Naval Academy quarterback Bill Byrne has a simple job this week: relax.
Normally that shouldn't be too hard for Byrne, a naturally carefree sort who came from nowhere last season to start and displayed a thorough disregard for his youth. But Navy is 0-2 this year, a more experienced Byrne surprisingly has thrown five interceptions in two games, more than half of his total of nine in all of last season, and life suddenly has become more complicated for the junior from Pacifica, Calif.
"I've completely lost my confidence," he said. "It's just been shot in the last two games."
What seems to have changed since last season is the pressure of Navy's expectations, which are particularly high in light of Napoleon McCallum's return for a fifth year. That has weighed heavily on Byrne in the first two weeks, to the point that Bob Misch spelled him for much of the fourth quarter in Saturday's 16-13 loss to Delaware, in which Byrne threw two interceptions.
Misch's appearance led to speculation that Byrne might face a challenge in practice this week to retain the starting job. But Coach Gary Tranquill said yesterday that Byrne is the assured starter for Navy, and embarked on a campaign to bolster his confidence as the Midshipmen prepare for a meeting with Indiana in Bloomington next week.
"Bill is my quarterback," Tranquill said. "It's not up in the air. I told him to let it go. When you worry about mistakes too much, bad things happen. If you don't worry about them, they won't happen as much."
Misch may make another appearance if Byrne does not improve. The two quarterbacks alternated some in the first three games of last season, Misch appearing for two or three series in each half. That pattern may be repeated Saturday, depending on Byrne, how Misch performs in practices, and what the game dictates.
"The situation is similar to last year," Tranquill said. "We'll see what's going on. Sometimes one week can make a lot of difference. If things aren't going the way we want them to, we may make a change like we did Saturday."
Confidence seemed to be the one area where Byrne was most solid last year, when he vaulted from sixth on the depth chart to win the starting job over classmate Misch. He set a school record for touchdown passes with 11 and led Navy to a victory over North Carolina and a tie with Pitt before breaking his ankle in an 18-17 loss to Notre Dame.
"Last year I just played," he said. "I didn't worry a lot about my mistakes. I've been too conscious of all the interceptions this year. My timing is off a little, I'm hesitating . . .
"I know that if I don't start playing well pretty soon, I'm not a sure thing to start week in and week out."
*Virginia: Injuries still concern the Cavaliers, who hope to regain three key offensive starters this week. Virginia beat Virginia Military Institute, 40-15, Saturday in its opener in Charlottesville despite the absence of fullback Antonio Rice, out with a dislocated shoulder, guard Mike Battle, out with a torn shoulder muscle, and flanker John Ford, who has calcium deposits in a knee.
Rice and Battle can begin practicing, but whether they can be ready for Saturday's ACC opener at Georgia Tech remains to be seen. Ford was questionable for drills.
"The training report is that Rice and Battle can start," Coach George Welsh said. "We'll just have to see how they do. We're not sure if they can hit. Ford is much more doubtful."
*Maryland: will try a new way to pass out student tickets for Saturday night's home game with West Virginia. Students whose last names begin with "L" and "M," for example, will pick up tickets during a specified 90-minute period. There are 10 such groupings.
"We were trying not to get 13,000 people in one line like last time," said one official, remembering distribution problems before the Penn State game . . .
TBS, the network that will televise Saturday's game, will allow the game to be televised on closed circuit in Cole Field House . . .
Linebacker Chuck Faucette of Maryland and defensive end Pat Swilling of Georgia Tech are ACC defensive players of the week.
Faucette broke up three passes, intercepted one and made 11 tackles in Maryland's 31-13 victory over Boston College Saturday.