Teams: San Diego State (8-4) vs. Navy (9-3)
Date: December 23, 2010 at 5 p.m. ET
Location: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, Calif.
Navy makes its third appearance in the Poinsettia Bowl since the game’s inception in 2005 when the Midshipmen beat Colorado State 51-30. Navy lost their 2007 trip to San Diego 35-32 to (former?) Mountain West power Utah. In fact, the MWC has owned this game, winning the last four Poinsettia Bowls. San Diego State finished tied for third in the Mountain West this fall, its highest finish in league history.
The interesting issue will be which team claims home field advantage? Naval Base San Diego is the largest U.S. west coast naval facility at over 1,300 acres of property and 25,000 military personnel. San Diego State is the city’s largest and oldest university with a student population of over 33,000 and plays its home games in Qualcomm Stadium.
This will be the seventh straight year in a bowl for Navy — they are 3-4 over that span but 2-1 against the Mountain West. This will be the Aztecs’ first bowl appearance since a 20-13 Las Vegas Bowl loss to North Carolina in 1998.
When San Diego State has the ball
Neither offense should have too much trouble moving the ball, they will just do it a totally different fashion. Quarterback Ryan Lindley threw the ball 261 more times than Navy did this fall — and was very effective doing so. Lindley, who finished sixth nationally with 3,554 yards, will distribute the ball to a pair of talented 1,000-yard receivers. Stopping seniors Vincent Brown (61 rec., 1,187 yards) and DeMarco Sampson (65 rec., 1,175 yards) will be a tall order for a Navy defense that ranks 86th (136.17) nationally in pass efficiency defense.
The stellar passing attack is what defenses focus on, even though the Aztecs were balanced in his play selection (398 runs, 403 passes). As UNLV saw in the final weekend of the regular season, SDSU will make an effort to run the ball. The Aztecs posted 51 rushing attempts for 250 yards and a pair of scores in the 48-14 rout. If stopping the Mountain West’s most efficient passer wasn’t enough, the Middies will have to deal with the conference’s leading rushing as well. Ronnie Hillman finished with a Mountain West high 108.7 yards per game, including five games of 150 yards or more.
When Navy has the ball
The Midshipmen could not run an offense more different than the Aztecs. The Navy triple-option attack places enormous pressure on the entire front line of a defense. Just because it runs the ball 99% of the time, does not mean they cannot make big plays however. In its current four-game winning streak, Navy has scored 180 points — or 45 points per game.
The depth of the Navy rushing attack should be able to wear down the 50th ranked rush defense of San Diego State. The Aztecs allowed the Air Force Falcons to rush 62 times for 312 yards early this season, but SDSU won the game 27-25. In the team’s other seven wins, stopping the run has been key. They allowed an average of 94.7 yards rushing per game in wins, while yielding 181 yards rushing per game in their four losses. Of course, Navy has the honor of losing a game this year in which it ran the ball 72 times for 412 yards.
Navy will give the ball to over half a dozen ball carriers. Seven different players saw more than 20 carries this season, four of which got at least 67 attempts. Five different runners topped the 300-yard mark this fall. Slowing senior quarterback Ricky Dobbs — and his career 663 carries, 2,558 yards and 48 rushing touchdowns — will likely be the biggest determinant in this game.
Neither team is particularly explosive in the return game, but San Diego State should have the advantage on special teams. They have the Mountain West’s leader in field goals and scoring in kicker Abel Perez. Navy also struggles punting the ball, ranking 111th in net punting.
San Diego State NCAA Rankings (out of 120 teams)
Rush Offense: 63 (151.5 ypg)
Pass Offense: 11 (297 ypg)
Scoring Offense: 20 (35 ppg)
Rush Defense: 50 (141.6 ypg)
Pass Defense: 50 (209.8 ypg)
Scoring Defense: 44 (22.8 ppg)
Turnover Margin: 101 (-0.58)
Navy NCAA Rankings (out of 120 teams)
Rush Offense: 5 (288.9 ypg)
Pass Offense: 118 (117.8 ypg)
Scoring Offense: 40 (31 ppg)
Rush Defense: 66 (156.4 ypg)
Pass Defense: 66 (220.4 ypg)
Scoring Defense: 38 (22.3 ppg)
Turnover Margin: 21 (+0.67)
This game offers an interesting dichotomy of styles as the run-heavy option attack faces one the most dangerous passing attacks in the nation. Both defenses have struggled at times and should not be able to slow the opponent’s offense. Expect a high scoring affair, with emotion playing the deciding roll. This is the Aztec’s first bowl game in over a decade and they are playing in front of the home fans.
Aztecs by 3