SAN DIEGO COUNTY CREDIT UNION POINSETTIA BOWL
SAN DIEGO STATE VS NAVY – Tuesday, Dec 23rd, 6:30pm PT (ESPN)
The Aztecs find themselves going “Bowling” for the fifth consecutive season going back to 2010, when they faced NAVY in this very same San Diego Poinsettia Bowl, defeating the Midshipmen 35-14. Head Coach Rocky Long was the Aztec Defensive Coordinator and he fashioned a scheme that held Navy to 235 yards rushing, and 5 of 13 on 3rd downs, both significantly lower than their top 10 national ranks in both categories.
If you’re a student of history, this matchup tends to favor San Diego State once again based solely on Long’s ability to craft a game plan to slow down triple option attacks. Since 2010, the Aztecs have defeated Air Force five straight seasons, and have wins over Army in 2011 & 2012.
Just a little under a month ago, Rocky Long’s defense held Air Force to a season low 140 yards rushing and only 14 points. He did it with a tenacious attack on the QB and no doubt NAVY will see a similar plan. The Aztec defense is led by a dynamic LB tandem of SO Calvin Munson & SR Josh Gavert, both tied for the team lead in tackles with 78. Munson tallied a season high 10 in the win over Air Force & will be an active participant in the attempt to shut down NAVY.
Offensively the Aztecs have relied heavily upon an NFL sized O-line and the 1700+ yards of SO Donnell Pumphrey. The 1st Team All-Conference RB has shredded opponents to the tune of 147 yards per game and led the Mountain West in long plays from scrimmage rushing. The Aztecs sport a trio of receivers to keep defenses honest and all have over 20+ receptions and 300+ yards. SR Ezell Ruffin, and sophomores Eric Judge & Lloyd Mills have combined for 71 catches, 1171 yards & 5 TD’s.
Navy travels cross country for their 3rd consecutive Bowl trip and do so on the shoulders of SR QB Keenon Reynolds. The Midshipmen offense runs directly through its dynamic QB, but Reynolds isn’t the only weapon the Aztecs will have to counter. FB’s Noah Copeland and Chris Swain have combined for over a 1000 yards at the position on a team that ranks 2nd in the nation in rushing. Navy only passes roughly 10 times a game, but they make the most of it when they do and that’s usually to Jamir Tillman. Tillman averages 18.78 per reception and will have to get involved to back off the Aztec defense.
To counter the Aztec’s own running attack, Navy’s defense will need big games from LB’s Jordan Drake and Daniel Gonzalez. Drake and Gonzalez lead a defensive unit that has been hot & cold this season stopping the run at about 200 yards per game (98th overall). Key also will be the secondary’s ability to make the open field tackle and not let Pumphrey break off some of his big play scampers. I think that puts the onus on SR S Parrish Gaines to ensure everyone in the defensive backfield plays disciplined football.
The Key To The Game
This game ultimately will come down to San Diego State’s ability to limit Navy on 1st & 2nd down, forcing the Midshipmen to convert in 3rd & long situations. When Navy is on schedule and in an offensive rhythm, their hard to stop. But forced into a number of 7 to 9 yards to convert, the Midshipmen run out of options. Also remember that this is for all purposes a HOME game for San Diego State, the Aztecs are undefeated at Qualcomm in 2014.