Head-to-head: Navy vs. San Diego State

After defeating their arch rival Army for the ninth consecutive time, the Navy Midshipmen will travel to San Diego to face the San Diego State Aztecs in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 23. San Diego State had its first winning season since 1998 under second-year head coach Brady Hoke. San Diego State features a high powered passing game that averages 35 points per game.

Both teams played Air Force this year with Navy losing to the Falcons 14-6 while San Diego State defeated them 27-25. Navy is 0-2 against San Diego State with the most recent matchup being in 1997 when Chris McCoy was Navy's quarterback. Navy is 1-1 in the Poinsettia Bowl defeating Colorado State in 2005 and losing to Utah 35-32 in 2007 in Ken Niumatalolo's head coaching debut.
San Diego State
Navy rushing offense
San Diego State rushing defense
Navy had a disappointing game running the ball against Army as they gained just 139 which is well below their 289 yard per game season average. Quarterback Ricky Dobbs led the team in rushing against the Black Knights with 20 carries for 54 yards but had three costly fumbles. Ricky needs to protect the ball better in his final Navy appearance. Dobbs' fumbles seem to come in bunches, think of the last two games against Army, the Maryland game and the Missouri bowl game, so hopefully he'll protect the ball better in the bowl game. During his senior season Dobbs has rushed for 860 yards and 13 touchdowns. Fullback Alexander Teich is averaging six yards a carry while rushing for 825 yards. Slotback Gee Gee Greene (459 yards, 6.9 yards a carry, 5 TDs) showed his tremendous quickness on the 25-yard touchdown run against the Black Knights. The offensive line struggled creating running lanes against Army's flex front most of the game. While it was one of the Mids worst rushing performances of the year, the line got the job done. In the fourth quarter the Mids put together an 87-yard touchdown drive that featured just one short pass and took over nine minutes off the clock and clinched the victory. On the season Navy is ranked fifth in the nation in rushing.

San Diego State ended the regular season ranked 50th in the nation in run defense allowing over 141 yards per game. In their victory over Air Force, the Aztecs gave up 312 yards and five yards a carry against the Falcons option attack. San Diego State's plays a 3-3-5 look and their best player is junior outside linebacker Miles Burris. Burris is a 6-2, 240 first-team All-Mountain West Conference selection. He leads the team with 74 tackles, 19 for losses and forced four fumbles. Hybrid linebacker Andrew Preston is second on team in 68 tackles. San Diego State should receive a boost from senior middle linebacker Marcus Yarbrough (41 tackles) who is expected to return after missing the last three games with a sprained foot.  
Navy passing offense
San Diego State passing defense
Ricky Dobbs has thrown for touchdown passes in seven consecutive starts. On the year Dobbs has completed passes for 1,380 yards with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. Dobbs's quarterback rating is 162.6. He is currently tied with Alton Grizzard for Navy's single season touchdown passing record. Dobbs arm strength and passing ability (186 yards, 2 TDs) allowed Navy to race out to a 17-0 lead over Army and overcome four turnovers and a struggling running attack. Greg Jones has had a terrific senior senior as Navy's leading receiver with 30 receptions for 577 yards and four touchdowns. Junior slotback Aaron Santiago continues to make big plays in the passing game with two catches for 54 yards against Army since he returned to the lineup. Santiago has caught 12 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns this year. Ricky Dobbs 77-yard touchdown bomb to John Howell was a perfect pass and the longest touchdown pass in the Army Navy game history. Howell has caught two passes this year that both went for touchdowns.

The Aztecs rank 50th in the nation in pass defense allowing 209 yards a game. The San Diego State pass rush relies on outside linebacker Miles Burris who has 9 1/2 sacks this year to generate pressure. Cornerback Leon McFadden is the Aztecs best defensive back and was named first-team All-Mountain West Conference. McFadden has posted 54 tackles with two interceptions and 12 passes broken up. Andrew Preston who acts as a third safety has two interceptions this year. Air Force's option attack was able to hurt the Aztecs with play action passing as Tim Jefferson threw for 175 yards and a touchdown.  
San Diego State rushing offense
Navy rushing defense
Super freshman running back Ronnie Hillman has been named to the All-America freshman team and first-team All-Mountain West Conference. Both are well deserved honors. Hillman has been exceptional rushing for 1,304 yards, averaging 5.6 yards a carry and scoring 14 touchdowns. Hillman is a 5-10, 175 speedster who can cut on a dime and finishes his runs. Fullback Brandon Sullivan carries the ball mostly on short yardage averaging just 3.1 yards a carry but has rushed for seven touchdowns. Sullivan suffered a concussion in the Aztecs last game but will play against the Midshipmen. San Diego State ranks 63rd in the nation in rushing yards averaging over 151 yards a game.

The Mids allowed 209 rushing yards in their last game and held Army below its yearly average of 260 yards a game. Navy's front line dominated early as they recovered a fumble on the Black Knight opening drive. The Mids produced four consecutive three-and-out series where they allowed Army just 26 yards. Navy's defensive line created penetration and freed up the linebackers to make plays. Tyler Simmons had 13 tackles against Army and forced two fumbles including the game changer near the goal line that Wyatt Middleton returned 98 yards for a touchdown. Fellow inside linebacker Matt Warrick made his first start against the Black Knights. Despite being out of position a few times, he impressed with his range making 13 tackles. Navy ranks 65th in the nation allowing over 156 yards a game. The Mids defense is at its best against the run when teams go right at them with option or power running games. Navy has struggled slowing down running attacks like San Diego State that can spread the field with its passing game.  
San Diego State passing offense
Navy passing defense
San Diego State's passing game is one of the most prolific in the nation. The Aztecs are 11th nationally averaging 297 passing yards a game. Junior quarterback Ryan Lindley is a three-year starter who has passed for 3,554 yards this season completing 56.5 percent of his passes with 26 touchdown passes against 14 interceptions. The Aztecs have big time playmakers at wide receiver in seniors Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson who were both first-team All-Mountain West Conference selections. Brown caught 61 passes for 1,187 yards averaging over 19.5 yards a catch and has scored nine touchdowns. Sampson leads the team in receptions with 65 for 1,175 yards, averaging 18.1 yards a catch and eight touchdowns. Tight end Gavin Escobar made the freshman All-American team as he posted 26 catches for 299 yards and four touchdowns. Fullback Brandon Sullivan is featured in the passing game more than the halfback. Sullivan has 25 receptions for 325 yards and three touchdowns. San Diego State does an excellent job in pass protection ranking seventh in the nation in the fewest sacks allowed.

Navy ranks 65th in the nation in pass defense allowing 220 passing yards a game. The last eight games the Mids bend-but-don't-break scheme has struggled allowing over 283 passing yards a game. Even against Army's anemic passing offense they allowed two passing touchdowns. The Mids have allowed an abysmal 67.8 percent of opponent's passes to be completed this year as their scheme has been picked apart underneath. Navy's cornerbacks Kevin Edwards, 51 tackles and 1 interception) and Kwesi Mitchell (44 tackles and one interception) will have their hands full against the explosive Aztecs receivers. Senior captain Wyatt Middleton was hurt near the end of the Army-Navy game after his MVP performance. Last week Middleton had his right arm in a soft cast and a sling at practice. Middleton is expected to play in the bowl game despite the injury.  
Special Teams
Navy punter Kyle Delahooke had a disappointing senior year as he averaged 38.1 yards per punt and has been very inconsistent after a stellar junior season. Kicker Joe Buckley hit a 36-yard field goal against Army. Buckley has been perfect since he returned from a leg injury. This season Buckley has hit 7-of-10 field goal attempts. Freshman Marcus Thomas has shown excellent speed on kickoff returns and nearly broke the opening return against Army for a touchdown. Fellow freshman Matt Aiken has replaced the ineffective Gary Myers as punt returner. Aiken didn't get a chance to return a punt against Army's rugby style punts in his first appearance. Navy's kick coverage teams have improved the second half of the season but are average at best allowing 9.2 yards a punt returns and 23.8 yards on kickoff returns.

San Diego State has a very productive kicking game. Kicker Abel Perez has a very strong leg. Perez has hit 17-of-22 field goal attempts and recorded 28 touchbacks kicking off. Punter Brian Stahovich was named first-team All-Mountain West Conference. Stahovich can really nail the ball as he averages an impressive 45.7 yards per punt and has forced 14 fair catches. Brandon Davis handles most kick returns and is averaging 22.3 yards a return. Punt returner Larry Parker averages 7.2 yards per return. San Diego State kick coverage teams are average at best allowing 9.6 per punt return and 26.1 per kickoff return.  
San Diego State's Brady Hoke has done a tremendous job in his second season as Aztecs head coach. Under Hoke this will be the Aztecs first winning season and bowl appearance since 1998. He's put together a tremendous staff with Al Borges as his offensive coordinator and former New Mexico coach Rocky Long as defensive coordinator. twice while head coach at Ball State.

Hoke is 2-0 against Navy defeating the Mids twice while head coach at Ball State. Ken Niumatalolo always has his teams prepared for a big effort in bowl games. Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper needs to get the running game untracked after being shut down against Army. Defensive coordinator Buddy Green will have his hands full in preparing for an explosive Aztec offense that averages 35 points a game. The Mids have struggled defending against any decent passing team they've seemed to face this year.  
This will be a home game for San Diego State. However the Midshipmen, who always sell out their bowl ticket allotment and have a number of Naval bases in the area, will be well represented. There should be a terrific crowd on hand. This is San Diego State's first bowl game since 1998 and they will have to adjust to the nearly a month long wait since their last contest. The Aztecs should benefit from the extra time to prepare for Navy's option attack. Navy should be sharper by playing recently against Army but they lose valuable preparation time due to Army-Navy being moved back and the team having to focus on finals this past week. This will be Navy's eighth consecutive bowl appearance and that experience should help.  

PREDICTION: Navy, 35-31. I'm concerned about Wyatt Middleton's arm injury since Navy needs him but it looks like he will play. I expect Navy will struggle at times defensively against San Diego State's passing game. This game will be won by the offense and both teams should move the ball. Air Force's option attack was able to move the ball on the ground against the Aztecs and make some big plays in the passing game. Dobbs is a much better passer than the Falcon's Jefferson and can make the Aztecs pay if they sell out to stop the option. Navy should prevail in what ought to be an exciting game.

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