The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl will feature a service academy surging after winning seven of its last eight and a Pac-12 program with a first-year coach and new identity. The meeting between Navy and Arizona State in this bowl game will mark the first time these two programs have played.
The Midshipmen had been to eight straight bowls, four under head coach Ken Niumatalolo, before missing out on the postseason last fall. Niumatalolo is looking the second bowl win of his six-year Navy career.
The trip to the Bay Area marks just the second bowl trip for the Sun Devils since 2007 (2011 Las Vegas Bowl). First-year head coach Todd Graham will be looking to get ASU into the postseason win column for the first time since a 2005 win over Rutgers in the Insight Bowl.
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Navy (8-4) vs. Arizona State (7-5)
Date and Time: Sat., Dec. 29, 4 p.m.
Location: AT&T Park (San Francisco, Calif.)
When Navy has the ball
It is no secret what Navy will attempt to do on offense. The patented triple option offense has long been a staple in Annapolis. However, the entire season turned when Nashville native Keenan Reynolds took over the reins of the offense. Navy was 1-3 with 17 total points scored against FBS competition when the hard-working, savvy freshman got the call against Air Force. He stepped in late against the Falcons, led the Middies to an overtime win and then proceeded to go 6-1 as a starter down the stretch.
Trying to pinpoint who to stop on any given play is a crap shoot. Gee Gee Greene carried 108 times, Noah Copeland rushed 152 times and Reynolds ran the ball 140 times. The trio combined for 2,084 yards and 18 touchdowns this year. Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton and the Sun Devils defense will have their hands (and head) full with the option.
The Sun Devils rushing defense allowed more than 200 yards gained (before sacks) on seven different occasions this fall, including 428 to Oregon and 335 to Arizona. Navy was sixth nationally at 275.6 yards on the ground per game but averaged a hearty 332 yards per game over its last five contests. The key for the Navy option attack, however, might be Reynolds ability to loosen the ASU front seven with his arm.
When Arizona State has the ball
Led by sophomore Taylor Kelly, the Devils offense topped the 37-point mark seven times this season, including the last two weekends of the regular season. Kelly, at times, was a revelation finishing third in a QB-heavy league in passing efficiency and fourth in total offense (2,772 passing, 435 rushing). Other times, he looked like a first-year starter (Oregon, USC).
With a host of dynamic and explosive skill players, Kelly should be able to find ways to distribute the ball. Four different players rushed between 435 and 524 yards. Cameron Marshall led the team in rushing (524 yards) while Marion Grice led the team in scoring (8 rushing TD, 9 receiving TD). But electric freshman D.J. Foster might be the most talented of the bunch. He had 492 yards rushing and 522 yards receiving to go with six touchdowns. All three will get touches and all three will be used all over the field.
Navy’s defensive numbers, having played two triple option attacks, are a bit off. The rushing defense ranks 78th nationally but that number is buoyed by 733 yards by Air Force and Army. They allowed just 140.3 yards per game on the ground. The passing defense was exposed a bit, however, as Troy, Penn State, San Jose State and Texas State took advantage through the air. It will need to be a complete effort from Matt Warrick, Tra’Ves Bush and Keegan Wetzel.
Navy has struggled against quality opponents this season, losing to Notre Dame, Penn State, San Jose State and Troy. It defeated only one team with a winning record (East Carolina) and will struggle to match up with the speed and burst of Arizona State’s offensive skill players. Like with any triple option, if ASU plays fundamentally sound gap defense, it should be able to control the line of scrimmage — and the final outcome.
Prediction: Arizona State 34, Navy 20
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