On the field, the Navy and Arizona State football teams don’t have much in common heading into Saturday’s Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl at AT&T Park.
The Sun Devils run a spread offense, highlighted by quarterback Taylor Kelly piling up 2,772 passing yards and 25 touchdowns. Midshipmen quarterback Keenan Reynolds threw for just 884 yards after taking over for the injured Trey Miller in the fourth game of the year, running a triple-option offense that led to four players with at least 600 rushing yards.
Off the field, however, the paths that brought the teams to San Francisco this weekend are strikingly similar.
Both teams feature young quarterbacks with promising futures — Kelly is a sophomore and Reynolds a freshman.
Both teams played well for most of the season, save for a tough four-game stretch that dampened the outlook for the season. Navy lost three of its first four to teams that would go on to combine for 30 wins on the year and ASU lost four in a row during a tough Pac-12 Conference schedule.
Both teams rebounded to finish the regular season with close victories over their archrivals, as Navy beat Army and ASU beat Arizona.
The difference on the field will be what matters Saturday, however, and both coaches have had different methods in preparing for the task.
“It’s very difficult,” Sun Devils coach Todd Graham said of his practices this week. “As a matter of fact, today we moved Robert Nelson to quarterback, our corner who was an option quarterback, to try to simulate the athleticism of their quarterback and how that works. We haven’t been able to simulate. I think this game is going to be a big adjustment the very first quarter for our guys.”
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said his large scout team has made it easier to practice for different styles since its first-team offense doesn’t face the first-team defense in practice.
“We don’t have to scout each other,” he said. “So the offense is working totally separate from the defense and vice versa. Because of our numbers, it gives us the luxury to be able to simulate both the offense and defense of our opponent each week without compromising our own preparation on offense.”
Graham said with both teams differing so drastically on offense, special teams play would be the key in the matchup.
“I cannot imagine, I’ve done it in four, I would not want to do in three days, I can tell you that,” he said of preparing to stop Navy’s offense. “I think we’ve got to do a great job with field position. They are not going to beat themselves. They’re very disciplined, they’re very well-coached, as well-coached as any team that we’ve played, and they’re not going to beat themselves.”