is much better than last year. Pitt is at the major part of their schedule and they can't afford to lose another one. Their athletic program is based on being in the top 20 and going to a major bowl every year."
Like Pitt, Navy also is thinking about a bowl bid. And like Pitt, Navy also is strong defensively." The Mids are ranked fourth in rushing defense (80.8), seventh in overall defense (211.5) and eighth in scoring defense (9.2). They also will have to contend with Randy McMillan, Pitt's 6-foot-2, 225-pound fullback, a junior college transfer who has rushed for 511 yards on 101 carries and six touchdowns.
The Panthers also can throw the ball. Quarterback Rick Trocano has completed 73 of 125 passes for 848 yards and four touchdowns and his backup, Dan Marino, has 27 completions in 47 attempts for 328 yards and two scores. Tight end Benjie Pryor has 20 catches for 272 yards and one touchdown and wide receiver Ralph Still has 18 receptions for 234 yards and four scores.
Last year, Navy stopped Pitt's running game cold and Trocano was forced to throw 51 times.
"I don't think they'll throw that much this time," Welsh said. "Their running game is much better. I don't expect to score a lot of points against Pitt, so our defense will have to hold or we'll be in trouble."
Welsh will be without his two leading ball-carriers. Mike Sherlock (pulled hamstring) and Steve Callahan (sprained knee), and defensive tackle John Merrill (broken bone in foot).
Duane Flowers, who was extremely impressive in a 17-10 win over Virginia last week with 136 yards and one touchdown, will again start at tailback. Fullback Larry Klawinski and quarterback Bob Powers round out the backfield.
"This is definitely a big game for us," said Navy cornerback and kick-return specialist Jon Ross. "I hope Pitt is forced to throw a lot like last year. That means the line is doing the job up front.
"We've had a few problems and need to work on a few things back there," said Ross. "It's getting better."
Ross has been just one step away from breaking a long kickoff return.
"The blocking has been good but one man always gets me," he said.It would be nice to break a long one against Pitt. It would give us some momentum."