Can Keenan Reynolds, Navy's Option Offense Outscore Arizona State at At&T Park?
Navy (8-4) plays the second college bowl game of the day played on a Major League Baseball field when the Midshipmen take on Arizona State (7-5 5-4 Pac-12) Saturday at the San Francisco Giants' AT&T Park in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, starting at 4 p.m. EST/1 p.m. PST.
The game will be broadcast by ESPN2 with Dave Pasch calling play by play, Brian Griese as the analyst and Jenn Brown on the sideline.
Navy comes into the bowl game having won the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy, earned with wins over Air Force (28-21 in overtime in October) and Army (27-21 earlier in December in Philadelphia). For a service academy, this is the accomplishment that is remembered decades down the road.
A chance to play in a postseason bowl game and come out with a another win would be icing on the cake for the Midshipmen.
Starting with their win over Air Force, the Mids have won six of their last seven games, after an early season marked by disappointing losses to Notre Dame in Ireland, Penn State and San Jose State at home.
The season looked bleak for Navy, which had a 1-3 record heading into its game with Air Force in Colorado Springs.
A spark was provided by the insertion into the lineup of freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds against the Falcons when junior Trey Miller was injured. The small, 5'11" but quick plebe from Antioch, Tenn., came in win nine minutes and three seconds remaining trailing 21-13 and helped Mids score 11 fourth-quarter points to tie the game, which Navy went on to win in overtime after a fumble recovery in the end zone by guard Jake Zuzek.
Reynolds started each game through the balance of the season, including the Army game, in which he demonstrated poise in a big-game environment and speed in evading Black Knight pressure in the backfield and engineered the winning touchdown. He has since started the rest of the season for the Mids.
With Army leading 13-10 midway through the fourth quarter and the momentum with the Black Knights, who were desperately trying to break a 10-game losing streak to Navy, Reynolds hit Brandon Turner for a 49-yard gain down the right side and then ran for what proved to be the winning touchdown.
On the season Reynolds ran for a net of 628 yards and scored a team-high 10 touchdowns, while completing 58 percent of his passes for 884 yards and eight touchdowns with only one interception.
Senior Gee Gee Greene at slot back was the leading ground gainer for Navy, with 765 net yards at an average gain of 7.1 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore fullback Noah Copeland netted 691 on the ground and five scores.
A key player to watch supporting the Navy option offense is versatile senior slot back Bo Snelson, who excels at blocking as well as running with the ball. Guards are key blockers in an option offense, and Navy has two big players in sophomore Zuzek, at 6'0" and 318 pounds, and senior Josh Cabral on the right side, at 6'3" and 297 pounds.
On defense Navy proved tough in the red zone against Army, limiting the Black Knights to a touchdown and forcing a field goal in four opportunities.
Senior inside linebacker Matt Warrick is the leading tackler for the Mids, with 41 solos and 84 total tackles. Tra'ves Bush had 82 tackles on the season from his "rover" position. Senior linebacker Brye French has 74 tackles, as does senior outside linebacker Keegan Wetzel.
Arizona State comes into AT&T Park having won its two last games of the season, scoring a lot of points in a 46-7 win over Washington State and a 41-34 victory in the Sun Devils' rivalry game with Arizona.
Prior to that they had lost four straight, to Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State and USC.
Todd Graham is in his first year coaching ASU after previously being the head coach at Pittsburgh in 2011, Tulsa 2007-10 and Rice in 2006. Graham graduated from East Central University (Ada, Okla.) in 1987 before moving up the coaching ladder with assistant jobs at East Central, West Virginia and Tulsa.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly has completed 66 percent of his passes for 2,772 yards and 25 touchdowns with nine interceptions.
The leading receiver is junior wideout Chris Coyle, who has caught 53 passes for 659 yards, an average of 12.4 yards per catch.
The Devils have four backs who have run for more than 400 net yards on the season, led by senior Cameron Marshall with 524 net yards, an average gain of 4.1 yards and seven touchdowns. Junior Marion Grace has rushed for 5.8 yards per carry while gaining 520 yards and scoring nine touchdowns.
The ASU offensive line is not huge, with 6'3", 285-pound junior Kody Koebensky at center, but the right side has muscle, with guard Andrew Sampson at 6'4" and 301 pounds and senior tackle Brice Schwab providing size at 6'7" and 302 pounds.
OK, they are big, certainly a challenge for a somewhat undersized Navy defensive line typical of academy football.
On defense the Sun Devils like to rush the passer.
Brandon Magee at the weak-side inside-linebacker position is the leading tackler with 77 unassisted and a total of 104 stops. Magee also has 11.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.
Sophomore Carl Bradford at the "Devil" position has 10.5 sacks, as does 6'1", 267-pound Will Sutton from the tackle position.
Senior Keelan Johnson at field safety leads the team with five interceptions. The Sun Devils are listing a freshman, Jaxon Hood, at nose tackle who is large, at 6'0" and 295 pounds.
Watch for Navy to test the middle of the AU line with its big guards going against the freshman, who probably has not seen much option-run blocking.
This could be a touch challenge for Navy, which has lost four of its last five bowl games. Key on offense is if the aggressive Arizona State defense used to playing against passing teams can adjust to the Navy option play and the quick play of Keenan Reynolds. On defense expect Arizona State to come out passing and testing the Navy secondary.
AT&T Park, right by the bay, should be a beautiful setting for the game, but the San Francisco forecast (via AccuWeather) calls for periods of rain and temperatures in low 50s.
Ken Kraetzer covers Army football during the season for WVOX 1460 in New Rochelle, N.Y., and American Legion press.
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