Head-to-head: Navy vs. Arizona State

The Navy Midshipmen (8-4) will play Arizona State (7-5) on Saturday December 29 in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. The game will be played at AT&T Park in San Francisco. This will be the first meeting between the two programs. Both teams enter the game coming off exciting wins against their arch rivals.

The Navy Midshipmen (8-4) will play Arizona State (7-5) on Saturday December 29 in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. The game will be played at AT&T Park in San Francisco. This will be the first meeting between the two programs. Both teams enter the game coming off exciting wins against their arch rivals. Navy's defeated Army with plebe quarterback Keenan Reynolds leading a late fourth quarter touchdown for a 17-13 victory. Reynolds has led Navy to wins in six of his seven starts. Arizona State finished third in the PAC-12 South division this fall. Arizona State had a comeback victory in defeating in state rival Arizona 41-34 for the Territorial Cup.

Navy's Rushing Offense
Arizona States's Rushing Defense
Edge: Navy

Navy's spread option rushing attack ranks sixth in the nation averaging over 275 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds (628 yards, 4.5 avg., 10 TDs) finished his game winning fourth quarter drive against Army with an eight yard touchdown run. Reynolds' outstanding play revived the Mids season. Senior slotback Gee Gee Greene (765 yards, 7.1 avg., 3 TDs) had the best year of his outstanding career. Greene's 7.1 yards per carry average this year is tied for the second-best season performance in school history. Fullback Noah Copeland (691 yards, 4.5 avg., 5 TDs) scored a touchdown against Army as he ran for 99 rushing yards. Guard Josh Cabral, who will be making his 37th consecutive start on Saturday, and tackle Ryan Paulson both earned All-Independent honorable mention honors. They and the entire Navy's offensive should have their hands full with the Sun Devils athletic front four.

Arizona State's run defense is ranked 74th in the country allowing 172 rushing yards per game. The Sun Devils defense is extremely active and fast and ranked 26th in total defense. They are ranked second in the nation in tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Their best player is defensive tackle Will Sutton who was named the PAC-12's Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year. Sutton posted 20 tackles for loss and 10 1/2 sacks despite missing most of two games with an injury. Senior middle linebacker Brandon Magee is a smart, instinctive player who leads the team with 104 tackles. Magee made 17 tackles against Arizona. Devilbacker Carl Bradford (73 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss and 10 1/ 2 sacks) can fly off the edge and get up the field quickly. While Arizona State has played spread passing attacks that run the option they haven't faced a true triple option attack like Navy's in years.

Navy's Passing Offense
Arizona State's Passing Defense
Edge: Arizona State

This season quarterback Keenan Reynolds has completed 56 of his 97 pass attempts (57.7%) for 884 yards with eight touchdown passes and only one interception. The Mids have been effective throwing the ball since Reynolds was named the starting quarterback. Navy doesn't throw often but is ranked 43rd in passing efficiency. Brandon Turner (20 rec., 297 yards, 14.9 avg., 3 TDs) had a huge season long 49-yard reception on the Mids game winning touchdown drive against Army. Slotback Gee Gee Greene can get deep. Greene is second on the team in receiving averaging 17.8 yards on his 17 catches and has six career touchdown receptions. Shawn Lynch (14 rec., 281 yards, 20.1 avg., TD) has played well in his first year as a starter. Navy will take their shots down the field but if the need to pass often to move the ball this game could get ugly against the Sun Devils ferocious pass rush. The Mids are ranked 121st in the country in pass protection.

Arizona State is one of the best pass rushing teams in the country. The Sun Devils are ranked second in the nation with 48 sacks. Both defensive tackle Will Sutton and "Devilbacker" Carl Bradford each recorded 10 ½ sacks this season. The Sun Devils are ranked 12th in the country in pass defense. They have excellent cover cornerbacks in junior Osahon Irabor (35 tackles, 1 INT., 12 pass def.) and senior Deveron Carr (22 tackles, 1 INT., 8 pass def). Safety Keelan Johnson is second on the team in tackles with 81 and is ranks 11th in the country with five interceptions. The Sun Devil defense returned three interceptions for touchdowns this year ranking them third in the country.

Arizona State's Rushing Offense
Navy 's Rushing Defense
Edge: Even

Arizona State runs a spread passing system and uses a rotation of Marion Grice, Cameron Marshall and D.J. Foster. Grice is coming off an MVP performance in the Territorial Cup rivalry against Arizona, when he ran for 156 yards and three touchdowns. Grice has run for 520 rushing yards, averaged 5.8 yards per carry and a team leading nine scores. Cameron Marshall is the Sun Devils' leading rusher with 524 yards and seven touchdowns on 127 carries. Foster has rushed for 492 yards, 4.9 per carry and two touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly possesses good mobility and has run for four touchdowns. The Sun Devils rushing attack is ranked 38th in the nation.

Navy is ranked 78th in run defense this year allowing over 178 rushing yards per game. The Mids allowed 370 rushing yards in their last game against Army but held them to only one touchdown. The Navy defense has allowed just eight total touchdowns in the second half of the last 10 games.

The Mids received terrific play in the Army game from sophomore Dan Ring, who left the game with an ankle injury, and freshman Bernie Sarra at nose guard. The two underclassmen combined to make eight tackles and played Army's Remington watch list center Ryan Powis to a standstill. Barry Dabney, who dropped to third on the depth chart after being bypassed by the underclassmen, ended up the hero recovering Army's fumble on the final drive to preserve the victory. Senior inside linebacker Matt Warrick (84 tackles, 3 INT, 3 pass def.) has played his best football in leading the team in tackles this season. Junior inside linebacker Cody Peterson led the Mids in tackles against Army when he recorded a career high 14 tackles.

Arizona State's Passing Offense
Navy's Pass Defense
Edge: Arizona State

Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly has completed 224 of his 340 pass attempts for 2,772 yards with 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions this fall. Tight end Chris Coyle leads Arizona State with 53 catches for 659 yards and five touchdowns. Arizona State's running backs with test the Mid linebackers since they are used often in the passing game. Marion Grice has made 39 catches for 406 receiving yards and has scored eight touchdowns. D.J. Foster has 36 receptions for 522 receiving yards and four scores. Both have been involved in big plays in the passing game. Speedy senior Rashad Ross (33 rec., 471 rec yards, 14.3 avg., 3 TDs) is the best of an inconsistent receiving corp. Ross dropped two long passes in the victory over Arizona.

Navy's defense is ranked 85th in the nation in pass defense. In the Mids secondary senior Rover Tra'ves Bush (82 tackles, 5 pass def., 1 fumble rec., 1 FF) earned First team All Independent honors. The Mids best pass rushing linebacker Keegan Wetzel was named First team All-Independent recognition as well. Wetzel recorded a sack against Army when he blitzed and tossed running back Raymond Maples aside to sack Trent Steelman. He has posted 74 tackles (15 TFL) and a team-high seven sacks. Sophomore cornerback Parrish Gaines (63 tackles, 2 INT, 2 pass def.) earned honorable mention All-Independent team honors for his much improved play this season.

Special Teams
Edge: Even

Navy's plebe kicker Nick Sloan nailed his only field goal attempt in the high pressure of America's game. Sloan finished his plebe regular season hitting 10-for-14 on field goals and being perfect on extra-points. Sophomore punter Pablo Beltran is averaging 43.9 yards per punt this season on his forty punts. It is the second best single season average in school history. Beltran's punting helped Navy win the field position battle against an Army team that out-gained them. Marcus Thomas has averaged 23.0 yards on kickoff returns. He earned honorable mention All-Independent kick returner honors. On punt returns Shawn Lynch has averaged 9.4 per punt return. Navy's coverage teams have generally solid.

Arizona State has an excellent punter in Josh Hubner who ranks third in the country. Hubner is averaging 47.1 yards per attempt with 20 of his 52 punts being downed inside the 20. The Sun Devils switched field-goal kickers at mid-season, going with walk-on Jon Mora, who has connected on 9 of 12 attempts but he lacks a strong leg. Mora's longest made field goal is just 39 yards. ASU's kickoff return men Rashad Ross (25.6 YPR, 1 KOR TD) and Jamal Miles (20.9 YPR) are both dangerous. Miles also handles punt returns averaging 7.6 yards per punt return. The Sun Devils coverage teams are below average.

Edge: Even

Ken Niumatalolo has led the Midshipmen to a 40-25 record as head coach. This season may have been Niumatalolo best coaching job as he's incorporated 14 freshmen into the lineup and had 17 players made their first career start. Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper offense has averaged 26.4 points per game with freshman Keegan Reynolds at quarterback. The offense averaged just 17.2 points per game in the games Trey Miller started. Buddy Green's defense has allowed just 17.6 points per game over the last ten games. Green's defense really hasn't received enough credit for how well they've performed since the two season opening blowout losses.

In his first year Arizona State head coach Todd Graham helped guide he Sun Devils to their first winning season since 2007 with a 7-5 record and to their second consecutive bowl game. Previously Graham led Rice to its first bowl victory in 45 seasons in 2006 and then led Tulsa to back-to-back 10-plus win seasons for the first time in school history in 2007 and 2008. He coached Pittsburgh for one season (6-6) before taking the ASU job. He has a career record of 56-34 (.622). Graham's teams are best known for their offensive performances but his own background is on defense. Graham served as defensive coordinator at both Tulsa and West Virginia. He greatly improved the Sun Devils team discipline and greatly reduced penalties. ASU finished 14th in penalties per game this season after finishing with the most penalties in the nation the previous year.

Edge: Even

Ken Niumatalolo enters the game with a 1-3 record in bowl games. One of the keys for Navy seems to be getting off to a quick start. Under Niumatalolo Navy is 3-0 this year and 24-3 (.889) overall when leading after the first quarter. When trailing or tied after the first quarter Navy is 5-4 this year and 16-22 (.421) over all under Niumatalolo. As they continually demonstrate against Army, the Mids usually don't beat themselves. Navy is tied for second in the fewest penalties and penalty yards per game.

Arizona State is 12-12-1 in bowls but has lost its past three postseason games. Last year they lost 56-24 to Boise State in the 2011 Las Vegas Bowl. The Sun Devils haven't won a bowl since the 2005 Insight Bowl. ASU is 2-6 in its past eight bowl games but Graham is 3-1 in bowls as a head coach. While the Sun Devils defense is talented and has the advantage of the extra practice to prepare for the triple option they haven't played a triple option team in a long time. There is a big difference playing Navy in a game and doing well in practice against the scout team being run by a former high school option quarterback.

PREDICTION: Arizona State, 38-28. The Sun Devils have the athletes on defense to make enough stops against Navy. Arizona State's team speed on offense could create some mismatches against the Navy's secondary and linebackers like Troy did last month. I wouldn't be surprised if Navy upsets them but the Sun Devils are fast and talented. They're big favorites for a reason.

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