For Navy Coach Gary Tranquill, Saturday's game with Notre Dame offers an opportunity to accomplish something predecessors George Welsh, Rick Forzano and Bill Elias could not: beat the Irish.
For Notre Dame Coach Gerry Faust, the apparent mismatch provides a chance to quiet the burgeoning "Oust Faust" movement, at least until next week's visit to Pittsburgh.
After 18 straight losses to the Irish, few expect much from a Navy team that annually enters this oldest continuous intersectional rivalry with small realistic hope of success.
A lot of folks, including most of the Irish alumni and camp followers who will comprise the majority of the Giants Stadium crowd of 70,000, think Notre Dame should roll it up against Navy, just as it should have against Arizona (a 16-13 loss) and winless Oregon (a 13-13 tie).
Notre Dame's problems have come on offense, where it has averaged only 17 points in a 4-1-1 season. On defense, the Irish have been exceptionally stingy, ranking fourth nationally while permitting only 226.3 yards a game.
Against the run, Notre Dame is No. 3, with an average yield of 54 yards. That is bad news for a Navy team that has not scored against the Irish in three years and will be without its chief offensive threat, quarterback Marco Pagnanelli, who suffered a broken right leg last week.
Replacing Pagnanelli will be senior Tom Tarquinio, gifted in football knowledge (his father was his high school coach) and strength (he ranked No. 1 among 1,300 entering Midshipmen during his plebe summer). What Tarquinio lacks, at 6 feet and 175 pounds, are size and speed, two of Notre Dame's defensive attributes.
"We're fortunate Tarquinio has played, has started and knows what's going on," Tranquill said. "It's not like bringing in somebody with no game experience. And we've had a week to prepare. We're not going to go into a shell with him.
"But I don't recall ever seeing a better defensive team in college football than Notre Dame when it beat Michigan. A three-yard run against them -- boy, that was a long gainer. The line is big and physical and they have the four best defensive backs I've ever seen on a football field. They're all in the 6-2, 200 range and they run like antelopes."
Against that formidable obstacle, Navy must try to free its outstanding runner, Napoleon McCallum, either on short passes at his usual tailback spot or on long throws when he lines up as a wide receiver. McCallum's bruised shoulder prevented him from playing last week, though, and how he will hold up is a big question.
Should Tarquinio go down, Tranquill would have to decide between sophomore Rick Williamson, who has played little, and highly rated plebe Sean Cannon, a standout in preseason scrimmages.
Notre Dame appears to have big-play people on offense, with such as quarterback Blair Kiel, who has completed 76 of 134 passes for 726 yards; tight end Tony Hunter, 22 catches for 269 yards; split end Joe Howard out of Washington's Carroll High, 17 catches for 233 yards, and tailback Phil Carter, 505 yards on 129 carries.
The Irish have been inconsistent, however. Kiel has not thrown a touchdown pass and Carter lacks the breakaway ability of injured tailback Greg Bell. So the big strength offensively has been field-goal specialist Mike Johnston, 13 for 13 with a long kick of 42 yards.
A lot of folks who had trouble digesting Notre Dame's 5-6 season a year ago think the big problem is Faust. They became even more vocal after the Oregon tie, since Faust, with no timeouts remaining in the last minute, called a no-gain line plunge on first down at the Ducks' 27. Johnston eventually kicked a tying field goal, which brought no solace considering Oregon's 0-6 record.
In other games, Virginia, which won its first game last week, over Wake Forest, is home to play VMI, the only team the Cavaliers beat in 1981. This is the 76th meeting and the Keydets (4-3) boast a 35-7 success against James Madison, which upset Virginia, 21-17.
Virginia Coach George Welsh will be facing VMI's Bob Thalman for the second time, having enjoyed a 37-8 romp over the Keydets in his first game as Navy's head coach in 1973.
Georgetown and Catholic, both 4-2, will contend for the Steve Dean Trophy in a 1 o'clock game at Brookland Stadium that marks the Cardinals' homecoming. The key item is whether the Hoyas' porous pass defense can regroup and stop Catholic quarterback Tony Gallis, who already has thrown for more than 1,000 yards.
Howard, winner of three straight, faces a difficult assignment when it travels to Norfolk State (6-1). The injury-riddled Bison are down to three running backs and Norfolk State figures to be steaming after its unbeaten record was mocked by Virginia Union last week, 51-0.