Still smarting from last week's opening-game loss to Virginia, Navy faces what may be a tougher challenge Saturday night in Jackson, Miss., when it meets Mississippi State of the tough Southeastern Conference.

"They've got better personnel than Virginia on both sides of the ball," Navy Coach Gary Tranquill said at a weekly news conference today.

"We're going to have to play as well as we can to beat them."

Mississippi State, Navy's first Southeastern Conference opponent since a 1967 game with Vanderbilt that ended 35-35, beat Tulane, 14-9, in its season-opener Sept. 3. It did not play last week.

"Their free safety blitzed 13 times in that game," said Tranquill, showing concern over the implications for his quarterback, Rick Williamson, who passed 38 times against Virginia, completing 17 for 206 yards.

"If they think we're going to throw 40 or 50 times, then they're going to be coming after us," Tranquill said. "We'll just have to wait and see how the game unfolds."

Tranquill said he is pleased with Williamson, a junior, whose first start as Navy's quarterback came last year against Army after Marco Pagnanelli was injured.

The coach did not fault Williamson for fumbling on the Virginia nine-yard line with 5:21 left to play, which cost the Midshipmen a chance to pull ahead of the Cavaliers, who were leading, 21-16, at that point. Virginia won, 27-16.

"He threw the ball for the most part on the money and he was oblivious to pressure," Tranquill said.

But the coach also had some observations on the loss to Virginia that were less than reassuring for Navy football fans.

"The biggest concern I have is we took forever to recognize things. Their running a fake reverse on us--we've done it in practice--and we act like we've never seen it before.

"We played very well against the pass but there were too many missed tackles," said Tranquill.

"Every big play that came out of there was a missed tackle. They got 237 yards of a total of 327 rushing on 10 plays and they were all missed tackles. We played 26 minutes of pretty good defense and then, bang! they have a five-play drive for a touchdown and, bang! they have a six-play drive for a touchdown."

Tranquill also complained that his receivers lack speed and his offensive line needs improvement. He said Doug Rhodes will start at offensive guard Saturday in place of Mark Long. Defensively, linebacker Todd Hastings did not play up to his potential, Tranquill said. "He's a better player than he performed. I hope it was just first-game jitters."

Against Mississippi State, Navy's defense will be tested by 6-foot-4, 210-pound quarterback John Bond, who is in his fourth year as director of his team's wishbone offense.

"He's got great speed and a good arm. He's big and he can run," Tranquill said.