Just last season, I wrote about how, historically speaking, Navy has struggled against balanced offensive attacks. In fact during a span covering 2007 through part of 2009, 11 of Navy's 12 losses came against teams that were able to run and pass the ball effectively on Buddy Green's defense.
2010 has been a bit of an anomaly in that respect because in two of Navy's three losses, its defense was able to contain its opponent's passing attack. In fact Air Force and Maryland combined only managed 94 yards through the air. Of course both of those teams were able to rack up over 550 yards on the ground, so perhaps that would explain their ability to win despite their one-dimensional attack. In addition, Navy's offense struggled in both games – scoring only 17 points combined.
In their third loss of the season, against Duke, history once again repeated itself as the Blue Devils hurt the Mids via the ground game (142 yards) and via the passing game (314 yards).
This brings us to San Diego State and to an unpleasant stat that should scare the heck out of Navy fans. The Aztecs are averaging 151 yards on the ground and 297 yards through the air. The good news is that in the past four seasons, Navy has only given up that type of balanced yardage five times. The bad news is that the Mids are 2-3 in those games. And in the two wins, Navy's offense offset its defensive struggles by scoring 76 and 74 points. Here are the stats:
Duke (34-31 loss): Rushing Yards Against – 142; Passing Yards Against – 314
East Carolina (76-35): Rushing Yards Against – 154; Passing Yards Against - 413
Ball State (35-23 loss): Rushing Yards Against – 162; Passing Yards Against – 326
Delaware (57-52 loss): Rushing Yards Against – 147; Passing Yards Against – 434
North Texas (74-62 win): Rushing Yards Against – 157; Passing Yards Against – 478
Will Navy put up 70 points on San Diego State? I wouldn't bet on it. Nevertheless I think it isn't a stretch to think that they will have to score at least 30 points to win their 10th game for the second season in a row. And even though the Aztecs have only given up 30 or more points three times this year, in Navy's favor is that they are just 1-2 in those games.
No matter how many points Navy's offense manages to score, I think the Mids' strategy from a defensive standpoint will be similar to every other game: stop the run first. This was something Air Force was unable to do against San Diego State as freshmen sensation Ronnie Hillman ran for 191 yards on 24 carries. Of course if it takes significant help from the Navy secondary to stop Hillman, that means junior quarterback Ryan Lindley could have a field day. The Aztec signal-caller, who is 6-4 and 215 lbs, did just that in his last outing, throwing for 338 yards and four touchdowns in a 48-14 rout of UNLV.
One thing is for absolute sure, if Navy wins the toss, they will be taking the ball.
Statistics aside, perhaps what Navy fans should fear the most about this game are the intangibles associated with it. Pundits and even coaches often talk about a team's mental state going into a bowl game and how a lot of upsets in these contests can be attributed to the lack of motivation by the perceived favorite. This is one possible explanation for Navy's blowout of Missouri in last year's Texas Bowl. Not to take anything away from how well Navy played, I think it was obvious to everyone watching the game which team was more motivated.
And while San Diego State is rightfully listed as the favorite for the Poinsettia Bowl, they will not be lacking for any motivation as this is the team's first bowl game since 1998. On the other hand, the Midshipmen are making their eighth straight bowl appearance. Last season, the bowl game battle cry for Navy was the opportunity to stop its postseason losing streak at three, and to win ten games. It was a good one. Hopefully the battle cry for this year's finale is for the team to play its best game of the season. It will take such an effort to come out victorious.