College Football

Navy, ASU Disciplined Foes In Kraft Hunger Bowl

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Though Navy (8-4) probably had its biggest victory of the 2012 football season with the dramatic last minute come back to beat Army Dec. 8, the challenge of winning its first bowl game since 2009 will loom large when the Midshipman take the field at AT&T Park, home of the 2012 World Series champion San Francisco Giants, Dec. 29 against a strong but vulnerable Pac 10 Arizona State team (7-5, 5-4 ).

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Officials of both schools see playing in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (4 p.m. ET, ESPN2) as a chance to enhance their overall programs and establish and reinforce recruiting, alumni participation and other positions on the West Coast. This will be the first meeting between the two teams.

“The Bay Area is one of ASU’s most important markets with over 26,000 alumni and related associates,” said ASU vice president for athletics Steve Patterson, in an interview on the school’s athletic website.

Navy athletic officials are urging their supporters to attend the game to show the NCAA and other football powers that, other things being equal, the Academy should be given strong consideration each year for a bowl.

The key to the game could be the matchup between the Sun Devils’ defense (second in the nation in sacks with 48) against the Naval Academy’s young quarterback, Keenan Reynolds, the first freshman to start for Navy since 1991. With time running out Reynolds ran eight yards to score the winning touchdown in the 17-13 victory over Army.

” Idon’t really say much to Keenan because the kid knows what he’s doing,” Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo told the Washington Post after the game. “The kid is a very, very good football player. He listens, he’s coachable. His legacy will be, will he stay hungry and stay humble? If he does those two things, that kid has a chance to go down as one of the best quarterbacks we’ve ever had here,” he said of the program that has produced Roger Staubach among others.

The Sun Devils defense will do what it can to quench that thirst and tamper with that humility although in four of their last six games, opponents have rushed for more than 200 yards.

The schools sport information department has provided statistical information about 2012 achievements, including, most prominently, the team’s chance to set a new school record for tackles with a loss. They are currently sitting at 106 possibly within reach of the 123 of 2002 when the team was led by NFL all-pro Terrell Suggs. Five players on the 2012 team have registered double-digit tackles for losses, figures comparable to those totaled in the 1990s when the Sun Devils were led by the late Pat Tillman, the U.S. Army specialist who was killed in Afghanistan in 2004 under mysterious circumstances which many said was “friendly fire.”

Junior defensive tackle Will Sutton has 20 tackles for a loss, a body of work that has earned him top national defensive awards including first-team All-American. He’s also averaging close to a sack a game.

Neither team’s offense is anything to write home about although Arizona State has two blue chip players in tight end Chris Coyle, who is close to setting school records for most receptions (now at 56 held by Seattle Seahawks’ TE Zach Miller) and is one shy of Miller’s single season touchdown record of 6 TDs.

Running back Marion Grice, a junior college transfer, leads the team with 17 touchdowns, and his versatility is clear since eight are receiving TDs and nine rushing.

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Redshirt sophomore Taylor Kelly is the go-to Sun Devil QB, finishing with 2,772 passing yards (25 TDs), good enough for second in a conference that is all about throwing the football.

His numbers are glitzy contrasted with Navy’s Reynolds’ 884 yards and eight touchdowns.

Sun Devil head coach Todd Graham said his team has made strides in the areas of  “honor, character and discipline,” according to ESPN.com bowl previews, but added that
playing a team like Navy is a fitting end to the season since the Midshipman embody these characteristics.

Certainly, as might be expected from a service academy, discipline is one of Navy’s strongest elements. The team ranks second nationally in fewest penalties and penalty yards this season.

“I can tell you they’ll be a formidable opponent,” Graham said. “They’re very different, very difficult, very well-coached, very disciplined. I know our guys are excited about the opportunity.”

“They’re going to be tough and hard-nosed and they’re going to be coming at us,” ASU QB Kelly said of the Midshipmen. “We have to go out and handle our business and focus on what we can do and don’t get distracted with different things like traveling or going to a bowl game.”

In the classic way that members of opposing teams swap compliment prior to a big game, Navy had some good things to say about the Sun Devils as well.

“Arizona State is an outstanding football team with great players on both sides of the ball,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said on ESPN.com. “We have played a very tough schedule this year and there is no doubt that Arizona State will be as talented as any team we’ve faced.”

This will be ASU’s 26th bowl appearance (12-12-1), dating back to 1940. They lost to Boise State 56-24 in the 2011 MAACO Bowl in Las Vegas.

Navy is 7-9-1 n the 17 bowls it has appeared in and has lost four of its last five bowl games. In 2003, they won the Kraft bowl with a 34-19 victory over New Mexico.

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Regardless of the outcome on the field, the real winners will be the hungry Americans which many of the proceeds from tickets, luncheons, merchandise sales and other areas will help feed during the coming holidays.

Tags: Arizona State Sun Devils, Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, Navy Midshipmen