Navy's defense, ranked first in the nation in yards (159) and points (3.7) allowed per game, is the talk of the academy.

And the player who deserves much of the credit for the Mids' stinginess is not a big defensive tackle, a hard hitting linebacker or a cornerback. He is Fred Reitzel, the quarterback.

The quiet, unassuming senior, converted from starting safety of the last two seasons, has adapted to his new position very smoothly and is playing better than anyone expected, including Reitzel.

"i feel like I've done okay. I'm gaining more confidence each week and I think the team has begun to have more confidence in me," Reitzel said. "but as a new quarterback, you always think that a three-or four-game stretch will come when you are terrible and everyone gets on you."

But as of now, Reitzel, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound Verona, N.J., native, has completed 60 percent of his passes (36 of 60) for 472 yards and five touchdowns, Because of Reitzel's surprising success passing, the offense has been able to control the ball for long stretches and give the defense long rests. Reitzel has kept several lengthy drives (one of 96 yards) going with clutch third-down passes, a Navy weakness last year.

In 1979, starting quarterback Bob Powers completed only 42 percent of his throws (65 of 154) for 983 yards and seven touchdowns. If Reitzel continues to play as well as he has been, he easily will surpass those totals.

"i said during spring drills he could throw the ball," said tight end Curt Gainer, who caught nine passes for two touchdowns in 11 games last year, and has 13 receptions and three scores in the first four games this season.

As all quarterbacks must do to maintain harmony among his receivers, Reitzel has spread around his passes. Split ends Greg Papajohn, Steve Callahan and Dave Dent have seven, six and six catches, respectively. Reitzel, a diplomat, said that is coincidence.

"the coach call all the plays and I just try to give the ball to the man who is open," Reitzel said. "i have the option to check off if I see something in the defense. I look for everyone but I don't think anyone gets mad if I throw to someone else."

No, not as long as the receiver wears the same color jersey. In last week's win over Boston College, Navy had an excellent scoring opportunity at the BC 20 in the waning minutes of the first half. But a mix-up occurred and Reitzel foolishly threw up a wobbler that was intercepted.

"it was a stupid pass and Coach (George) Welsh laid into me," said Reitzel, who has thrown only three interceptions. "everyone did something wrong on that pattern, but you have to forget about those. I did, quick."

"he's a good athlete and has done a good job running the team," Welsh said today. "we'd like to throw the ball between 20 and 25 times a game, but so far we haven't had to."

Reitzel also would love to throw more, especially when opposing teams are expecting a run. But, Navy's running attack is averaging 224 yards per game.