Three Keys: Navy vs. San Diego State

Navy face one of the strangest bowl turnarounds in the in history of college football on Tuesday night when they face San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl. Due to the unique placement of the Army versus Navy showdown, the Mids had just ten days between their regular season finale and the bowl game.

This is the shortest time between game dates in college football history. With just three full days in San Diego to prepare for a home town team who has been idle since November 29th it will be very interesting to see how the Mids fare. Here are the three keys.

1) Win the rushing battle

Somehow it always seems like Navy are playing against other teams who are just as adept at running the ball. San Diego State may not be a power option team in the style of this Mids, but in Donnel Pumphrey they have a guy who is the number three rusher in the entire nation. Pumphrey has had a monster season for the Aztecs, rushing for 1,755 yards and 19 touchdowns. These are ridiculous numbers, especially when you consider he has taken his 255 carries for an average of 6.9 yards per tote.

Pumphrey is a one cut nightmare behind a powerful offensive line as his 4.4 speed allows him to be a threat to score no matter where the Aztecs are on the field. In the last game of the regular season he went for 261 yards and three scores against San Jose State and the Mids linebackers are going to have to be especially gap sound and make their one on one tackles if they are to stop him taking over the game.

On the other side of the ball Kennan Reynolds needs to do what Keenan Reynolds does and be the best player on the field. The Aztecs are going to be without their best run stopping lineman in Alex Barrett, so expect a heavy dose of Noah Copeland and Chris Swain early to both soften the inside and get the Aztecs to commit to staying honest in the option game. From that point forward it will be up to Reynolds to make the right plays and the correct reads to win the Mids the contest.

2) The defense cannot break

San Diego State may not have played a collection of dominant offenses in 2014, but their defense has been sensational throughout the season. The Aztecs allow only 20 points per game, which is good for 15th place in the nation in scoring defense. The also come into the game averaging just 4.99 yards per play, which is good for 26th in the FBS. Throw in a couple of First Team All-Mountain West selections in the defensive backfield and you have quite the defense to break down.

As good as that defense it is they haven’t faced an offense which runs with the precision of Navy. The Mids will score their share of points on the Aztecs, so the game may well come down to the ability of the Navy defense to stop San Diego State from getting into the end zone. The Mids big worry is that their 100th ranked rushing defense, giving up almost 5 yards per carry, will get exposed against someone who is as good as Pumphrey. The key will be to let the standout tail back get his yards between the twenties, but then find a way to put the brakes on him in the red zone.

If the Mids can hold out and force field goals rather than touchdowns when the Aztecs are driving then they will be in a much better position to win the game.

3) Grab an interception or two

Though both Navy and San Diego State rely on their run games to carry them it is fair to say that the Aztecs are the more willing to put the ball in the air. Quarterback Quinn Kaehler has attempted 280 passes and thrown for over 2,000 yards this fall compared to the 104 passes attempted and 826 yards thrown for by Keenan Reynolds.

Kaehler, though, is certainly prone to mistakes. He has thrown more interceptions (10) than touchdown passes (9) in 2014, and though his numbers seem to have settled down after a rough opening to the year his lack of accuracy (a completion percentage of 56.4) is certainly something the Mids should be aware of. If the defense can get their hands on a pass or two of his and get the offense an extra possession or two then the chances of victory will be much more favorable.

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