Preview: Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
A trip to San Francisco and the Pac-12 Networks' backyard is the reward for a solid year at Arizona State in coach Todd Graham's first season running the team. This will be the Sun Devils' second straight bowl game, and it comes off a thrilling win over rival Arizona in the Territorial Cup to end the regular season.
[Related video: Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl preview]
Who: Navy (8-4) vs. Arizona State (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12)
What: Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
What Kraft Fight Hunger is: Kraft Foods' hunger relief program
When: Saturday, Dec. 29, 1 p.m. PT
Where: San Francisco, Calif.
Where to watch: ESPN2 with Dave Pasch (play-by-play), Brian Griese (analyst) and Jenn Brown (sideline)
Where to listen: Sun Devil-IMG Sports Network (92.3 KTAR FM in Phoenix), Sirius/XM Ch. 91
This is the first meeting between Arizona State and Navy.
Arizona State: 190.75 ypg (39th in NCAA) Navy: 275.58 ypg (6th)
Arizona State: 258.50 ypg (46th) Navy: 110.42 ypg (117th)
Arizona State: 36.42 ppg (21st) Navy: 24.75 ppg (84th)
Arizona State: 172 ypg (74th) Navy: 178 ypg (78th)
Arizona State: 24 ppg (40th) Navy: 22.67 ppg (31st)
[Related link: SB Nation full statistical preview]
How they got here
The Sun Devils jumped out to a big 2-0 start with the "high octane" offense rolling right along under new starter Taylor Kelly and a strong ground game. Things slowed down quickly, however, as they dropped their first game on the road at Missouri in a four-point game that was sloppy on both sides.
Arizona State managed to run off three straight against the bottom teams in the Pac-12 to sit at 5-1 before hosting Oregon in a game that simply got away from Graham and the coaching staff. The loss to the Ducks was one of four straight, including a game that came down to the final minute against UCLA and a pair of losses to USC and Oregon State. Things got going again when the team hosted Washington State, a 46-7 victory, before ending the year with a big upset win over rival Arizona that saw ASU run away with the game in the fourth quarter.
The Midshipmen headed to Ireland to take on a Notre Dame team that wound up rolling over them to start the Irish's national title march. The loss was the first of three straight to FBS teams to open the season, including a narrow 12-0 home defeat to San Jose State. Things turned around from there, however, as Navy topped rival Air Force in overtime to set off a run of seven wins in their final eight games. Navy faced Army in the last regular-season game of the year and ended up hoisting the Commander-in-Chief Trophy with a thrilling last-drive stand in yet another emotional game between the two academies.
Todd Graham is coaching in his fifth bowl game and has compiled a 56-34 record over seven seasons at four schools. On the opposing sidelines will be Ken Niumatalolo, who is finishing his fifth full-time season as the head coach of Navy and sports a 1-4 record in bowl games.
Running back Marion Grice – He is expected to play in the bowl game just a week after his brother was reportedly killed in an attempted robbery. The tough back leads the team in touchdowns and has been one of the more exciting players on the field for the Sun Devils this year.
Quarterback Taylor Kelly – The sophomore has taken over under center and has helped lead the team to a much more consistent, balanced approach that's put up plenty of points. In just his first season as a starter, Kelly managed to rank 23rd in the nation in passing efficiency.
Defensive tackle Will Sutton – The Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Sutton was a beast in the middle and a constant disruption for opposing offenses. It's hard to create highlights out of the interior line, but Sutton manufactured big plays all season long.
Running back Gee Gee Greene – The Midshipmen have a very balanced offense that distributes the ball among a number of people, but Greene is undoubtedly the primary rusher.
Quarterback Keenan Reynolds – The epitome of a balanced player, he makes the most of his touches regardless of whether it's passing the ball or running the option.
Linebacker Keegan Wetzel – One of the main defenders in a fairly stout Navy front seven, Wetzel is at his best when blitzing and getting into the backfield.
- Navy's last trip to San Francisco was in 2004 in the Kraft Fight Hunger's predecessor, the Emerald Bowl. They beat New Mexico, 34-19.
- Navy is coming off its 11th straight win over rival Army, while Arizona State topped Arizona in the Territorial Cup.
- Arizona State's defense ranks second in the country in sacks and tackles for a loss.
- Navy has beaten 10 different FBS teams since 2003, the most in the country by a non-BCS school.
- Navy has been the dominant Service Academy over the last decade, posting a 19-2 record (.905) against Army (11-0) and Air Force (8-2) in the last 21 meetings.
- Navy linebacker Keegan Wetzel scored a perfect 1600 on his SAT and is believed to be the only current FBS player in the country to accomplish such a feat. Keenan Reynolds is the first freshman to start at quarterback for Navy since Jim Kubiak started five games in 1991.
- Navy is trying to finish No. 1 in fewest penalties and penalty yards per game for the second consecutive year and for the third time in the last four seasons. ASU has led a remarkable turnaround from one of the most penalized teams in the country (dead last in 2011) to one of the least (tied for 15th in 2012).
- Frosh tailback D.J. Foster currently leads the team in all-purpose yardage.
[Related link: Full Arizona State bowl game notes]
Keys to the game
No need to spend a lot of time on this one as it will come down to whether Arizona State can stop Navy's rushing attack. The Sun Devils have been solid during the season so far on the ground with Will Sutton, Brandon Magee and others forming a disruptive front seven. They've luckily had several weeks to prepare for the option attack, but one never knows what will happen when the bowl game rolls around.
On the flip side, Arizona State has plenty of weapons to attack a Navy defense that hasn't held up too well when playing top-tier conference teams as of late. Both teams have solid numbers, but if Taylor Kelly can play mistake free and the ground game gets going behind a trio of talented tailbacks, this figures to be a nice Sun Devils win as they hit the eight-win mark for the first time since 2007.