Fight Hunger Bowl preview: Navy vs. Arizona State

By |
Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy

When » Saturday, 4 p.m.

Where » AT&T Park, San Francisco

TV » ESPN2

Storylines

1 Contrasting styles » While Navy runs a ground-oriented triple-option offense, ranking sixth in the nation in rushing (276 yards per game), Arizona State employs a balanced spread, which has generated 550 rushes and 393 passes. Navy has not faced a team as proficient in both phases. The Sun Devils rank 39th in rushing (191 yards per game) and 46th in passing (258 yards per game). Only nine FBS teams rank higher in both categories. ASU is balanced in its distribution of carries with four backs, including quarterback Taylor Kelly, rushing for between 435 and 524 yards.

2 Grounding it out » Keeping Navy's offense off the field -- often a difficult task for even the most physically gifted teams -- is key for Arizona State. ASU ranks 74th in the nation against the run, not a prescription for success against the Midshipmen. The three teams that limited Navy to 10 or fewer points (Notre Dame, Penn State, San Jose State) rank in the top 25 against the rush. All those games came before freshman Keenan Reynolds was installed at quarterback. When opponents have geared up to stop the run, Reynolds often has made them pay.

3 Bowl struggles » Neither team has a strong recent history in the postseason. Since beating Rutgers in the 2005 Insight Bowl, Arizona State has lost its last three bowl appearances by 32 points (Boise State in 2011), 18 (Texas in 2007) and 17 (Hawaii in 2006). Navy has lost four of its last five bowl games, including three of four under Ken Niumatalolo, who admits he doesn't prepare his team as intensely for the postseason, treating bowl games as a reward for players who already are stressed by the heavy academic load at the academy.

KEY MATCHUPS

Arizona State DT Will Sutton

The Pac-12 defensive player of the year was a disruptive force with 20.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. Small at 6-foot-1, 267 pounds, Sutton makes up for it with explosion off the ball.

VS.

Navy LG Josh Cabral

With 37 consecutive starts, Cabral (6-3, 297) is the Mids' most experienced offensive lineman. He and tackle Ryan Paulson (6-4, 266) are a formidable duo on the left side.

Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly

The sophomore has a 153.3 efficiency rating with 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also ran for 435 yards but can be rattled by a strong pass rush.

VS.

Navy LB Keegan Wetzel

The Mids' defensive philosophy is containment instead of disruption. When Navy opts to pressure the quarterback, however, it turns Wetzel (seven sacks) loose.

Arizona State LB Carl Bradford

ASU ranks second in the nation in tackles for loss (106) and sacks (48). The sophomore has done his part with 17.5 and 10.5, respectively, playing devilbacker, a hybrid DE/LB spot.

VS.

Navy QB Keenan Reynolds

Navy doesn't pass much, but Reynolds (159.4 efficiency rating) is capable of delivering the big play, averaging a hefty 15.8 yards per completion.

STATE OF THE TEAMS

Arizona State

Well-traveled Todd Graham was a hit in his rookie year at Arizona State, his fourth coaching job in the last seven seasons. The Sun Devils (7-5) are assured of their first winning year since 2007. After a strong start, ASU lost four in a row, including three to ranked Pac-12 teams, but finished the regular season on a high note, rallying to beat Arizona 41-34.

Navy

After losing three of its first four, the Midshipmen (8-4) turned their season around with a 28-21 overtime victory at Air Force as freshman Keenan Reynolds came off the bench and sparked a rally. With Reynolds as starter, Navy has won six of seven games, qualified for its ninth bowl game in the last 10 years and captured its first Commander-in-Chief's Trophy since 2009.

EXAMINER PREDICTS

ASU opened as a 13?-point favorite. Only two bowl games had higher spreads. But this first meeting of the teams will be closer than anticipated as the Sun Devils will have difficulty closing off the outside rushes of Gee Gee Greene and the passing of Keegan Reynolds. Expect a shootout.

Arizona State 34, Navy 31

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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Author:

Kevin Dunleavy

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner