Arizona State vs. Navy: Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl Breakdown

Publish date:

Arizona State (7-5) vs. Navy (8-4)Dec. 29, 4:00 p.m. ET (ESPN2)


? Reason to watch: Navy's ground game. Though the Wildcat formation has stolen the spotlight in recent years, the triple-option offense -- which Navy and only a few other schools employ -- remains one of the most challenging schemes for opponents to defend. It's as effective as it is obscure, leading the Midshipmen to their ninth bowl game in 10 years. Navy's ability to keep opponents off balance produced 275.6 rushing yards per game this season, the sixth-highest total in the nation, and fueled the success of a three-pronged attack: Gee Gee Greene (7.1 yards per carry), Noah Copeland (152 carries) and quarterback Keenan Reynolds (10 rushing touchdowns) all starred in the system. The Will Sutton-led Arizona State defense will know the Midshipmen's strategy going in, but that far from guarantees Sun Devil success. Arizona State ranked 74th in the FBS in rushing defense, and Navy averaged 5.1 yards per carry despite running four times as often as it passed in 2012.

? Keep an eye on: Sun Devils coach Todd Graham. The first-year frontman has already turned Arizona State's program around, producing its first winning season in seven years. Now he has to turn his elite pass defense (ranked 12th nationally) into a formidable run stopper and continue to derive the most out of sophomore Taylor Kelly. Arizona State's quarterback threw for 2,772 yards and 25 touchdowns this season. Also, be sure to monitor the Sun Devils' defensive line. Sutton (10.5 sacks) heads a unit that ranks second in the nation in pass sacks and could get into Navy's backfield and break up some plays.

? Did you know: The Sun Devils have lost three straight bowl games by an average margin of 22.3 points, with their last victory coming in the 2005 Insight Bowl. But this one seems likely to snap the streak. Arizona State lost just two games by more than 10 points all season (against Oregon and USC), and Navy averages a mere 24.8 points, 84th in the FBS.

? Final analysis: Arizona State could have its hands full with Navy's rushing attack, but the Sun Devils shouldn't struggle to score, either. Arizona State averaged 36.4 points per game and could benefit from big days from Kelly and Marion Grice. As long as Navy doesn't run wild, look for Graham's more balanced team to prevail.

? The pick: Arizona State 34, Navy 24