A wisecracker walking through Baltimore's Memorial Stadium Saturday joked that if Clemson and South Carolina lost in the same day, the state of South Carolina might secede from the union -- again.

From all indications, South Carolina still was part of the nation yesterday, even after taking a sound licking from the Marylanders.

From Baltimore: Maryland 41, Clemson 23.

From Annapolis: Navy 38, South Carolina 21.

For the Midshipmen, it was their biggest victory of the season. Lineman Eric Rutherford was named ECAC defensive player of the week for his 11-tackle, four-sack, blocked field goal performance. Defensive end Chad VanHulzen, in his first start, earned ECAC rookie-of-the-week honors by making 17 tackles, three behind the line of scrimmage.

Indeed, defense was the story of Navy's tremendous upset. South Carolina, from its film review of Navy games, must have prepared for the Midshipmen's nose guard to rush the passer. That sits just fine with South Carolina quarterback Mike Hold, who likes to scramble out of the pocket.

But Navy countered by refusing to rush its nose guard. "That way we could keep a semblance of a pocket," Coach Gary Tranquill said. "We tried to mirror the quarterback. Hold had made so many big plays off the scramble. We went with a four-man rush most of the game.

"Their option play, we held in check. Our defense created a lot of things. We'd line up and show them one formation, then shift into another as the ball was snapped. We caused some problems for their blocking scheme. I usually don't say things like this, but we really well . . . beat the hell out of them. Whether they were ready or not, I don't know. We just played very well."

Tranquill was asked to consider the fact that only three points keep Navy (4-5-1) from being in contention for a bowl berth. If the Midshipmen hadn't lost to Notre Dame by one point (on a last-second field goal) and hadn't tied Pitt . . .

"I do sit back once in a while and say, 'What if?' but I don't let it go any further than that because it would probably get a little bit depressing," Tranquill said. "I'm really proud of these kids. There have been some trying times for them with all the injuries and a couple of losses that were really hard. We do have five of our key players (including tailback Napoleon McCallum and record-setting quarterback Bill Byrne) injured. But except for the Syracuse game last week, I think they always collected themselves very well."

Maryland, bound for the Sun Bowl in El Paso, has won five straight. It is playing about as well as any team in the country, especially the offense, which is averaging 40.8 points per game over that winning span.

The Terrapins gained 577 yards of total offense in dealing Clemson a convincing defeat. Alvin Blount will almost certainly be the ACC's back of the week for his 214 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

If Maryland hadn't lost to Penn State on Oct. 6, the Terrapins (7-3) would be in the middle of an eight-game winning streak now, ranked in the top 10 or 15, and looking at a New Year's Day bowl.

Right now, however, Maryland will settle for just repeating as ACC champion with a victory at Virginia Saturday. The teams have never played each other for the title. Virginia will be playing for the championship for the first time.

The Cavaliers (7-1-2), with Saturday's 24-24 tie at North Carolina, have assured themselves of their best league record (3-0-2) ever, and now will be trying to win four league games for the first time. Most of the 42,000 seats at Scott Stadium have been sold.