The Arizona State Sun Devils will face the U.S. Naval Academy Midshipmen in the 2012 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. The first meeting between the two teams, set for Saturday, December 29th, promises to be an intriguing match-up, with decidedly different but high scoring styles of football going head-to-head at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
The U.S. Service Academies are sometimes overlooked by college football fans. That’s unfortunate, since the Army, Navy and Air Force have a long tradition of achievement on the gridiron. Navy has been the dominant Service Academy over the last decade, posting an 18-2 record against Army (10-0) and Air Force (8-2) in the last 20 meetings combined, winning seven consecutive Commander-In-Chief’s Trophies from 2003-09 and going to nine bowl games in the last 10 years.
An independent, Navy earned a berth to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl with a 24-17 victory over Florida Atlantic on Nov. 3rd. It will be the Midshipmen’s 18th bowl appearance all-time, including their ninth in the last 10 years. Coach Ken Niumatalolo is fourth all-time at Navy in career wins. He holds Navy coaching records for most wins in the first two (18), three (27), four (32) and five seasons (39) of a career.
Navy’s four losses during 2012 have come at the hands of opponents who are a combined 35-13 (.729). The Mids have played six bowl eligible teams this year (counting Penn State) and compiled a 3-3 record against the six programs. They defeated Air Force (6-6), Central Michigan (6-6) and East Carolina (8-4) and lost to Notre Dame (12-0), Penn State (8-4) and San Jose State (10-2). Over the last nine games (7-2), Navy has outscored the opposition in the second half, 146-80. Its defense has allowed just eight touchdowns during the same period.
Navy hasn’t played since November 17th, when it defeated FBS newcomer Texas State 21-10.
Keenan Reynolds is the first freshman to start at quarterback for Navy since Jim Kubiak started five games in 1991. Additionally, he is just the third freshman in team history to start at quarterback. Reynolds is 5-1 as a starter with wins over Central Michigan, Indiana, East Carolina, Florida Atlantic and Texas State and a loss to Troy. During the 2012 season, he has thrown eight touchdowns and just one interception, and run for 585 yards and a team-high nine scores.
Navy’s uncommon triple-option offense is highlighted by an arsenal of weapons on the ground. Indeed, the Midshipmen boast the nation’s No. 6 rushing attack. RB Gee Gee Greene has racked up 750 yards with an enviable 7.2 yards-per-carry average. He also has 280 receiving yards on 14 catches. Greene is complemented by slotback Bo Snelson, who is averaging 6.3 yards-per-carry with 273 total yards. Sophomore fullback Noah Copeland is an additional threat with 592 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
On defense, Navy employs a 3-4 scheme and ranks 52nd in the nation in total defense. Linemen Barry Dabney and Wes Henderson have proven to be solid play-makers for the Middies, and opposing offenses should not overlook rising star Evan Palelei at defensive end. The Navy linebacker corps is anchored by speedy Keegan Wetzel, who has six sacks and 13.5 tackles-for-loss this season, as well as reliable performers Jordan Drake and Matt Warrick.
Navy’s sophomore punter Pablo Beltranis averaging 45.1 yards per punt (34 punts) this season and should his average hold, he would become the school’s single-season record holder. Beltran would stand 10th nationally if he qualified (must average 3.6 punts per game).
According to Arizona State coach Todd Graham, Navy will provide stiff opposition for his 7-5 Sun Devil squad. “We are very proud to be participating in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against a worthy opponent such as the U.S. Naval Academy. It will be an honor to travel to and participate in this wonderful Bowl experience in one of America’s great cities.”
Arizona State is coming off a satisfying 41-34 win against in-state rival University of Arizona. The Sun Devils were third in the Pac-12 in scoring at 36.4 points per game. Junior QB Taylor Kelly threw for 2,772 yards with 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions, completing 65.9 percent of his passes. Kelly likes to spread the ball around as five players caught at least 33 passes, led by tight end Chris Coyle, who had 53 for 659 yards and five touchdowns.
The big, active front seven of the ASU defense will likely pose problems for Navy. The Sun Devils ranked No. 2 in the Pac-12 in sacks (48) and total defense (350.8 ypg). Junior DT Will Sutton (20 TFL, 10.5 sacks, three forced fumbles) was named conference defensive player of the year. Senior linebacker Brandon Magee was second in the league in tackles (104).
After missing out on post-season play for three seasons, this marks the second consecutive year Arizona State will play in a bowl. Last year, the Sun Devils lost 56-24 to Boise State in the Maaco Bowl. Their last bowl win came in the 2005 Insight Bowl, with a 45-40 win against Rutgers.