USA TODAY Sports
The Arizona State defense received attention leading up to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, but the Sun Devil offense rewrote the record books with a 648-yard performance en route to victory.
Coming into the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, the dominating storyline was the Arizona State defense that would be tasked with stopping the vaunted triple-option attack of the Navy Midshipmen. After listening to three weeks of chatter about their defensive counterparts, Taylor Kelly and the Sun Devil offense decided that they had heard enough.
"Our offense did a great job all month, our line did a great job in protection. Everyone was great," Kelly said.
The redshirt sophomore led an unstoppable Sun Devil offense to nine touchdowns on its first nine possessions en route to a 62-28 victory over the Navy Midshipmen. The precise signal caller delivered a record-breaking rookie season for the maroon and gold, and his 268-yard effort in Saturday's bowl game helped Arizona State to a resounding bowl win.
Kelly threw just two incompletions on 19 attempts and Coach Todd Graham spoke about the importance of having a great quarterback. "Taylor's phenomenal. We've got a great quarterback, the core of him is team first, and that's what gives me great confidence. I've never doubted that, and that's why we're a bowl champion today. You have to have that kind of leadership and poise."
Kelly had a hand in five of the first six touchdown scores for the Devils, but running back Marion Grice stole the show in the first quarter. Grice rushed for 80 yards on nine carries in the first quarter, and tallied 19 receiving yards as well. Grice's 10-yard touchdown run in the second quarter gave the Sun Devils a 14-0 lead, and the Midshipmen knew they were facing a well-oiled machine.
"We had a hard time with their execution. They had a nice plan, they could run the ball and they had us on our heels the whole time," Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said.
Trailing 14-0 after running just three offensive plays, the Midshipmen took the field with a chance to claw back into the game behind a balanced running attack. Despite the best efforts of elusive freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds, the Sun Devil defense held the Midshipmen on three consecutive plays inside the Arizona State 35-yard line. On fourth and seven, Reynolds lofted a beautiful pass to slot back Gee Gee Greene that Greene dropped in the end zone.
After another Sun Devil touchdown drive, the Midshipmen offense found its rhythm and drove 85 yards for a score. Navy's Reynolds provided one of the lone sparks of the afternoon for the Midshipmen when he juked past a charging Osahon Irabor before firing a 3-yard touchdown strike to Matt Aiken.
If allowing a touchdown taught Arizona State a lesson, it's that the Sun Devils weren't going to be perfect in their bowl game effort. Once they understood this concept, the Sun Devils attempted to come as close as they possibly could.
"We have a system and we felt confident in it. Our guys came to play today and dominated, so I'm really proud of them," Coach Graham said.
Armed with a 21-7 lead, the Sun Devils began an assault on the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl record books as Kelly found Alonzo Agwuenu on an 11-yard touchdown before capping the first half with a 52-yard toss to a streaking Rashad Ross in the end zone.
Arizona State carried a comfortable 34-7 lead into the break, and the Sun Devils took the field in the second half as if Todd Graham had delivered his most fiery halftime speech of the season.
Sun Devil defensive back Robert Nelson intercepted Keenan Reynolds' first pass of the second half before Kelly and Ross connected for the third time of the afternoon on a 50-yard touchdown.
Senior running back Cameron Marshall plunged in from a yard out to give the Sun Devils a 41-point advantage, but Navy's Gee Gee Greene returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards to narrow the score to 48-14. Shortly thereafter, the records began to fall.
The Sun Devils will find themselves all over the 2013 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl media guide, and rightly so. The 62 points the Sun Devils scored destroyed the previous game record of 44 points scored by Florida State in 2006, and the Arizona State offense racked up an astonishing 648 yards of offense which surpassed the 550-yard mark set by Utah in 2005.
Other notable achievements by the 2012 version of the maroon and gold will hold a place in the Arizona State record books. Taylor Kelly finished the season with a completion percentage of 67.1, well ahead of Brock Osweiler's 61.8 percent mark set in 2011. Tight end Chris Coyle also reeled in four catches for 37 yards to become the single-season record holder for receptions by a Sun Devil tight end.
"We're blessed to have Chris. That's an integral part of what we do, and it's a reflection of the job our entire offense has done," Coach Graham said of Coyle.
Lost in translation from Saturday's fireworks is the impressive defensive performance from the Sun Devil. While the Midshipmen notched 313 yards on the ground, Will Sutton and company stopped the Naval Academy's potent ground attack well before it had the chance to get started.
Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds acknowledged the challenge the Sun Devils posed saying, "They didn't let up on me at all, they're a very physical defense."
The Sun Devils defense accumulated 11 tackles for loss including four sacks of Keenan Reynolds. Will Sutton, Carl Bradford, and Brandon Magee all finished with at least five tackles, and provided valuable stopgaps in the middle of the field against a triple-option built on deception.
Sutton was named the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl Defensive Player of the Game as he recorded five tackles, three and a half tackles for loss, and two and a half sacks.
"Preparation for it was hard. I hope we never play that offense again. The blocking schemes are real different, but I think we handled it (the triple option) well," Sutton said.
Perhaps most notable about Saturday's victory is the fact that the Sun Devils finish the season with three consecutive wins for the first time since the 1978 season.
Coach Todd Graham pledged a full-scale revival in Tempe, and the victory over Navy proves the Sun Devils are on the right track. If Kelly and his teammates can ride the momentum from the win on Saturday throughout the offseason, the Sun Devils have displayed enough firepower to make the 2013 campaign very entertaining.