The Poinsettia Bowl is entering it’s 6th year of existence after being formed in 2005 by the organizers of the Holiday Bowl. The game originally didn’t have much of a tie-in role, but eventually settled on selecting the second best non-BCS Mountain West team to face off against the fifth or sixth best Pacific 10 team. In the event that there isn’t a bowl eligible Pacific-10 team remaining, the Poinsettia bowl selects a WAC team instead.
Also interesting to note is that the Navy has an open agreement with the bowl game. The Middies automatically accepted invitations to the Poinsettia bowl for 2008, 2009 and 2010 if Navy managed to end the regular season with bowl eligibility. In 2008, Navy ended up playing in the EagleBank Bowl against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, however, in a game that they likely believed was more prestigious. Navy has made this deal with the Poinsettia bowl for obvious reasons – San Diego is home to a major naval base and Navy would draw a big fan base for the game.
The Poinsettia Bowl also made such an agreement with the Army Black Knights for the 2006 season, but Army was unable to become bowl eligible that year.
Of the 5 games played in this bowl game, the last three have been worthy of merit. In 2007, Utah defeated Navy 35-32 in the first bowl game of the season. That was the first game that current Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo took charge, as Paul Johnson left for Georgia Tech before the game. The game two years ago saw TCU and Boise State do battle. TCU managed to defeat Boise State 17-16 after trailing for the first 3 quarters. Finally, Utah and California met last year and played an epic game that ended with a 10 point Utah win, 37-27.
Ever since Paul Johnson took over at Navy, the Middies have been a particularly fine football team based entirely in the ground game. When Ken Niumatalolo took over for his departing head coach he did not change a single thing with the system and it shows. Navy is nearly at the very bottom of the passing rankings as the 118th best throwing team. However, they make up for it in a big way with the ground game – ranking 5th in the nation.
Navy had a strong season this year, but did not play any ranked teams at all. Their best wins may have come against Wake Forest (28-27) and Notre Dame (35-17). Their only losses came against Maryland (17-14), Air Force (14-6), and Duke (34-31). The loss to Duke – a 3-9 team – is a particularly pathetic loss for a generally defensively solid program. The Middies didn’t let the loss affect them, though, as they won their final four games including a butt-kicking of rival Army.
Senior quarterback Ricky Dobbs (6-1, 203) is the beginning and end of Navy’s offense. Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. Dobbs isn’t a passing quarterback, throwing only 135 times with 74 completions for 1380 yards, 12 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Not terrible numbers, but he’s certainly no Peyton Manning – he only threw 2 passes against Notre Dame (both completions)! His real value is in running the complicated triple option. He has personally carried a third of the total runs for the Middies this season, with 242 carries for 860 yards. He’s also picked up 13 touchdowns – the most for the team.
But you can’t run the triple option without a couple tailbacks backing you up. Junior Fullback Alexander Teich (6-0, 217) has wracked up 825 yards and 5 touchdowns on only 137 carries for the season. That’s a 6 yard per carry average – from a fullback. You’d be hard pressed to find a better school for running fullbacks in the country, and Alexander is playing his part remarkably well. Sophomore runningback Gee Gee Greene (5-8, 180) rounds out the backfield with 459 yards and 5 touchdowns on only 67 carries.
Probably no reason to talk about the receivers, considering the chance that they’re actually going to have the ball thrown their way is slim. That said, the leading receiver for the team is Senior wideout Greg Jones (6-0, 182). Jones has 50 receptions for 577 yards and 4 touchdowns. However, he does not stop with catching the ball. He’s also picked up 4 carries for 114 yards (28.5 ypc), likely on end-arounds that are used as an intermittent trick play.
The Aztecs have definitely been on the rise the last few seasons. In fact, they could have even had a chance at winning their conference this year, until they realized who they were playing. After losing to Brigham Young (24-21) – their second loss of the season after falling to Missouri 27-24 – the Aztecs went on a 4 game tear through their conference. That streak included a win over then ranked Air Force (27-25). SDSU was in position to carry it on through TCU as well before blowing a first quarter lead, and then missing on the chance for the winning score to lose 40-35. They followed that game up with a near win over Utah that the Utes managed to snatch away in the last quarter for a 38-34 victory.
Offensively, there could not be a team more diametrically opposed to Navy’s play style. The Aztecs are a prolific passing team – 11th in the nation, in fact – while their running game ranks in at only 63rd total. This has everything to do with junior quarterback Ryan Lindley (6-4, 215). Lindley is nearing 10,000 yards passing on his career, though only a 700+ yard game would get it for him this season. If he sticks around he could be one of the more prolific passers in NCAA history. For the season so far, Lindley has hit 3554 yards and 26 touchdowns on a 56.5% completion percentage.
Lindley has two favorite targets, and a couple of secondaries. Senior wideouts Vincent Brown (6-1, 195) and DeMarco Sampson (6-2, 205) have combined for over 120 receptions and 2200 yards. Both are big play threats, with Brown nabbing a 90 yard touchdown and Sampson picking up a slightly more pedestrian 71 yarder. The two have combined for 17 touchdowns in total for the season.
Despite the comparatively poor overall rushing statistics for the Aztecs, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a great tailback. Freshman Ronnie Hillman (5-10, 175) has picked up 1300 yards on 234 carries for 14 touchdowns. He’s a fantastic change of pace guy for the Aztecs and gives them the extra dimension to their offense that will make it hard on Navy to stop them.
There’s no question in my mind that San Diego State is going to have no trouble scoring on the Navy Midshipmen. The big question is whether or not the SDSU defense will be able to slow up the triple option enough to keep Navy from sticking around.
Should be a fun one in front of the home crowd Aztec faithful and the sailors from Naval Station, San Diego.