Navy Preview

Navy Quarterback Keenan Reynolds

In many respects, Arizona State's Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl opponent, the Naval Academy, is an intriguing team. It's naturally known the most for its triple option offense but it's also a squad that has held its own against FBS teams in 2012. In this article, Devils Digest's Joe Healey analyzes the Sun Devils' next opponent.

Navy 2012 Schedule and Results

Notre Dame (12-0) (Dublin, Ireland): L, 50-10

@ Penn State (8-4): L, 34-7

VMI (2-9)*: W, 41-3

San Jose State (10-2): L, 12-0

@ Air Force (6-6): W, 28-21

@ Central Michigan (6-6): W, 31-13

Indiana (4-8): W, 31-30

@ East Carolina (8-4): W, 56-28

Florida Atlantic (3-9): W, 24-17

@ Troy (5-7): L, 41-31

Texas State (4-8): W, 21-10

Army (2-10) (Philadelphia, Pa.): W, 17-13

*-FCS level opponent

Offensive Preview

Rushing Offense: 275.58 (6th)

Passing Offense: 110.42 (117th)

Total Offense: 386.00 (79th)

Scoring Offense: 24.75 (84th) Turnovers Lost: 18 (34th)

Tackles for Loss Allowed: 55.0 (18th)

Sacks Allowed: 20.0 (47th)

Red Zone Offense: .80 (68th)

As can be expected from a service academy's football team, Navy heavily relies on its old school triple-option rushing attack. In 12 regular season games this year, over 80% of Navy's offensive plays occurred on the ground and the Midshipmen ultimately ranked sixth among FBS teams in rushing yardage.

For the season, Navy only attempts a little over 13 passes per game but the Midshipmen have allowed 20 quarterback sacks—a total that is fairly alarming given the limited quantity of pass plays Navy chooses to use.

Though junior Trey Miller began the season as the starting quarterback, Keenan Reynolds took over after five games. What the 5-foot-11, 199-pound true freshman lacks in experience and size is made up for with athleticism and determination as Reynolds guided Navy to a 6-1 finish including a comeback victory over rival Army in the regular season finale.

On the year, Reynolds has completed 56-of-97 passes (57.7%) for 884 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception while adding 628 rush yards on 140 carries with a team-high 10 scores.

With defenses keying on run plays much, much more often than not, Reynolds is able to take advantage of passing opportunities when they exist, but perhaps his most dangerous quality is his ability to nimbly escape pressure and technically poor pursuit by defenders and avoid yardage losses or even create sizeable gains.

Aside from Reynolds, the two primary ballcarriers for Navy are Gee Gee Greene (5-8, 185) and Noah Copeland (5-10, 205), a pair that has combined for 1,492 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Greene and Copeland have each started all 12 games in the Navy backfield and collectively receive about 23 total touches per game.

Bo Snelson (273 rush yards) and Darius Staten (176 rush yards) have also seen time as part time starters as well as key reserves in the Navy run game.

At wide receiver, 6-foot-4, 225-pound Brandon Turner has been the most frequently targeted player as he has caught 20 of Navy's 93 completed passes on the year, totaling 297 yards and three touchdowns.

Shawn Lynch joins Turner in the starting lineup and ranks third on the team with 14 receptions for 281 yards and a score, while Gee Gee Greene is the team's second-leading receiver with 17 catches for 303 yards and two touchdowns.

Along the offensive line, LT Ryan Paulson (6-4, 266), LG Josh Cabral (6-3, 297) and RG Jake Zuzek (6-0, 318) have each started every game in 2012. C Tanner Flemming (6-2, 270) and RT Graham Vickers (6-1, 280) have both started 10 of 12 games this season.

Collectively, Navy's starting five linemen size average is 6-foot-2, 286-pounds, which won't enable many size or power advantages over ASU's defensive linemen.

Navy's Offense in a Nutshell

With roughly four out of every five plays occurring on the ground, there is some definite predictability with Navy's offense, but that doesn't absolutely simplify matters for the Sun Devils.

ASU has no experience defending the triple option, so the misdirection and other variables can confuse and negate the prominence of the Sun Devil defense.

Also, as evidenced by a commendable yards per catch average for a few of Navy's receivers, when the Midshipmen opt for pass plays the intentions are frequently to surprisingly strike for large gains.

Ideally, the Midshipmen would love to chip their way through time consuming drives to exploit the lack of depth ASU has in its defensive front. However, the athleticism and overall talent of ASU's linemen and linebackers may be far too much for an undersized Navy offensive line to combat, which could greatly limit the Midshipmen's ability to sustain prolonged possessions.

Defensive Preview

Rushing Defense: 178.00 (78th)

Passing Defense: 210.92 (36th)

Total Defense: 388.92 (55th)

Scoring Defense: 22.67 (31st)

Turnovers Gained: 18 (80th)

Tackles for Loss: 53.0 (102nd)

Sacks: 18.0 (94th)

Red Zone Defense: .71 (12th)

The midshipmen operate out of a 3-4 defensive scheme, with a pair of excellent linebackers in Matt Warrick and Keegan Wetzel leading the way.

At linebacker, the clear star is outside ‘backer Keegan Wetzel (6-3, 218), who leads Navy with 15.0 tackles for loss and 7.0 sacks and is tied for third on the team with 74 tackles. Wetzel has clearly been Navy's most effective threat to opposing backfields as the squad as a whole has 53 tackles for loss and 18 sacks, giving him a strong portion of both totals.

Wetzel is joined on the outside with fellow starter Jordan Drake (6-4, 220). At the two inside positions, Matt Warrick (6-2, 229) is the standout, as he leads the entire team in tackles (84) and interceptions (three) and he is joined on the first team with Cody Peterson (6-3, 220), who has totaled 62 stops on the year.

The second-string group of linebackers is listed as Obi Uzoma (6-3, 231) and Josh Tate (5-11, 203) on the outside and John Michael Nurthen (6-2, 217) and Brye French (6-1, 216) inside. Though French is listed as a reserve he was a starter for half the regular season and has been one of the most consistent defenders on the team this year as he is tied for third on the team with 74 tackles.

Up front, though the Midshipmen utilize only a three-man front, the projected starting trio does not resemble your typical "space eating" group as ends Wes Henderson (6-2, 255) and Evan Palelei (6-3, 247) and nose guard Danny Ring (6-2, 260) are much lighter than the normal front men of a 3-4 scheme.

Henderson and Palelei have started all 12 games, while Ring—listed as a starter—has primarily served as a backup with Barry Dabney (6-1, 297) having started 10 games at nose guard. Dabney is listed third on Navy's Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl press release with Bernard Sarra (6-1, 290) second at nose guard. Josh Dowling-Fitzpatrick (6-2, 244) and Paul Quessenberry (6-2, 230) are slated as the two top reserve defensive ends.

Henderson leads all of Navy's linemen with 39 tackles, 5.0 TFL's and 3.5 sacks, while Palelei has added 27 tackles. Dabney and Ring have combined for 36 tackles from their nose guard position.

In the secondary, rover Tra'ves Bush leads the way with 82 tackles and five pass breakups, while cornerback Parrish Gaines' two interceptions are tops among Navy's defensive backs. Free safety Wave Ryder, truly one of the best names in college football, has totaled 51 tackles this year while Kwazel Bertrand is positioned to start opposed Gaines at cornerback and has registered 36 tackles and four pass breakups on the year.

Quincy Adams and Shelley White are listed as second and third at both cornerback positions, while James Britton and Chris Ferguson are pegged as the two backup safeties.

As a whole, Navy's three-deep at cornerback consists of five freshmen and one sophomore.

Navy's Defense in a Nutshell

Navy's defensive statistical averages—for and against them—may very well be skewed by the fact that the Midshipmen played teams such as Army and Air Force, academies that are similarly one-dimensional on offense as is Navy.

The Midshipmen's team discipline is reflected in the squad's ability to tighten in the red zone; however Navy's general inability to create backfield pressure is a clear opportunity for Taylor Kelly, Marion Grice, Cameron Marshall and D.J. Foster to be successful for the Devils.

If Navy is unable to pressure Taylor Kelly and/or limit the gains of the Sun Devil runners, the thought that ASU's offensive line should have a decisive physical advantage over Navy's defensive front creates a formula that can give ASU ample time and space to work with.

Statistically, the magic scoring number for ASU might be 37 points as Navy is 8-1 this season when holding opponents beneath their final season scoring average (ASU averages 36.4 points per game).

Special Teams Preview

Net Punting: 38.68 (30th)

Punt Returns: 8.75 (62nd)

Kickoff Returns: 22.37 (50th)

Kicker Nick Sloan has connected on 10-of-14 field goal attempts, including 9-of-11 from within 39 yards. However, after making his first seven attempts spanning the season's first eight games, Sloan has connected on only three of his last seven attempts.

With only 40 attempts, punter Pablo Beltran doesn't qualify to rank among the FBS statistical leaders, but his 43.9-yard average would be top-20 national material. Beltran also has a long punt of 63 yards, while placing 17 punts inside the 20-yard line and forcing 15 fair catches.

Shawn Lynch is the team's primary punt returner with a 9.4-yard average on 11 returns, while Marcus Thomas (23.0 avg.) and Ryan Williams-Jenkins (22.3 avg.) are the two typical kickoff return specialists. Navy has neither generated nor allowed a kick or punt return touchdown this season.

Miscellaneous Statistics

Turnover Margin: .00 (59th)

Penalties: 42 (2nd)

With discipline entirely befitting a service academic, Navy is very unlikely to hurt itself by way of penalties. This will require that ASU play with similar composure and now allow the penalty margin to sway drastically in favor of the Midshipmen and offer Navy any sort of easy opportunities.

Conclusion

This game presents a unique challenge to the Sun Devils and is one that is tough to truly predict—with Navy's challenges in recruiting the Midshipmen are a bunch that are easy to overlook, yet at the same time Navy is the caliber of team that no opponent should ever underestimate.

Navy's style is a polar opposite of the shiny colors and dazzling speed of Oregon, the brash Hollywood arrogance of USC, the "Revenge of the Nerds" prowess of Stanford or the trigger-happy offenses such as those found in Tucson, Pullman and Corvallis.

ASU has the physical and athletic advantages needed to gain and maintain a sizeable edge over Navy, while the Midshipmen have unparalleled character, discipline and determination that only the future leaders of the United States military can showcase.

This game represents what makes the bowl season fun and unpredictable; two teams that are complete strangers to one another preparing for a month for the type of opponent they rarely see over the course of the regular season.

Keys to a Sun Devil Victory

Defensive Discipline

When Navy has the ball, the key issues ASU needs to address in order to establish an edge are to properly monitor the triple option and to prevent QB Keenan Reynolds from dodging pressure for gains on the ground.

If Navy can consistently confuse the Devils with the triple option, the Midshipmen might be able to eat up clock and yardage and reduce the game to their style of play. Additionally, if the likes of Will Sutton, Carl Bradford, Junior Onyeali and others are unable to track down Reynolds when they rush, Navy's athletic freshman QB can pick up quick chunks of yardage which will both impact that field position and momentum of the game.

Pitchforks Aweigh

When the Sun Devil offense hits the field, ASU has a handful of marked statistical and size advantages over Navy. Up front, the Navy's defense lacks size and the ability to crash the backfield either for sacks or tackles for loss, creating the likely opportunity for the Sun Devil offensive line to establish dominance. In doing that, ASU will allow its runners to find advantageous holes, provide Taylor Kelly precious time to advance through progressions in the pocket and also give Kelly opportunities to make crisp read-option decisions.

With this series of proposed advantages, the key for ASU is to subscribe to the good old K.I.S.S. acronym as the Devils have the size and skill along the offensive line and at running back to gain substantial advantages over the Midshipmen.

However, if the Devils try to overcomplicate matters—especially early—and stray from the basic matchup advantages that will exist, ASU might not get off to as efficient and effective of a start as they should if they simply attack the Navy defense with the likes of Marion Grice, D.J. Foster and Cameron Marshall.

Football Focus

Two of ASU's most important players—Marion Grice and Will Sutton—have issues of varying magnitude that could distract their focus.

Grice, of course, lost his brother last week due to a senseless shooting while Sutton has battled injuries throughout parts of the second half of the season, especially against Arizona a month ago.

Though the two issues are entirely different in nature and overall importance, it remains to be seen whether Grice will have his mind on matters other than football and/or if Sutton will have some concerns about his immediate professional football future.

Admittedly, it's doubtful either of these occurs; football might be a perfect escape and catharsis for Grice at this point and this season Sutton has rarely—if ever—plays a single down at an effort level below his maximum.

Familiar Faces

Navy WR Casey Bolena (Phoenix Desert Vista HS), DE Peter Igras (Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep), DE Sean Kamela (Scottsdale Chaparral HS) and OL Joe Ryan (Tucson University HS) are all Arizona natives. ASU's Marcus Washington also attended Desert Vista and Deveron Carr attended Chaparral. Current ASU verbal commit Grant Martinez attends Notre Dame Prep.

Navy OL Josh Cabral attended Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) Tesoro High School, as did ASU OL's Sil Ajawara and Evan Finkenberg and DE Sean O'Grady.

Navy LB Tyler Lehrke attended San Diego (Calif.) Mira Mesa High School, as did ASU WR Kevin Ozier.

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