The unpleasant truth at the Naval Academy is that the Midshipmen have no one but themselves to blame for their 0-2 record, a state of affairs that might cause Coach Gary Tranquill to reassess his quarterback situation this week.
Navy's 16-13 upset loss at Delaware Saturday included three interceptions, two thrown by starter Bill Byrne, and eight penalties for 72 yards. Byrne, who has thrown five interceptions in his two starts, was removed in the fourth quarter Saturday after his second interception halted a promising Navy drive.
Reserve Bob Misch threw an interception in the fourth quarter against Delaware, but Tranquill said yesterday he might consider giving Misch a harder look in practice this week as the Midshipmen prepare to travel to Indiana.
"We're going to play it by ear," Tranquill said. "I made the decision to change in the game because I thought Bobby had earned a chance and because Bill was not going well. So we'll have to see what happens in practice. But by no means have I given up on Bill."
The situation is reminiscent of early last season when Misch and Byrne, then sophomores, competed for the starting assignment and alternated freqently in the first eight games. But Byrne gradually established himself as the starter until he broke his ankle in a tie with Notre Dame.
Misch took over for the final three games of the season and led Navy to a 38-21 upset of South Carolina. Byrne established himself as the starter again this spring, however, while Misch suffered a knee injury and underwent surgery in the offseason.
Byrne might be suffering from something of a confidence crisis: he alternately has been hesitant to throw the ball or has forced it. Those are uncharacteristic traits after last season, when he set Navy passing records for most touchdowns (11) and most yards in one game (340 against Pittsburgh), throwing only nine interceptions.
"He's a little tentative," Tranquill said. "When you're tentative and don't throw on rhythm, bad things happen. He needs a confidence boost. He's better than that and he knows it, and he might be feeling a little pressure. He just needs to relax and let it flow."
All of the Midshipmen seem to be suffering from the same affliction, which resulted in penalty-marred drives and missed assignments against Delaware's wing-T offense.
The Midshipmen opened with an 80-yard scoring drive ending in Napoleon McCallum's 10-yard touchdown, but what followed was a litany of disaster against a Division I-AA Delaware team that has a 5-2 record against Division I teams. Overall, Delaware amassed 28 first downs to Navy's 19, outrushed the Midshipmen with 243 yards to 194, threw for 138 yards to 136, and held the ball for 33:27 minutes to 26:33.
"We just didn't execute," Tranquill said. "It seems like everybody is waiting for someone else to take over."
Some of the more discouraging statistics: The Midshipmen got past midfield under their own power only just twice the rest of the game. McCallum's second touchdown, of three yards, came only after Delaware punted into the wind to its own 36. Navy got only four first downs in the first half after the opening drive.
Navy linebacker Vince McBeth suffered a pinched nerve in his right shoulder. He will be out of contact work for two days and his status will be determined later in the week.
Navy wasn't as error-prone as was Virginia Military against Virginia in Saturday night's 40-15 Cavalier victory in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers capitalized on five VMI fumbles, scoring on each occasion for a total of 27 points.
Virginia remains concerned about its injury situation, although it improve this week. Offensive guard Mike Battle, out with a torn shoulder muscle, is expected to practice, as is tailback Howard Petty, who suffered a bruised thigh in rushing for two touchdowns Saturday. But flanker John Ford, originally expected back today, remains questionable with calcium deposits in his knee and some potential muscle damage.
The Cavaliers also hope to regain starting fullback Antonio Rice, who was scheduled to be out three weeks with a dislocated shoulder and will attempt to return this week.
Maryland is expecting to get defensive guard Tommy Parker back into the lineup this week. He will be needed immediately because Neal Sampson, a starter at one guard spot, hurt his knee in Saturday's 31-13 victory at Boston College.
The exact nature of the damage to Sampson's knee won't be known until he is examined today.
Other than that, the Terrapins were able to celebrate the victory because the Maryland offense finally showed up.
"We really got our acts together," Ross said after a film review. "There was a significant improvement at tight end from both Ferrell Edmunds and Chris Knight. The passing game improved (late in the game) but there's still room for improvement."