Two contrasting styles meet in beautiful San Diego Thursday night as the hometown Aztecs welcome Navy to the left coast for the Poinsettia Bowl. The team’s two coaches, San Diego State’s Brady Hoke and Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo, are two of the best in the country deserving of more attention. Hoke has already doubled his team’s win total from 2009 to 2010, after taking Ball State to never-before-seen heights in 2008. Niumatalolo has been the model of consistency after taking over for the Paul Johnson. Navy has won 8 games or better in each of his three seasons at the helm. Now these two coaches lead underrated squads into their 2010 bowl game with national recognition readily available for both participants.

3 Keys from the scouts

1. Assignment football. An option offense, as Navy employs, forces any and all defenses to play disciplined football each and every down. Any slip in concentration or mishap in read recognition can easily be turned into a touchdown by Navy’s impressive triple option attack. It’s not as simple as saying,  “Interior tackles the dive, end has the quarterback, outside backers have pitch, and safeties play the alley.” Navy’s offense may be as talented as they have seen during their time in this latest incarnation of the offense. It simply wears down a defense and pounds them into submission accentuated with big play ability. The Midshipmen are fifth in the nation averaging 288.92 yards per game on the ground. San Diego State schemes an undersized 3-3 front that surrenders 141.58 yards per game, which is in the middle of the pack nationally. If the Aztecs can simply slow down the Middies, while not making mistakes, it gives their offense an advantage.

2. Time of possession. Everything goes hand in hand with how San Diego State attacks the option. Navy prides itself in its ability to hog the pigskin all afternoon long. It is in essence a game of keep away. And its an area of the game San Diego cannot be dominated. The Aztecs have one of the best passing offenses in the nation (ranked 11th at 297 yards per game). The best defense for Navy is to keep the opposing offense off the field.

3. Naval defense. The Midshipmen are built similarly to their opponent on the defensive side of the ball, a small front that is scrappy and tenacious and not overly athletic along the backline. Instead of worrying about stopping the run, which San Diego State does have a 1300-yard rusher in Ronnie Hillman, it is their ability to throw the football which should be disconcerting. Junior quarterback Ryan Lindley has prototype size to stand tall in the pocket and deliver big passing numbers. He already has this season entering the game with over 3500 yards passing. He has shown a tendency to turn over the football with 14 interceptions, but two senior receivers on the outside, DeMarco Sampson and Vincent Brown, are experienced and have over 1100 yard receiving each (they are separated by four catches and 12 yards on the season).

Bold Predictions

This particular bowl game has proven to be quite interesting in its six year history. The average margin of victory is only 4.7 points during the last three games and has seen extremely tight contests played between TCU and Boise State, as well as Utah and Navy. San Diego State’s recent history is even more intriguing as the Aztecs have already proven themselves able to defeat a team with a similar offense in Air Force (27-25 on October 16th). Air Force still posted 300-plus rushing yards on the Aztecs, but San Diego State limited the Falcons’ opportunities. Statistically, Navy’s offense is not quite on the level as their military brethern, but Air Force lacked one thing, Ricky Dobbs. Dobbs will become the x-factor when it’s all said and done because he is the most talented option quarterback seen in the college ranks since Tommy Frazier. Navy’s leader, and future President of the United States by self-proclamation, adds an element of passing and explosiveness not seen in an option offense in quite some time. And he is fully healthy. That slight edge should prove the difference between two fantastic programs led two great coaches. Navy 28, San Diego State 27.

Pro-Prospects

San Diego State

Rnd Name Pos Num
Year Comments
3rdVincent BrownWR895SrReliable pass catcher that also helps out on special teams. Not a blazer but a solid underneath receiver with potential as a third wide out.
FADeMarco SampsonWR16SrNice sized pass catcher coming off a career year. Could fit in as a fifth receiver in the role of possession wide out.
FAAlston UmuoloTE74SrTalented tight end who sat on the sidelines with a hip injury. Likely to return in ’11.