HEAD TO HEAD: NAVY VS. SDSU

Navy meets San Diego State on Tuesday in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. GoMids.com's Jim Lawler compares the two teams in several critical areas. He also makes a prediction on the game's final score.

Navy Midshipmen travel to San Diego to play the hometown San Diego State Aztecs in the Poinsettia Bowl on Tuesday, Dec. 23 at Qualcomm Stadium. Navy enters the game following its record thirteenth straight victory over Army. The Mids have won three consecutive games. San Diego State finished the regular season with a 7-5 record and was 5-3 in the Mountain West Conference. The Aztecs ended their regular season with a dominating 38-7 victory over San Jose State. San Diego State hammered Navy 35-14 the last time they faced each other in the Poinsettia Bowl.

NAVY PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
SDSU PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: SDSU
REMARKS: Keenan Reynolds has completed 49-of-104 passes (47.1%) for 826 passing yards with six passing touchdowns and three interceptions this year. Reynolds had his best passing game all season against Army. Keenan completed 6-of-8 passes for 77 yards and a key touchdown before the end of the first half. He should have had another completion but fullback Noah Copeland dropped a pass when he was wide open on a wheel route. Reynolds was on the money all day. He used three completions late in the second quarter to tie the score before halftime. Reynolds completed a 39-yard pass to Jamir Tillman (20 rec. for 386 yards, 19.3 avg., 3 TDs) to the Army 31. Tillman broke the tackle to pick up an extra 14 yards. Reynolds then hit Ryan Williams-Jenkins (5 rec., 96 yards. 19.2) for a 12-yard gain. Reynolds finished the scoring drive when he threw a bullet 9-yard touchdown pass to Tillman with 18 seconds to go before halftime to tie the score. Navy's offensive line is ranked as the second worst team in the nation at protecting its quarterback in terms of sack percentage. If forced to pass a lot they will probably struggle against the Aztecs multiple fronts that brings pressure from different areas.

The San Diego State defense is ranked 19th in the nation allowing just 192 passing yards per game. Its led by cornerbacks J.J. Whittaker and Damontae Kazee who both earned second team all MWC honors. Senior defensive back J.J. Whittaker is on the Thorpe Watch List for best defensive back. He is tied for fourth on the team with 58 stops and has two interceptions. Last year Whittaker posted three interceptions and had 11 passes broken up. Fellow cornerback sophomore Damontae Kazee registered 52 tackles, a team-high 13 pass breakups and an interception during his first season as a starter. Warrior safety Malik Smith was an honorable-mention MWC pick. Smith has posted 53 tackles with three interceptions. The Aztec defense can bring pressure from anywhere with twelve different players recording their 24 sacks.

NAVY RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.
SDSU RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: NAVY
REMARKS: The Midshipmen enter the game leading the nation in rushing as they are averaging over 345 yards per game. Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds (1,182 yards, 5.1 avg., 21 TDs) was recently named the FBS Independent Offensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive year. Reynolds closed strong after missing two games early this season due to a knee injury. Over the last three games he's run for 496 yards and scored ten times. Navy's B-backs or fullbacks have run for a combined 1,592 yards and 10 touchdowns on 231 carries with a 6.0 yards per carry average. Senior Co-captain Noah Copeland is second on the team in rushing with 889 yards and five touchdowns on 117 carries. He earned First team all FBS Independent honors. Slot back Geoffrey Whiteside (345 yards, 8.2 avg, 3 TDs) leads the Mid slotbacks in rushing. The offensive line placed both guards, senior Jake Zuzek and junior E.K. Binns, on the all FBS Independent First team post season list.

San Diego State's rush defense is ranked 42th in the nation in this season. San Diego State's defense uses an innovative 3-3-5 defense that relies on speed and athleticism. The San Diego State defense is allowing just 20.1 points per game. The Aztec run defense is built around sophomore linebacker Calvin Munson, senior linebacker Josh Gavert and sophomore nose tackle Alex Barrett. All earned honorable-mention MWC accolades after leading a defense that led the conference in scoring defense. Munson is a playmaker at linebacker. He has a team high 78 tackles, 10 1/2 tackles for loss, four sacks, four interceptions and two forced fumbles. Josh Gavert is tied for the San Diego State lead with 78 tackles. Nose tackle Alex Barrett (39 tackles, 9 TFL, 3 sacks) missed time late in the year but is expected to start the bowl game. Aztecs held Air Force to 140 rushing yards in a 30-14 win early this year but the Falcons no longer run the flexbone or as much triple option.

SDSU PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
NAVY PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: EVEN
REMARKS: San Diego State senior quarterback Quinn Kaehler had a disappointing season after passing for 3,007 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2013. Kaehler has completed 158-of-280 (56.4%) passes for 2,016 passing yards with 9 touchdowns against 10 interceptions this season. Kaehler had only one game all season when he threw multiple touchdowns. He really missed big play wide receiver Ezell Ruffin (26 rec, 422 yards, 16.2 avg. 2 TDs) who was out five games with a broken collarbone. Ruffin is back healthy. He has NFL potential and posted 1,136 receiving yards on 68 receptions in 2013. Lloyd Mills is the other starting wide receiver with 22 catches for 310 yards, a 14.1 average and a score. Eric Judge (23 rec., 439 yards, 19.1 avg., 2 TDs) offers a long ball threat. Starting tight end Daniel Brunskill is rarely used in the passing game with just five receptions and a single touchdown all year.

Navy's pass defense is ranks 41st in the nation in passing yards allowed per game. The Midshipmen secondary allowed Army to complete just 2-of-7 passes for only 37 passing yards while they sacked the Army quarterbacks three times during their last contest. Striker linebacker Chris Johnson (65 tackles, Sack, 3 PD) was back in top form against Army. He had a huge game with a sack and he knocked down a pass. Defensive end Will Anthony (65 tackles, 10 TFL, 2 1/2 sacks) earned first team all FBS honors. Fellow defensive end Paul Quessenberry (35 tackles, 6 1/2 TFL, 1 1/2 sacks) forced a key fumble against Army. In the Mids secondary the best player has been senior captain Parrish Gaines (40 tackles, 3 INTs, 3 PD) who has started 36 consecutive games and earned First team all FBS honors.

SDSU RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.
NAVY RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: SDSU
REMARKS: The San Diego State Aztecs are led by their star sophomore running back Donnel Pumphrey. He has rushed for 1,755 yards, a 6.9 average per carry and 19 touchdowns this year. He is fourth in the nation in rushing yards per game at 146.25. His 93-yard touchdown run vs UNLV was tied for the third-longest rushing play in school. Pumphrey is a big play waiting to happen. He earned 2014 First-Team All-Mountain honors. Pumphrey had a season best 261 rushing yards and three touchdown game last time out against San Jose State. The Aztecs have a 17-2 record when Pumphrey runs for more than one hundred yards. When he needs a breather his back-up Chase Price doesn't provide a lot of relief to defenses. Price has run for 625 yards, a 4.7 average and five scores as a reserve. Fullbacks Adams Roberts (1 carry for 2 yards) and Dakota Gordon (110 yards, 4.2 avg.) are used almost exclusively as blocking backs in San Diego State's offense. Kaehler is a pure pocket passer with a season long run of only 13 yards.

Navy's rushing defense held the Black Knights to a 198 rushing yards and they didn't allow a rushing touchdown. It was only the third game this year where the Black Knights were held under 200 rushing yards. The Navy front seven outplayed an Army offensive line that featured two plebes. Bernie Sarra (35 tackles, 0.5 sacks) once against outplayed the Army center. Jordan Drake (96 tackles) was everywhere against Army with 11 tackles, a pass break up and a sack. Inside linebacker Daniel Gonzalez (80 tackles, 2 INTs) has improved as the season has progressed. Raider linebacker Obi Ozoma was strong at the point of attack against Army and was in on 7 tackles. Rover George Jamison (16 tackles, 2 INTs) has helped in run support since being inserted in the starting line-up.

SPECIAL TEAMS
EDGE: NAVY
REMARKS: Navy kicker Austin Grebe has been perfect, hitting all five of his field goal attempts and all 31 of his extra points, since he was named kicker. Senior punter Pablo Beltran is averaging 44.3 yards per punt on 34 punts this year. He has had eight punts fair caught and 15 have been downed inside the 20. Beltran had his first punt blocked in his career against Army. Beltran is one of the best punters in Navy history and a Ray Guy Award nominee. Demond Brown is averaging 19.8 on kick returns. DeBrandon Sanders is averaging 4.5 yards per punt return. Navy's coverage teams have been excellent all season. Bernie Sarra has blocked three kicks this season.

San Diego State solved its kicking game woes that plagued them last season this fall with JUCO transfer Donny Hageman. Hageman hit all his extra points and 17-of-21 field goal attempts. Punter Joel Alesi lacks a strong leg as he is averaging just 36.3 yards per punt. He's done a decent job placing punts with 21 inside the twenty yard line with only one touchback. San Diego State sophomore punt returner Lloyd Mills was selected to the second team Mountain West Conference. Mills is averaging 12.1 yards per return with a touchdown. Rashaad Penny has produced 23.1 yards per kickoff return. The Aztecs has good team speed and are solid covering kicks.

COACHING
EDGE: EVEN
REMARKS: Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo became the winningest coach in school history after Navy defeated Army for the 13th consecutive year. The victory improved his record to 56-35. Niumatalolo faced a challenge with just ten days to get his team ready for the Aztecs while his team faced final exams both before and after the Army game. With the victory over Army he became the first coach in the history of the Army-Navy game to start his career 7-0 against Army. Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper had the offense rolling down the strength. Buddy Green's defense didn't allow an offensive touchdown against Army last game.

Rocky Long has a 31-19 record since being named San Diego State head coach in 2011. Long served as the Aztecs defensive coordinator for two years under Brady Hoke before Hoke left for Michigan. Before joining the Aztecs he served as New Mexico's head coach. His career mark is 97-88 as an FBS head coach. Long has guided the Aztecs to a bowl game all fourth of his seasons. He's an outstanding defensive mind and serves as his own defensive coordinator.

INTANGIBLES
EDGE: SDSU
REMARKS: Navy enters the contest playing very well having won five of its last six contests including three in a row. The Mids are trying to win a bowl game in back-to-back years for just the second time in school history. Navy defeated Rocky Long's New Mexico team 34-19 in the 2004 Emerald Bowl. Navy travels well to bowl games and is always well represented in San Diego which is a Navy town.

The Aztecs have won eight straight games against Service Academy foes. SDSU's Rocky Long owns 11 victories as a head coach over service academy teams. Among active FBS?head coaches (since 1996), that is tied for the second-highest total in the nation, trailing only Gary Patterson, TCU?(13). In addition to Long, Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson and Navy's Ken Niumatalolo each have 11 wins. San Diego State had routs over Navy opponents Air Force (30-14) and San Jose State (38-7). San Diego State is making its fifth consecutive bowl appearance after going to just five bowls over its previous 43 seasons. San Diego State owns a 3-0 record over Navy. They hammered Navy 35-14 in the 2012 Poinsettia Bowl. San Diego State enters the bowl game with an eight-game home field winning streak. San Diego State is 6-0 at home this season.

PREDICTION: NAVY 38, SDSU 31. There is a lot about this game that I do not like from a Navy perspective. The Mids had a short week of practice while facing final exams then traveled across the country after defeating their biggest rival. San Diego State is perfect at home this season. I could see this game getting away from the Mids like the 2010 Poinsettia Bowl with the Aztecs cruising to an easy 35-14 victory. However, the Midshipmen are a senior dominated group that is playing their best football while facing a talented but young SDSU defense. While SDSU's Rocky Long has an impressive record against the service academies his team has limited experience against a team that runs the spread triple option as much as Navy. Keenan Reynolds’ play has been off the charts brilliant since returning to health and removing the knee brace down the stretch. San Diego has a great runner in Donnel Pumphrey but SDSU quarterback Quinn Kaehler is the type of quarterback who is prone to mistakes that Navy's bend but don't break scheme generates. I don't think either defense will get a lot of stops. I believe the Mids will prevail and win a high scoring game.

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