San Francisco, CA (Sports Network) - In his first season as the head coach in
Tempe, Todd Graham will lead his Arizona State Sun Devils into the Kraft Fight
Hunger Bowl against the Navy Midshipmen at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
Graham was one of a number of big-name hires in the Pac-12 this past
off-season including Rich Rodriguez at Arizona and Jim Mora at UCLA. Graham
managed to push the Sun Devils to their best record since 2007 with a 7-5
mark. The Sun Devils will also be making their second straight bowl appearance
after a three-year hiatus from 2007-2010. This will also be the 26th overall
bowl bid for Arizona State with the team 12-12-1 in the previous outings,
including a current three-game bowl losing streak that was extended last year
in a 56-24 loss to Boise State in the Maaco Bowl.
The Sun Devils' postseason hopes were in some jeopardy at the end of the
season with the team needing wins in its last two games to punch a ticket.
Arizona State was able to accomplish that with wins over Washington State and
a road victory over instate rival Arizona.
The Midshipmen came a long way from their 1-3 start to earn a spot in the
postseason. During those first three losses Navy was outscored by a 96-17
margin. The Midshipmen recovered from there though, winning five straight and
seven of their final eight games overall to finish the regular season with an
8-4 record. It was a marked turnaround from a year ago when the team finished
5-7 and out of bowl contention for the first time in eight years.
"I'm very excited to be a part of a group of seniors to help get the program
back on the right track" senior safety Tra'ves Bush said. "We've got a chance
to come up with nine wins so we'll keep working hard and see if we can make
In its previous 17 bowl appearances, Navy has a losing record (7-9-1) and has
lost four of its last five, including a 35-14 setback to San Diego State in
the 2010 Poinsettia Bowl. Under current head coach Ken Niumatalolo the team is
1-2 in bowl games with the lone victory coming in the 2009 Texas Bowl when the
team earned 10 wins for just the third time in program history.
This will be the first matchup between these programs. Navy has faced three
other Pac-12 schools in bowl games previously and come away with a 1-1-1
record in those contests.
Navy, like its other military academy brethren, relies almost exclusively on
the run game through a triple-option system. The Midshipmen finished the
regular season as the sixth most productive rushing team in the country (276.4
ypg). Navy picked up only 1,325 yards total through the air and is near the
bottom of the country in scoring (24.8 ppg, 86th) and total offense (387.7
With the Midshipmen constantly handing the ball off there has been a trio of
backs sharing the workload. Gee Gee Greene (108 attempts, 765 yards, 3 TDs) is
the leading rusher and the most explosive as his 7.1 yards per carry average
is far and away the best mark on the team among players with at least 50
attempts. Noah Copeland (152 attempts, 694 yards, 5 TDs) has taken on the bulk
of the carries but was a more straight ahead runner. Copeland really turned it
on in the last two weeks with efforts of 110 and 99 yards along with three of
his touchdowns coming in the final two contests. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds
is never afraid to call his own number and has racked up 628 yards rushing and
a team-leading 10 touchdowns.
Reynolds has held his own when called upon to throw the ball, completing 57.7
percent of his pass attempts for eight touchdowns and most importantly only
one interception. He threw for more than 100 yards only four times but
attempted more than 10 throws only five times all year.
Discipline is a big key for Navy this season as the Midshipmen rarely have
flags thrown against them. Navy has been called for the second fewest
penalties in the league (3.5 pg) which accounted for nearly 30 yards a
On the defensive side of the ball the Midshipmen are right near the middle of
the nation in terms of total yards allowed, as they rank 56th by giving up
388.9 yards per game. Navy limits teams in scoring to just 22.7 points per
game, ranking 31st in the country. Getting pressure was not a real strength
for Navy has totaled only 18 sacks. The squad's 53 tackles for loss were also
among the nation's worst totals.
Matt Warrick (84 tackles) and Bush (82) have each surpassed the 80-tackle
plateau and are the top two stoppers on the unit. Warrick has also brought in
a team-high three interceptions. Keegan Wetzel (74 tackles, 15.0 TFLs, 7.0
sacks) is a lone bright spot in the pass rush on a team that rarely got into
the backfield to make plays.
Arizona State's offense differs from Navy in its approach but not so much in
its production. While running a spread-style attack the Sun Devils are
actually the fourth most productive rushing team in the Pac-12 and the 38th
nationally at 190.8 yards per game. The team's rushing total is the third-best
mark by an Arizona State team since 1988. Overall the Sun Devils are picking
up 449.3 yards, while scoring 36.4 points per game. Arizona State's scoring
average is tied for the 21st best mark in the country.
The backfield has a number of versatile playmakers that contribute both in the
running game and through the air. Cameron Marshall (524 yards, 7 TDs) is the
team leader in rushing yards. Marion Grice (520 yards, 9 TDs) and D.J. Foster
(492 yards, 2 TDs) also piled up solid numbers on the ground.
Foster and Grice are perhaps most dangerous coming out of the backfield to
catch passes though. Foster brought in 36 passes for 522 yards and four
touchdowns, while Grice had 39 catches for 406 yards and eight scores. The
Arizona State running backs have accounted for more than 30 percent of the
total receiving yards for the Sun Devils and the trio of Marshall, Grice and
Foster have scored 31 of the team's 51 touchdowns. Foster has really been the
spark for the unit as he has racked up a team-leading 31 plays of 12 or more
yards and leads the team in all purpose yards (1,114).
Under center for Arizona State is Taylor Kelly. The sophomore has done a solid
job of picking up Graham's system in his first year and is currently third in
the Pac-12 in passing efficiency. Kelly has completed a stellar 65.9 percent
of his passes, for 2,772 yards and 25 touchdowns, while being intercepted only
nine times. Kelly can also get out of trouble with his feet when need be as he
has rushed for 435 yards.
The aggressive style isn't limited to the offense though. The Sun Devils have
excelled at pinning their ears back and getting into the backfield. Arizona
State ranked behind only fellow Pac-12 member Stanford in sacks (47) and
tackles for loss (107) nationally. Creating negative plays so frequently
allowed the Sun Devils to limit opponents to just 350.8 yards per game. That
mark was the second best in the Pac-12 and the 30th nationally. Like Navy,
Arizona State did not push itself backwards very often by committing the 14th
fewest penalties (54) in the country.
After facing a wide array of high-powered offenses in the Pac-12, Graham is
aware of how much of a change it will be to face Navy.
"Obviously it's completely different and defensively it's tough. It's still
not very easy because of the blocking and how they go about it, it's a very
difficult scheme to defend, "Graham said. "We're preparing for it. It's not
easy, but we'll get it done."
Five different players have more than 10 tackles for loss for Arizona State.
Chief among them is Will Sutton (58 tackles, 20.0 TFLS, 10.5 sacks). Sutton is
third in the country in tackles for loss and tied for 15th in sacks. Sutton
was selected as a First-Team All-American and was given the Morris Trophy,
which goes to the best defensive lineman in the Pac-12. Carl Bradford (17.5
ppg, 10.5 sacks) is another playmaker up front, as are Chris Young (75
tackles, 14.0 TFLs), Davon Coleman (57 tackles, 10.5 TFLs) and Brandon Magee
(team-high 104 tackles, 11.5 TFLs, 6.5 sacks). Keelan Johnson (81 tackles)
anchors the secondary and has brought in five interceptions.
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