Navy (8-4) at Arizona State (7-5, 5-4)
Kickoff: 1:00 p.m. PST / 2:00 p.m. MST / 4:00 p.m. EST
Location: AT&T Park, San Francisco, CA
Point Spread: Arizona State by 14
TV / Radio: ESPN2 / 620 AM
Weather Forecast: Low 50s, 60% chance of showers
Series History: This is the first ever meeting between these two schools.
Navy's Last Game: The annual national treasure that is the Army vs. Navy game was a thriller. The two teams hammered each other on the ground, with Army having a great day with 370 yards. The Black Knights held a 13-10 lead late into the fourth quarter before Navy's Keenan Reynolds scored on an eight-yard run for the eventual game winner.
ASU on Offense: The offensive unit that topped 40 points in each of the last two games of the regular season should have a solid chance to do so again against a Navy 3-4 defense that is short on talent but long on grit.
The headline story on this side of the ball will come in the trenches, in which ASU's offensive line dwarfs Navy's starting three-man line. Unlike most 3-4 schemes, Navy doesn't bring a lot of pressure, ranking 102nd in the nation in tackles for loss and 94th in sacks.
Given the size disparity up front, that trend should hold and ASU could be in line to have a lot of success on the ground and get to the second level with regularity. Marion Grice, D.J. Foster and Cameron Marshall should be getting plenty of wide running lanes and come face to face with a small but sound linebacking corps led by leading tackler Matt Warrick. Sustained success on the ground should pay dividends as the game goes on, with the smaller defense growing increasingly weary in the second half when ASU should look to ice the game. Watch for more interior runs from the Sun Devils throughout the game.
This season has shown two sides of Taylor Kelly. When he is careful with the ball and not facing consistent pressure, he is supremely efficient and the team in 7-0. However, when he throws at least one interception, the team is 0-5. No surprise there. With Navy's lack of a pass rush, Kelly should be in line for an efficient afternoon. Outside linebacker Keegan Wetzel is the lone sack threat, and ASU should be able to gameplan to neutralize him.
With that time, Kelly should find plenty of open targets downfield. Tight end Chris Coyle should have a nice match-up with rover Tra'ves Bush to exploit, and Rashad Ross, Kevin Ozier and Jamal Miles will be facing a very young cornerback group that features five freshman among the top six. Navy's linebackers, especially Warrick, are solid against the pass, but none should be able to keep up with Grice and Foster in the flats
All told, unless the Sun Devils commit turnovers, they should be able to consistently find success all throughout the game in both phases of the game.
- ASU Offensive Line vs. Navy's 3-Man Line: The Midshipmen down linemen in their 3-4 are undersized, averaging just 254 pounds. ASU's offensive line, on the other hand, comes in averaging 292 pounds. While there's more to success than just size, the difference should allow the Devils to assert their will in the ground game, moving the Middies off the ball and given Grice, Foster and Marshall wide lanes.
- ASU's Pass Protection vs. OLB Keegan Wetzel: Navy ranks just 94th in the nation in sacks, a very low total for a 3-4 defense. Of the team's 18 sacks, seven are from Wetzel, and no one else has more than 3.5. If ASU can hold back the speedy and determined Wetzel, Kelly should have plenty of time to find open receivers downfield.
- TE Chris Coyle vs ROV Tra'ves Bush: Coyle is one of the nation's top tight ends and approaching ASU's single-season tight end reception record. He should be able to get this in his match-up against Bush, a talented player but one who gives up five inches and nearly 40 pounds to the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Coyle. With Kelly getting time, this could be a big advantage for the Devils.
ASU on Defense: There will be no surprises here. Stop the run, you stop Navy.
The Midshipmen run their effective triple-option offense, running and pitching their way to an average of over 276 yards per game, the sixth best total in the country.
Leading their attack is freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who took over for Trey Miller at midseason and has done quite well. The 5-foot-9, 170 pounder is a tough runner, having compiled 628 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns on the ground. He's a developing passer, but he is good at limiting his mistakes, with just a single interception against eight touchdown passes. Whether he can continue that success against ASU's bigger, faster defense and after a few hard hits remains to be seen.
Navy's top offensive weapon is slotback Gee Gee Greene. The speedster leads the team with 765 yards rushing and 303 yards receiving, and averages 8.5 yards per touch. Fellow slotback Bo Snelson is similarly dangerous if allowed to get into the openfield. When the team wants to run with power, they handoff to fullback Noah Copeland up the middle. Copeland has amassed 691 yards on the year, while losing just three, proof of his straight ahead style.
ASU should be well equipped to derail the Navy ground game. The linebacking corps of Brandon Magee, Chris Young, Steffon Martin and Carl Bradford all possess the athleticism and intelligence to read the ball and then close aggressively. They will need to remain disciplined and not overpursue, as Navy's ballcarriers can all take advantage of any open lanes.
The battle in the trenches will be intriguing as well, with the aggressive ASU defensive line matching up against the small Navy line that favors plenty of cut blocking. The Midshipmen front five are an efficient unit, but have yet to face an attack like they will see from the Sun Devils. If Will Sutton and Jaxon Hood can keep their knees clear, they should be able to generate a consistent push into the Navy backfield.
While they do run over 80% of the time, Navy takes advantage of their rare passing attempts by ranking among the nation's best with over 14 yards per completion. Whether it's from the wide receivers or the slotbacks, the Midshipment strike downfield and with a lot of go routes. Greene's speed from the slotback spot opens things up along the seams and middle of the field, while wideouts Brandon Turner and Shawn Lynch work the outside. Turner has a great size (6-foot-4) and speed combination, and Lynch has blazing speed, which will force ASU cornerbacks Osahon Irabor and Deveron Carr to not cheat up too much to stop the run.
Throughout the season, the Sun Devils have struggled against the run, often being too aggressive in their pursuit and being hurt with cutbacks. This will be a stern challenge of the team's discipline, as the triple-option is used to help mask Navy's deficit in talent. If ASU plays smart and disciplined defense, they have more than enough talent to hold Navy in check, forcing them to play catch-up in the second half. In that scenario, the Navy offensive line will have little chance against ASU's elite pass rush.
Special Teams: The Sun Devils bring the nation's top punter, Josh Hubner, into the game, which should help give them the edge in the field position battle. Kicker Jon Mora brings some momentum into the game, having made both of his kicks against Arizona, although he has yet to hit from over 40 yards. In the return game, Rashad Ross brings a deadly element if he gets a clear lane, and Jamal Miles will look to end his disappointing year with some big plays on punt returns.
Freshman kicker Nick Sloan has had a solid year for Navy, hitting 10 of his 14 kicks, although he did miss two kicks from under 36 yards recently against Texas State, and like Mora, has yet to show he can convert from distance. Punter Pablo Beltran had a nice sophomore season, with his 23.9 average among the 20 best in the nation, and he has pinned 17 of his 40 kicks inside the 20.
In the return game, Navy has been merely average. Shawn Lynch has average 9.4 yards on 11 punt returns, and Marcus Williams has a pedestrian 23.0 average as the primary kickoff returner.
ASU's To Do List:
- Play disciplined, let clear talent advantage shine through
- Get an early lead and make Navy pass in the second half
- Don't overpursue on defense
- Attack small Navy front seven with the run
- Allow Taylor Kelly time to pick apart the secondary
What It All Means: On paper, ASU has the advantage in every area. The Sun Devils have superior players at every position across the board, and Navy has shown over the past three years that they have struggled against BCS conference competition (just three wins over BCS schools). If ASU doesn't commit repeated self-inflicted mistakes in the former of turnovers and costly penalties, they should be able to cap the year with their eighth win.
Prediction: ASU 38-17
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