San Diego, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - Back in the postseason for the fifth straight year, the San Diego State Aztecs clash with the Navy Midshipmen in the 10th annual Poinsettia Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium.
The Aztecs, who call Qualcomm home, had another successful season in the Mountain West Conference, finishing in a tie for first place in the West Division with Fresno State at 5-3. Unfortunately, the team lost the tiebreaker and was left out of the conference championship game (won by Boise State), but still the Aztecs were invited back to take part in the Poinsettia Bowl for the third time since 2010.
When it comes to the postseason, the Aztecs own a 6-6 mark in bowl games, but are just 3-5 since moving to the Division I level. Head coach Rocky Long has led SDSU to the postseason in each of his four years with the program and last season the team snapped a two-game slide in bowl games with a 49-24 win over Buffalo in the Famous Potato Bowl in Idaho.
Making it to a bowl game yet again is one thing, but to be able to play in front of the hometown crowd is certainly a bonus that is not lost on coach Long.
"Very few teams are going to a fifth straight bowl game and our players have worked hard to get here," Long says. "It shows how successful our program has become. I've been lucky enough to have gone to several bowls and our fifth- year seniors have been to five straight bowls. The Poinsettia Bowl has been great to us and we know how well they treat us. Our players are excited about being home, so their family and friends can come watch them play."
As for the Midshipmen, they have not enjoyed nearly as long of a break since the end of the regular season as San Diego State, but that should not prevent the Academy from putting up a fight two days before Christmas. Navy was just on the field Dec. 13 in the annual battle versus Army in Baltimore, coming away with a 17-10 victory. The team closed the regular season with three straight wins and five in the last six outings overall.
Even before the final game of the regular season, Navy was bowl eligible and accepted the invitation back to San Diego where the branch of the armed forces has a heavy presence already.
"We are excited about the opportunity to travel to San Diego, which is a city filled with Navy and Marine Corps service men and women, and play in a first- class bowl game," notes Navy's Director of Athletics, Chet Gladchuk. "The city of San Diego, the stadium, the hospitality from the community and the bowl administration present as fine a postseason experience as we could possibly enjoy."
The Midshipmen are playing in a bowl game for the third straight year and 20th time in history overall, having taken part in the 1924 Rose Bowl versus Washington and tying the Huskies, 14-14. The program defeated Middle Tennessee in the Armed Forces Bowl following last season, 24-6, but still Navy has won just two times in the last seven bowl appearances. Overall, the squad has a mark of 8-10-1 in the postseason.
The Aztecs lead the all-time series by a 3-0 margin, with all three of those contests being played in southern California. The most recent meeting was a 35-14 victory in this very same bowl game back in 2010. Another positive note for San Diego State has the team winning eight straight meetings against service academies.
When it comes to the Navy offense these days, it begins and ends with the exploits of quarterback Keenan Reynolds. The signal caller has operated the triple-option to perfection during his career, but especially this season as he has scored what is not only a school-record 31 rushing touchdowns, that total is also the most for any quarterback in NCAA history in a single season as well. He is just the fourth player in NCAA history to rush for at least 30 and his 62 career rushing TDs are the most by any quarterback in NCAA history as well.
But the nation's top rushing offense (345.1 ypg) does have other options at their disposal, which is something the San Diego State defense will have to keep in mind when they start to crowd the box in attempt to slow down Reynolds and his cohorts. Averaging 7.6 yards per carry, Noah Copeland accounted for 889 yards and five TDs in 12 regular-season games, while Chris Swain posted four TDs and 621 yards of his own.
The Aztecs will have to be careful when they dig into the trenches on defense because Reynolds has shown that he can put the ball in the air as well, obviously not as often as every other team in the FBS, but enough so that opponents need to take notice. Reynolds has averaged just over 10 attempts per game and has completed passes for 826 yards and six touchdowns, three of those going to Jamir Tillman.
Unfortunately, the defense for the Midshipman is not as strong as it could be, giving up 410.3 ypg to rank 78th in the nation entering bowl season. The team has had considerable issues slowing down the run as they give up close to 200 ypg, but if the Navy offense is controlling the clock that might not be as much of an issue.
As for the San Diego State offense, it mostly revolves around running back Donnel Pumphrey, a 2014 First-Team All-Mountain West performer who is one of the nation's top rushers with 146.2 ypg. A workhorse who has carried the ball 255 times this season, Pumphrey eclipsed the 100-yard mark in nine games, posting a high of 267 as he averaged close to seven yards per attempt and scored 19 of his team's 25 rushing touchdowns. Another decent option to turn to is Chase Price, who finished the regular season with 605 yards and five scores.
Handing the ball off to Pumphrey will be Quinn Kaehler, a signal caller who has unfortunately thrown more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (9) while completing 56.4 percent of his attempts. Despite missing five games, the target that Kaehler will be seeking out most of all will probably be Ezell Ruffin who led the program with 26 catches, leading to 422 yards and a couple of scores.
On the defensive side of the ball, Calvin Munson should draw considerable attention from Navy as he tied for the team high with 78 tackles, logged 10.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and paced the Aztecs with four interceptions during the season.