Posted on: December 31, 2010 8:17 pm
Edited on: December 31, 2010 8:18 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
The Basics: Oklahoma (11-2) vs. UConn (8-4), Jan. 1, 8:30pm ET
Why You Should Watch: If you like those nature programs where a pack of lionesses hunt down and ruthlessly slaughter a gazelle, this is totally the bowl game for you. Probably. Possibly. Not if you go by Bob Stoops' prior track record in BCS games, admittedly; he and his Sooners have lost their last five. And that's the real reason you have to tune in, no matter how lopsided a matchup this might appear to be. If a UConn team that is totally overmatched on paper -- remember that the Huskies lost to Temple, were shut out by Louisville, and won the Big East despite being outgained by some 600 total yards in league play -- can pull off what might be the upset of the season, or even come close, Stoops might hitch the first plane to Gainesville just to avoid the tomato storm that would await him on his return to Norman. It's not likely, but like the first round of the NCAA Tournament in hoops, the potential is tantalizing enough that it's still a game you have to watch. Just know that no one will blame you for making other plans for the third and fourth quarters.
Keys to Victory for Oklahoma: The biggest one for the Sooners is pretty simple: just don't screw it up. Stoops' team has overwhelming matchup advantages all over the field, and if they can merely avoid making the handful of catastrophic mistakes that would keep the Huskies in the game, they should cruise. Start with the passing game, where Oklahoma will feature the nation's No. 4 air attack at 337 yards-per-game, one headed by quarterback Landry Jones and featuring one of the FBS's most dangerous receivers in overlooked All-American (if there can be such a thing) Ryan Broyles. They'll be facing a low-wattage UConn secondary that was shredded by the likes of Michigan (8.5 yards an attempt), Rutgers (11.4), and Pitt (7.9). If the Panthers' Tino Sunseri can do that kind of damage (he finished 20-of-28 for more than 220 yards) against the Huskies, there's no telling what Jones and Broyles might do. It doesn't get much better in the run game, where 1,100-yard All-Big 12 rusher DeMarco Murray will face a young front seven ranked 56th in the country in rush defense -- lower even than the Huskies' pass defense. If the Sooners don't turn the ball over (and their 16 total giveaways were the fewest in the Big 12), they should put up major yards and points without too much effort.
Defensively, though, the Sooners aren't quite as overpowering; they rank outside the top 50 in total, passing, and rushing defense. But they do have a penchant for big plays, having forced 30 opponent turnovers this year, good for the fourth-highest total in the country. The ball-hawking secondary tag-team of senior safety Quinton Carter and junior corner Jamell Fleming each picked off four passes, with a big assist to Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year Jeremy Beal. The senior defensive end wreaked havoc on opposing lines all season, recording 8.5 sacks and 18 tackles-for-loss. If Beal can force the Huskies into repeated third-and-longs or the Sooners' sticky fingers can negate a UConn drive or two with turnovers, the underdog won't stand a chance.
Keys to Victory for UConn: To actually win this game, UConn's going to have to catch a ton of breaks, and the bigger impact those breaks have, the better. Which is why they're going to need to make the game as low-possession, as short, and as break-dependent as possible, and that means a heavy dose of Jordan Todman. The nation's second-leading rusher, Todman gained 1,574 yards this season on an impressive 5.2 yards per-carry. Combine his toughness with a veteran line featuring a pair of first-team All-Big East performers in jumbo junior tackle Mike Ryan (333 pounds) and equally jumbo senior guard Zach Hurd (325 pounds), and you get what might be the Huskies' only real matchup advantage as they go up against a Sooner front that's allowed seven different teams to average 4.5 yards a carry or better. If Todman and the big Huskie front can grind out some big first downs, they'll take loads of pressure off the entire rest of the team: wobbly quarterback Zach Fraser (5.4 yards per-attempt for the season, 5-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio), a front seven that could be ground down by the Sooners' up-tempo attack if left on the field very long, a secondary that simply can't be allowed to face Jones, Broyles, and Co. with the burden of trying to salvage the game on their shoulders. For Uconn, it all starts with Todman and the line.
The good news is that if that start can keep the Huskies close going into the fourth quarter, they've shown an impressive ability to finish, winning tight games against West Virginia, Pitt, and South Florida with key late drives and clutch kicking from big-legged All-Big East kicker Dave Teggart. There's also little doubt that should the game stay competitive deep into the second half, all the pressure -- not only from this game, but from Stoops' previous BCS failures and Oklahoma's role as the overwhelming favorite -- will be on the Sooners, It won't be easy to get there, but if Todman can get rolling and the defense (notably all-league defensive end Kendall Reyes) can play far enough over its head to keep the Huskies in it, it might be the other team that makes the single game-deciding mistake.
The Fiesta Bowl is like: an inspirational underdog sports movie recast -- probably -- as a gritty indie drama. We've got a lovable, plucky underdog that's scraped and clawed to get its one shot at Goliath, a Goliath that by all rights should pound it into submission. (Big East or not, the Huskies are a far bigger underdog to Oklahoma than Boise State was four years ago in this same game.) If this was Rocky or The Mighty Ducks or something similar, the Fiesta would end with UConn executing some crazy trick play at the final whistle to pull out a shocking victory. Unfortunately for fans of those movies, it's far more likely that the Huskie heroes will be taught a cruel-but-authentic lesson about their inability to deal with powerful forces beyond their control. The critics might applaud if Oklahoma pulls away by three scores in the second quarter, but we're not expecting a crowd pleaser here.
Posted on: December 30, 2010 2:16 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
The Basics: Notre Dame (7-5) vs. Miami (7-5), 2pm EST, CBS
Why You Should Watch: This is a pretty interesting matchup, not just for the teams playing in it, but because of the history between these two schools. It's not quite the Catholics vs. Convicts matchups of the late 80s and early 90s, as neither team has been all that successful the last few years, but a win in this game could be another step on the path back to the top of the polls. Plus it's on CBS!
Keys to Victory for Notre Dame: Ever since Dayne Crist went down during a loss against Tulsa, Tommy Rees has stepped in and played well, and the Irish haven't lost since. Sure, Rees hasn't exactly been tearing it up in Crist's absence, but he's been managing the offense extremely well for a freshman, and the Irish have also seen their running game get going.
In order to beat Miami, the Irish will have to keep that formula going. It was good enough to beat Utah and USC, and it could work against Miami as well. The key will be for the offensive line to give Rees time, as the Miami pass rush will be better than any he has faced thus far.
Still, as well as Rees has played, the real reason Notre Dame has won its last three games has been the play of the defense. The Irish have only allowed 22 points over those three games, and if they can pressure Jacory Harris it's only a matter of time before he makes a mistake.
Keys to Victory for Miami: Miami has the talent edge in this matchup. The question is what the team's motivations will be. The Hurricanes are playing for an interim coach in Jeff Stoutland, and you really have to wonder how badly they even want to play this game, or if they'd rather just move on.
We know that Jacory Harris will come to play as this is his last chance to redeem what's been a terrible 2010 season. Still, that could work against Miami. Harris' biggest problem has always been his patience, and it will be key for him to not try and do too much. Just take what the Irish defense gives him, and move the ball down the field.
On defense, the key will be to get to Rees. Pressure him into making mistakes, and keep the running game in check. If Miami can do this, and the offense limits mistakes and turnovers, then there's no reason that Miami can't win this game.
The Sun Bowl is like: that fight between Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson, the rematch, in 1997. Yes, Holyfield was still the champion at the time, but neither fighter was the same as the ones we'd seen earlier in their careers. Still, a win in this game, much like that title fight, would help bring some legitimacy back to either program. I just hope that nobody bites anybody's ear off.
Posted on: December 29, 2010 3:57 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
The Basics: UCF (10-3) vs. Georgia (6-6), Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. EST.
Why You Should Watch: The SEC's bowl tie-ins give the non-AQ teams of the world just one shot at the nation's highest-profile conference, and this is it; the Liberty annually pairs one of the SEC's also-rans against the Conference USA champion. But even with the field seemingly as tilted in favor of the C-USA upset as it could possibly be, it hasn't happened yet, as the SEC has swept all four of the SEC-vs.-C-USA Liberty Bowls to date. UCF represents maybe the best chance for C-USA yet, as they have both the airtight defense (18th nationally) and offensive starpower (in freshman quarterbacking prodigy Jeff Godfrey) to give Georgia all they want.
Of course, the Dawgs have A.J. Green and Justin Houston and Aaron Murray and a whole bunch of other SEC athletes, not to mention a statistical profile much better than their 6-6 record. Last year's Liberty went into overtime, and on paper this one's evenly-matched enough to make it 2-for-2. For depth of talent on display and a well-balanced, competitive matchup, you're not going to do much better before New Year's than the Liberty.
Keys to Victory for UCF: Frankly, the Knights should come into this game the substantially more motivated team. They're coming off of a championship season, but one without a win over BCS competition (after close losses vs. N.C. State and at Kansas State); they couldn't ask for a more perfect finishing touch than beating a traditional SEC power for the program's first-ever bowl victory. That should give the Knights an emotional edge, one that could give them a fast start against a Bulldogs team that badly underachieved to land at 6-6 and no doubt had their sights set on a bowl destination more glamorous than Memphis.
If the Knights do come away with a halftime or three-quarters lead, Georgia will be in trouble. Godfrey was a revelation after taking over for the injured Rob Calabrese at midseason, finishing eighth in the country in passer rating with a sparkling 68.4 completion percentage and 9.8 yards-per-attempt average. He added 10 touchdowns and 546 yards on the ground for good measure, pacing the Knights to the kind of balance (2,502 rushing yards, 2,493 passing) and steady efficiency (fifth in the FBS in time-of-possession at 33:09 a game) that most teams can only talk about.
But as effective as the Knight offense was, it was the defense that did the heavy lifting, starting with a secondary that placed both corner Josh Robinson and safety Kemal Ishmael on the All-C-USA first team and finished in the national top 30 in opponent's passer rating, opponent's yards-per-attempt, and interceptions. But the Knights also have a pair of fearsome defensive ends in Bruce Miller and Darius Nall, who combined for 21 tackles-for-loss and 15.5 sacks to give UCF the nation's 10th-ranked rush defense. (Ishmael's team-leading 82 tackles helped, too.) The absence of a big-play passing game means they won't want to fall behind, but if the Knights can get out in front, their combination of sound defense and clock-killing offense will have them well-positioned for the victory.
Keys to Victory for Georgia: It's simple: if the Dawgs overcome their disappointment of a season and match UCF's levels of energy and focus, they win.
Because while UCF might have several awfully solid players, Georgia has several All-Americans. Houston led the SEC in sacks, finished second in tackles-for-loss, and was a finalist for multiple national awards; Murray might be the only freshman quarterback in the country to have had an even more impressive season than Godfrey, posting an incredible 24-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio; and Green might be the most purely talented college receiver since Larry Fitzgerald. And even aside from their headlining stars, Georgia can boast an offensive line packed with both experience and future NFL players like senior tackle Clint Boling; dangerous skill position weapons like tight end Orson Charles and running back Washaun Ealey; maybe the nation's best pair of specialists in punter Drew Butler and cannon-legged kicker Blair Walsh; kickoff returner Brandon Boykin, who's taken four kicks to the house the past two seasons; two steady senior linebackers in Akeem Dent and Darryl Gamble; etc.
All of that talent means it's something of a mystery how Georgia ever wound up at .500, though plain old bad luck in the form of poorly-timed fumbles and critical defensive breakdowns in close games -- the Dawgs went 0-3 in games decided by 7 points or fewer -- probably had something to do with it. Their average per-play margin of +1.2 (6.4 gained per snap, 5.2 allowed)
ranked first by a wide margin in the SEC East and fourth in the conference behind the leagues' two BCS teams and Alabama. In short, this is a team that's been much better than their place in the SEC standings (or their Liberty berth) would indicate, and if they play to that same standard, they should have enough to overpower the less-talented Knights.
The Liberty Bowl is like: That one sharp-witted, twinkly-eyed elderly gentleman in your neighborhood who you knew from church, or the diner down the street, or maybe just the rocking chair on his front porch, who told stories and though not all of them were classics, he always had one you'd never heard before and some of them stayed with you like Louisville beating Boise State 44-40 in 2004. The Liberty has been in business since 1959, making it one of the oldest pre-New Year's games, and though it's not the game it once was, UCF and Georgia promise to give it another memorable chapter in its distinguished history.
Tags: A.J. Green, Aaron Murray, Akeem Dent, Blair Walsh, Bowl Bonanza, Bowl Previews, Brandon Boykin, Bruce Miller, Clint Boling, Darius Nall, Darryl Gamble, Drew Butler, Georgia, Jeff Godfrey, Josh Robinson, Justin Houston, Kansas State, Kemal Ishmael, Liberty Bowl, N.C. State, Orson Charles, Rob Calabrese, UCF, Washaun Ealey
Posted on: December 28, 2010 4:40 pm
Edited on: December 28, 2010 4:41 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
Why to Watch: For those who enjoy a good storyline, the Insight Bowl's got plenty of reasons to imagine that a blood feud is about to get its next chapter. The Iowa - Missouri rivalry is one that predates football itself, as the "Honey War" can attest, and a series of racist and savage acts by the Missouri fans led to a 100-year freeze in the rivalry (not that the 100-year thing was specifically mandated; Iowa and Missouri were contracted to start a series in 2005, but that fell through). These guys must really hate each other (if they're historians)!
For those more concerned with actual football, the Insight Bowl represents an opportunity to see two highly touted quarterbacks at work, not to mention two big-play defenses. Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi spent a good portion of the season in the top 5 nationwide in passing efficiency, and while Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert didn't go downfield nearly enough to match Stanzi's efficiency numbers, Gabbert did lead the Tigers to more points than the Hawkeyes scored on the year.
Keys to victory for Iowa: Obviously, the Hawkeyes' season didn't quite go as fans had hoped, and summer BCS dreams quickly gave way to a cold autumn's angst as the Hawkeyes melted down in November. Those who looked at Iowa's three-loss streak as a low point of the season were quickly proven wrong when star wideout Derrell Johnson-Koulianos was arrested on a litany of drug charges, and rumors swirled about other misdeeds on the program for days until Kirk Ferentz addressed them at a press conference the next week. Not helping the matter was the fact that Ferentz was announcing that other players (all tailbacks) would be missing the Insight Bowl.
Thus, if there's one challenge for Iowa, it's to put the past behind it and have the seniors go out and play one last good game in the black and gold. Easier said than done, of course, when the team has such a rich history of 4th quarter collapses, but the talent's at least there to give Missouri a fight.
Keys to victory for Missouri: The Tigers allowed a hair under 16 points a game in Big XII play, and that defense is going to have another opportunity to shine tonight. As mentioned before, Iowa is without Derrell Johnson-Koulianos after his multiple drug charges got him kicked off the team, and it also misses starting tailback Adam Robinson , who was suspended for academic reasons even before his arrest (drug charges!) on Monday night. Combine those losses with a patchwork Iowa offensive line, and Missouri should be able to disrupt the Iowa offense without much difficulty.
That's not to say that the Tigers' offense will find an easy task ahead on the field; Iowa's defense has also been stout on the season, and while it struggled in the 4th quarter on numerous occasions, Iowa also had no problem running up insurmountably large leads on bowl teams Penn State, Michigan, and Michigan State over the course of the year. Fortunately for Missouri, Iowa's pass defense has struggled on medium-range throws, thanks to inexperience and injuries in the LB corps, and that's where Gabbert likes to find All-American TE Michael Egnew . Egnew won't stretch the field, but he'll move the chains and wear down the defense. Getting Gabbert into a rhythm with Egnew and top wideout T.J. Moe will be crucial.
The Insight Bowl is like: a beloved upscale restaurant that recently lost a Michelin star. Iowa and Missouri both spent time in the Top 10 this season, and if you'd have heard back in October that they'd be meeting in a bowl at the end of the year, you'd have probably guessed a BCS bowl before the Insight Bowl, which hosted 6-6 powerhouses Iowa State and Minnesota last season. Yet here we are, after Iowa took a dive in the standings and Missouri tumbled down the iist of Big XII bowl priority for the umpteenth year in a row. The drop in reputation for both is troubling, but like your next meal at that restaurant after losing the Michelin star, the next experience will be instructive as to why that happened. Are the teams really not as good as advertised? Is it just the result of correctable mistakes? Can we enjoy them as if nothing bad had ever happened? Is it really worth it to spend three hours with them this late at night after this hit in the ratings? Tune in and we'll find out.
Posted on: December 28, 2010 12:09 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli as part of the blog's Bowl Bonanza series.
The Basics: Army (6-6) vs. SMU (7-6), Dec. 30 Noon EST
Why You Should Watch: You should tun into the Armed Forced Bowl because you generally don't get a lot of chances to see Army and SMU in bowl games these days. This will be the first time Army has played in a bowl since 1996, and this is only the second time that SMU has been in a bowl game over the last 25 years, or since Eric Dickerson and Craig James were getting paid. If that's not enough there's also the contrast in styles of both teams, as Army runs the triple option and SMU is a run and shoot team.
Keys to Victory for Army: The strategy for Army to win this game is simple, yet won't be nearly as easy to execute. It simply needs to keep the SMU offense off the field as much as possible. While Army should be proud to be back in a bowl game, the fact of the matter is that they just don't have the talent and depth that SMU has, and can't afford to get into any kind of shootout.
Still, there's reason to believe Army can be successful. SMU's defense had a lot of trouble stopping Navy's offense earlier this season, particularly the pitch on the option as Navy rushed for 253 yards in a 28-21 victory over the Mustangs.
Trent Steelman and the Army offense will have to have a similar game and hold on to the ball to have any chance of winning in this game. They just simply don't have the depth on defense, particularly in the secondary, to keep the Mustangs passing attack in check.
Keys to Victory for SMU: Stop the option. SMU has spent a lot of time in practice trying to fix the mistakes of the Navy game and work on their defensive assignments against the option. If they can keep Army from running all over them, the Mustangs should come away with the victory.
After all, this game will be played in SMU's home stadium.
When SMU has the ball they should look to exploit any Army linebacker forced into coverage as they just don't have the agility to stay with SMU's slot receivers Darius Johnson and Cole Beasley. Another key will be to pick up the blitz, as odds are that Army will blitz a lot to make up for its secondary. Kyle Padron has had some trouble when pressured this season, so giving him time to find his open receiver will be key.
The Mustangs should also look to use the run game to slow down the blitz, as they've been more successful on the ground than you'd expect from a June Jones offense. Zach Line isn't going to break any long runs, but he is a big, bruising back that can be used to soften the Army defense and cause linebackers to hesitate on play action, therefore opening up more lanes in the secondary for receivers.
The Armed Forces Bowl is like: that old t-shirt you found in the back of the closet. You haven't worn the thing in a long time, and it's no longer in fashion, but it still fits and it's awfully comfortable.
Posted on: December 27, 2010 2:15 pm
Edited on: December 27, 2010 2:15 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli as part of the blog's Bowl Bonanza series. Read our preview for today's Independence Bowl here.
The Basics: Kansas State (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5), Dec. 30, 3:20pm EST
Why You Should Watch: Because don't you want to be able to tell your children and grandchildren someday that you were there, at home, to watch the first ever New Era Pinstripe Bowl inside the legendary two-year old -- it may be 22 years old by then -- Yankee Stadium? Who could pass that opportunity up? Plus, given the latest weather patterns to hit New York this week, the game could be played under two feet of snow.
Keys to Victory for Kansas State: It seems pretty generic to say it, but it's true. In order for Kansas State to beat Syracuse the Wildcats are going to have to win the battle up front on offense. Syracuse has a strong defensive line anchored by defensive tackles Bud Tribbey and Andrew Lewis. The interior of KSU's line, which has been strong all season, will have to neutralize those two and get to the second level and take linebackers Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue out of the equation.
This will be a key for Daniel Thomas to find room, and the more successful that Daniel Thomas is, the more successful Kansas State generally is.
It's likely that Kansas State will also feature backup QB Collin Klein a bit in this game as well. He saw a lot more playing time towards the end of the season, and he's more athletic and elusive than Carson Coffman is, and at times looked unstoppable. It will be important for Kansas State to be successful on the ground because its passing attack has been suspect this season, and Syracuse is strong in pass coverage.
Keys to Victory for Syracuse: It's not exactly a secret that Syracuse's strength is its defense. The Orange are ranked only 99th in the country with 21.0 points per game, but are ranked 13th in the nation on defense, allowing only 18.1 points per game.
That formula shouldn't change in this game, but Syracuse does have a chance to be a bit more successful on offense. Particularly in the rushing game, as Kansas State has been pretty underwhelming against the run on defense this season. So Syracuse's best bet would be to feed the ball to Delone Carter and Antwon Bailey and pound the Wildcats defense into submission.
There may be room for Syracuse to throw the ball a bit better than they have this season, but Ryan Nassib doesn't have many options around him and he can be a bit slow in making a decision. So Syracuse would be better served to pick its spots in the passing game, and let Carter and Bailey carry the load.
The Pinstripe Bowl is like: an actual baseball game at Yankee Stadium between the Yankees and Red Sox. Not because this is such a strong rivalry, or because the stands will be packed, but because the final score is likely going to be 14-13 and the game will take over four hours.
Posted on: December 17, 2010 12:52 pm
Edited on: December 17, 2010 12:53 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
Why You Should Watch: It's pretty simple really. While man is yet to perfect, or even invent time travel, the Independence Bowl will provide you a glimpse of what football in the past looked like. The thing that intrigues me the most about this game is that both teams run the triple option offense. Generally the only chance college football fans get to see such a matchup is in the Army-Navy game, but this one has better athletes.
Keys to Victory for Air Force: The key for Air Force is pretty simple, actually: do what it does best. Run the ball, run the ball, and then run the ball some more. You would think that a Georgia Tech defense that has spent all season practicing against an offense that runs the option would be better against the run, but the truth is that Tech's front seven just isn't very good at stopping the run.
Which the Falcons will have to exploit.
Quarterback Tim Jefferson is pretty inconsistent throwing the ball, and Georgia Tech's defensive strength is its secondary. So if Air Force chooses to throw too often in this game, it will be playing its biggest weakness on offense in Tech's greatest strength on defense. Which doesn't make sense, and will not lead to a victory.
If Asher Clark isn't the player of the game for Air Force, then the Falcons lost.
Keys to Victory for Georgia Tech: The biggest key for Georgia Tech in this game could be the health of quarterback Josh Nesbitt. Nesbitt suffered a broken forearm on November 4th against Virginia Tech and hasn't played since. Tevin Washington has been serviceable filling in for Nesbitt since then, but he's not as good when it comes to decisions and timing in the triple option offense.
The good news for Georgia Tech is that Air Force will be a little thin up front on defense in this game as Zach Payne and Bradley Connor will both miss the game thanks to knee injuries. This means that Georgia Tech will have to try and wear down a defense that has already shown against Navy this season that it can stop an option attack.
The Independence Bowl is like: a time machine. As I said before, we don't often get the chance to see two option teams face off in college football these days, so we should take advantage when we can. This may be the only chance you have in your lifetime to actually travel back to a simpler time, and if you miss out you'll regret it. In fact, your only chance will be that hopefully some day when we have perfected time travel, a friend will go back in time to present day and tell you to watch it.
Posted on: December 15, 2010 3:03 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Why You Should Watch: Because one half of the matchup is Navy, the team that continues to defy its service academy constraints with big wins, bowl berths, and the nation's most reliable year-in-year-out running game ... and their opponent might be even more interesting for the diehard college football fan. San Diego State has long been regarded as the sleeping giant of the Mountain West, a program with the resources and metro recruiting base to challenge for league titles if they ever got the right coach in place. Brady Hoke looks like he might be that coach, and after a huge step forward this season, a Poinsettia win would stamp the Aztecs as the up-and-comer in the new-look MWC.
Plus, this is the last chance to watch Navy's indefatigable Ricky Dobbs, arguably the best triple-option quarterback of college football's past decade. His swan song alone makes the game worth the look.
Keys to Victory for Navy: Things have mostly gone well for the Midshipmen this season, as they enter the bowl with their second straight nine-win campaign already under their belt. But when they've gone wrong, there have been two main culprits. One of them has been the pass defense, which ranks 66th despite playing two games against fellow option teams Air Force and Army . Even with the presence of senior star safety Wyatt Middleton couldn't keep the Midshipmen from giving up an incredible 28 completions in 30 attempts (for 314 yards) in a 34-31 loss to Duke, 413 passing yards and 5 touchdowns in the wild win over East Carolina, and 394 yards and 3 scores to Central Michigan in a 38-37 escape from the 3-9 Chippewas ... all without an interception. If a few leaks aren't plugged, SDSU's Ryan Lindley, the Mountain West's leading passer , will have a field day.
The other issue? Red zone execution. Though their numbers for the year aren't bad, the Midshipmen might have tipped 10 or 11 wins if not for zero points on five different red zone trips against Maryland and just six on three trips against Air Force. If Dobbs continues to throw the way he did down the stretch (including a career high 186 yards against Army) and Navy executes in their usual fashion, the Midshipmen will get their yards. The question is whether they'll turn those into points, and if they do, whether those points will be enough if the pass defense collapses.
Keys to Victory for San Diego State: Most schools would cringe at the thought of having to prepare for Navy's option shenanigans, but the Aztecs have to be quietly confident about the matchup. SDSU has already faced and defeated one option school this season, downing Air Force 27-25 while holding the Falcons to 12 points through the first 52 minutes. Defensive coordinator Rocky Long has years of experience with defending the option from his time as New Mexico's head coach, and he's been better at it than most. Between Long's expertise, the extra time to prepare, and the Aztecs' prior encounter with the option, they should be as ready as anyone to deal with Dobbs and Co. Though it's always easier said than done against the Midshipmen, they'll just have to execute. (It'll also help to have players like Miles Burris around; the first-team all-conference junior linebacker led the Mountain West in tackles-for-loss with 17.)
Offensively, if Lindley is on his game, it's hard to see the Midshipmen doing much to slow down the Aztecs. First-team all-MWC senior wideouts Vincent Brown and Demarco Sampson combined for 2,362 receiving yards and present major matchup problems with Sampson's size and Brown's speed. Navy also won't be able to commit extra bodies to pass defense, thanks to the presence of MWC Freshman of the Year Ronnie Hillman, a tough, explosive runner who finished 12th in the nation with 1,304 yards on the ground and averaged a sterling 5.6 yards per-carry. Lindley put up some huge numbers at times, but he also struggled with interceptions, his total of 14 tying for the second-highest in the country. If he can find Brown and Sampson more often than he finds Middleton and the rest of the Navy secondary, the Midshipmen could be in for a long day.
The Poinsettia Bowl is like: a forgotten pulp comic from the 1960s, in which a heroic naval commander, at the end of a long journey, has one final battle to fight when his division is ambushed in San Diego bay by ... a horde of bloodthirsty Aztecs?!?! Like the imaginary tussle out of those comic pages, this one promises to be hard-fought, action-packed (with these two offenses? You bet), and in doubt right up until the final frames.