To the casual observer, ASU and Navy have practically nothing in common. The Sun Devil student lifestyle is often thought to represent a lot of partying, while the Midshipmen's student body focuses on serving our country in the military after graduation.
Even on the gridiron, both football teams are very different. Todd Graham's squad sports a high-octane offense, balanced attack and numerous top-tier athletes. Flip the script to Ken Niumatalolo's club that prefers to play possession football, runs a triple option offense and has rarely seen upper echelon competition.
The contrasting styles will clash on Saturday December 29th during the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco. Regardless of the tactical differences, football success occurred in both Tempe and Annapolis in 2012: Navy went 8-4 in regular season play while ASU owns a 7-5 record.
Las Vegas believes Taylor Kelly and company are 14.5 point favorites. Honestly, the point discrepancy could be lower, but ASU should be expected to win. However, this is no sure bet. Listed below are my famous three keys for the Devils as they look to win their first bowl game since 2005.
1. Hot Start
Navy doesn't have a running weapon like Marion Grice or D.J. Foster, yet averaged 275.6 yards per game, sixth best in the FBS. Seems pretty unstoppable, right? Not quite. Freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds surpassed pre-season expectations with ease. However, the 5-9 170 pound Tennessee native's scouting report contains a plethora of flaws.
Navy's bread and butter is Gee Greene and Noah Copeland pounding the rock. Therefore, if ASU can start off hot, it would rattle and disrupt Navy's run-heavy approach.
Patience is certainly a virtue, one that teams lack obviously lack when trailing 14-3, 10-0 etc. Reynold's doesn't feel comfortable carrying Navy predominately on his right shoulder.
ASU defensive coordinator Paul Randolph has been tirelessly devising a scheme to slow down the triple option. Randolph's stress level could significantly drop with an early Kelly to Chris Coyle touchdown and/or other explosive plays from Mike Novell's complex offense.
2. Create Penetration
Will Sutton won the Pac-12 defensive player of the year for his ability to get sacks. ASU needs Sutton, Junior Onyeali, and Davon Coleman to create penetration to limit Navy's rush attack. Thankfully, penetration is a strong suit for the Devils, ranking second in the country in the ever-important tackles for loss category.
Any good run game features solid blocking up front, which can be mitigated by a solid rush. Navy's ground game can go anywhere, from the A gap to C to pay dirt, but will be stagnant with Sutton and his buddies in the backfield.
Whether it's Reynolds or RGIII, a clean pocket helps anybody's decision-making process. Logically think about it, how fast would your mind be moving with 300-pound behemoths in your face?
Proper pressure will cause turnovers and set up Taylor Kelly in prime striking range. Few like to watch the trenches (O-line/D-line) compete or block-shedding techniques, which could all turn out to be the contest's most important aspect.
3. Disciplined Mindset
Throughout the weeks of preparation ASU put together some odd drills to simulate Navy's wishbone threat. At yesterdays practice, cornerbacks Rashad Wadood and Robert Nelson pretended to be Navy's signal caller.
The triple option stems from ex-Midshipmen coach and current Georgia Tech leader Paul Johnson. The system is far from complex but potentially lethal.
Discipline has been the number one point of emphasis since Graham took over in the desert. After leading the country in penalties last season, Brandon Magee and the Sun Devil defense fixed the problem immediately.
Penalty flags were rarely seen, but blown coverages and big gains prevented ASU's defense from reaching its full potential.
In most games, Sutton and fellow Sun Devil defenders swarm the football, wherever it travels. Against Navy, the pigskin's location actually doesn't quite matter, because with one mere pitch, it could feature another ball carrier.
Linebackers Brandon Magee and Carl Bradford won't be asked to apply normal pressure. Instead, they will be assigned a particular player, ranging from the quarterback, running back and fullback (Navy's three options.)
If the ASU defenders solely fulfill their individual assignments by staying disciplined, Navy will struggle all afternoon.
Prediction Time: ASU over Navy 45-20