- The Washington Times - Friday, October 13, 2006

Maybe against another opponent, Navy’s coaching staff would have to worry about an emotional letdown after defeating Air Force last weekend.

But Rutgers — undefeated, ranked and a team that beat the Midshipmen last season — is no ordinary foe. Add in the Homecoming festivities this weekend and the No. 24-ranked Scarlet Knights (5-0) come to a sold out Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium today to face a team that is ready for them.

“It was an emotional week,” senior linebacker Tyler Tidwell said. “At times I’d say you have to guard against a letdown. I don’t want to say we are fortunate, but with the team that we have coming in this week there is no problem with that.”

Navy (5-1) has not faced a ranked team at Navy-Marine Corps since coach Paul Johnson’s second game — a 65-19 drubbing by N.C. State in 2002 — and haven’t beaten one since upsetting No. 2 South Carolina 22 years ago.

More recent history is of greater concern to this group of Mids. Navy did not play well at Rutgers Stadium last season in a 31-21 defeat. The offense was out of sync and turned the ball over three times in former starting quarterback Lamar Owens’ worst performance (42 yards on 24 carries, nine of 20 passing with two interceptions).

The defense slowed the Scarlet Knights’ talented backfield duo of Ray Rice and Brian Leonard, but quarterback Ryan Hart completed 18 of 21 passes for 221 yards. It was Rutgers’ sixth win of the season, and Scarlet Knights fans flooded the field in celebration of the team’s pending bowl appearance while the Mids sang their alma mater at one corner.

“The way they beat us last year — they pretty much outplayed us,” junior fullback Adam Ballard said. “They hit harder than us, and they hustled harder than us. … If we don’t come out ready to play they are going to hand it to us.”

The Mids are also in search of a signature win — a victory against a nationally respected opponent. They narrowly missed a chance to knock off Tulsa, the defending Conference USA champion, losing 24-23 in overtime earlier this season.

While Navy has won 32 of its past 44 games, a win against a ranked opponent might be worth some measure of national respect.

“I think if we can come out and beat Rutgers it will show everybody that, ‘Hey, Navy is for real.’ If you don’t come in ready we can beat you,” Ballard said.

For the Scarlet Knights, this game also represents an opportunity to validate the team’s fast start. Rutgers boasts wins at North Carolina and South Florida, but the Mids represent the first chance to beat another team with definite postseason aspirations.

Rutgers hasn’t started a season 11-0 in 30 years, and a victory would make the Scarlet Knights bowl eligible. They have never gone to bowls in back-to-back seasons.

“Things have definitely changed. There is a groundswell of support,” said Tim Pernetti, executive vice president for content at College Sports Television and an analyst for the Rutgers Radio Network. “You can’t get tickets at the stadium. People in this area have longed for a college football team to call their own. Coach [Greg] Schiano has changed the culture.”

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