Three losses, eight points. That sums up Navy's season so far, and the fact that the margin of defeat has been so narrow sheds little light on the problems of the Midshipmen.
In Saturday's 38-35 setback to Indiana, it was the defense that failed to produce. The range of Navy's afflictions had Coach Gary Tranquill unsure where to start in analyzing his third straight loss by three points or less.
"Everytime you lose by two or three points like that you can never boil it down to this play or that," he said. "You can pick as many things as you want to on every play. It's frustrating for everybody."
Especially tailback Napoleon McCallum, whose Heisman Trophy hopes are dependent on the Midshipmen. The fifth-year senior had another good performance, with 122 yards on 23 carries and three receptions for 30 yards, and set three school records, bringing his total to 21. But Heisman winners usually don't come from losing teams.
"That may be true," Tranquill said. "But we're playing to win. Whatever happens, the awards and rewards come when you win. I'm not sure that everybody is thinking about the Heisman. We're thinking about just winning a game."
The one thing that worked was Tranquill's "go to hell" offense, designed to jump-start the Midshipmen after a 21-19 loss to North Carolina and 16-13 upset by Division I-AA Delaware. Quarterback Bill Byrne came out of his five-interception slump to complete 19 of 38 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns. McCallum threw a touchdown pass to Tony Hollinger off the option, split end John Lobb threw an option pass for 46 yards, and the Midshipmen tried a fake punt.
That should have been enough, but the defense allowed Indiana 413 yards and failed frequently on third down, including once at third and 20. On Indiana's game-winning scoring drive, the Midshipmen failed to hold on fourth and two at the 10-yard line with 1:26 left. The Midshipmen also gave up a 52-yard punt return for a touchdown.
"We can't seem to get everything on the same frequency," Tranquill said. "The first game the offense was inconsistent, the second game we were bad all around and this week it was the other way around on defense and the kicking game."
There were lost opportunities on offense as well, and Tranquill accepted blame for one of them. With 56 seconds and three timeouts remaining, Navy got the ball. Tranquill failed to use any of the timeouts, and with 19 seconds left the Midshipmen wasted several seconds -- Tranquill said seven or eight -- when Byrne failed to notice the clock had started in the confusion as two injured players left the field. Byrne's desperation pass from the Indiana 30 with four seconds left sailed out of the end zone.
It could be a blowout if the Midshipmen play like that against Virginia in Charlottesville on Saturday. The Cavaliers, 24-13 winners over Georgia Tech in their Atlantic Coast Conference opener, looked every bit as strong as last year's Peach Bowl team.
In Atlanta, the Cavaliers' victory over Georgia Tech surely established them as the team most likely to challenge Maryland for the ACC title. Particularly encouraging was the defense, judged in preseason to be the lone weak spot. After a frantic, high-scoring first half, a defense that returned only four starters shut down all-ACC quarterback John Dewberry in the second half.
From Virginia's perspective, there was no quarreling with offense's performance in the first half. Tailback Barry Word scored a 79-yard touchdown on Virginia's second play from scrimage, and Don Majkowski scored twice, with a three-yard run and a three-yard pass to tight end Tim Manion. The only thing troubling the Cavaliers was that they were unproductive in the second half.
"When you go more than a quarter without a first down, that's not good, and when you play defense like we did in the first half, that's not too good either," Virginia Coach George Welsh said. "We're still spotty."
For Maryland (2-1), nothing seemed spotty in a 28-0 victory over West Virginia.
The Terrapins rolled up 518 yards before a sellout crowd at Byrd Stadium. But the defense was every bit as impressive, with six quarterback sacks and an interception (by junior cornerback Keeta Covington). West Virginia gained only 271 yards of total offense.
Maryland Coach Bobby Ross said, "We've thought all along we have a pretty good defense here."
Ross was just as happy that quarterback Stan Gelbaugh came out of a two-game slump to complete 15 of 23 passes for 263 yards and one touchdown pass to Sean Sullivan (his first career touchdown reception).