Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl Preview: Arizona State Looking to Cap Off Turnaround Against Navy

Doug Pensinger

The newly disciplined Sun Devils face a disciplined Navy team in San Francisco that looks to beat them up on the ground.

Who, What, When, Where and Why?

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl

Arizona State (7-5) vs. Navy (8-4)

Saturday, December 29, 12:15 p.m. PT

San Francisco, California

Sixth place Pac-12 vs. Navy designated bowl

Why to watch?

The Sun Devils may have only won one more regular season game than they did last year, but Todd Graham's ability to turn Arizona State from the most penalized team in the country to the eleventh-least penalized team in the country is nothing short of amazing. For their turnaround, the Sun Devils will be rewarded with one of the most disciplined teams in the country in Navy. It will be interesting to see how the suddenly military like Sun Devils can not only keep avoiding penalties against the Midshipmen, but also stay disciplined in their defensive reads against Navy's option. Navy runs the ball more than just about anyone in the country and the Sun Devils haven't been particularly stout against the run.

Also, Arizona State was always talented under former coach Dennis Erickson but frequently wouldn't show up game-to-game. The Sun Devils are much more talented than the Midshipmen, but no one plays harder than Navy and it will be a final stamp of approval for a complete mental turnaround for Graham and the Sun Devils if they show up to play and go all out in a lower-level bowl against a less than marquee opponent.

Stars

Will Sutton Jr. DT Arizona State

The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year is an athletic game-changer up front that can play pretty much anywhere across the defensive line and is an adept pass-rusher and run-stuffer. Sutton won't get many chances to rush the passer but will get plenty of chances to stuff Navy's running game in the backfield and add to the 20 tackles for loss he has already racked up in 2012.

Keenan Reynolds Fr. QB Navy

Navy's ground attack is all about the quarterback and redshirt freshman Reynolds emerged in 2012 as their best play maker. Very small (5'9 170), but fast, Reynolds put up more than 600 yards and the ground and scored 10 touchdowns while also being efficient when asked to pass in the red zone, throwing 8 touchdowns to just 1 interception.

Taylor Kelly So. QB Arizona State

Kelly was one of the surprise players in the Pac-12 this year as he wasn't expected to win the starting quarterback job in Tempe but ending up getting the job and being one of the best quarterbacks in the conference. Kelly tossed for more than 2,700 yards with 25 touchdowns and was also able to regularly make plays with his feet, rushing for more than 400 yards on the season even though he was sacked 30 times.

Others to watch

Brandon Magee Sr. LB Arizona State

Keegan Wetzel Sr. LB Navy

Alden Darby Jr. S Arizona State

Key match-ups

Navy's defensive backs and linebackers against Arizona State's receivers

Navy has solid pass defense stats, but a lot of that is because they simply didn't face a lot of teams that passed the ball in the regular season and that might hurt them against a Sun Devil team that will likely look to test them through the air. The Sun Devils don't have any star receivers, but have a deep unit that is fast and includes two of the best pass-catching running backs in the country in D.J. Foster and Marion Grice and a very good tight end in Chris Coyle. The Navy defense will have to be able to defend passes all over the field or it could get ugly.

Arizona State's defensive line against Navy's backfield

Despite featuring Sutton up front, the Sun Devils are battered with injuries across the entire defensive line still and really struggled stopping the run against teams that attacked them up front, giving up more than 400 yards on the ground to Oregon and more than 200 to Illinois, Arizona, USC and UCLA. The Sun Devils will need to not only stop Navy's running game, but keep their endurance up as the Midshipmen are sure to pound them over and over again.

You're a Pac-12 fan... why do you want Arizona State to win?

The Pac-12 South really needs a program outside of the LA schools to step up and consistently be a powerful program and Arizona State has the best chance to do that. An 8-5 season capped with a bowl win will help give the Sun Devils some momentum going into 2013 to follow it up with another good year.

Also, Navy is a good service academy, but Arizona State losing to them would be the equivalent of a Pac-12 team losing to a Conference USA, MAC or WAC team and it wouldn't look good for the conference overall.

Prediction

I think Navy will have very tough time with Arizona State's balanced and dynamic offense and this one will be in the Sun Devils' control very quickly. Navy will be able to get some yards on the ground against Arizona State's front but will struggle to put points on the board as Sutton and the Sun Devils defense can completely sell out to the run.

Arizona State 38 Navy 14

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