By Tommy Smith
Navy Midshipmen vs. San Diego State Aztecs
Wednesday – December 23 – 8:30 pm
Qualcomm Stadium – San Diego
How did they get here: Earning a fifth straight bowl appearance, San Diego State finished 5-3 in the Mountain West Conference which tied Fresno State atop the West Division. The Aztecs lost the tie breaker to the Bulldogs who lost to Boise State in the conference championship game. San Diego State plays their home games at Qualcomm Stadium and have accepted the Poinsettia Bowl’s invitation for the third time since 2010. Navy won its last three games including a 17-10 victory over Army and five of its last six to become bowl eligible for the third year in a row.
The Midshipmen are led by quarterback Keenan Reynolds who holds the NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 60 in his career. Reynolds commands the nation’s top rushing offense (345.1 ypg), finishing the regular season with 1182 yards on the ground. Navy throws the ball less than any other team in the FBS, averaging just over 10 pass attempts per game. Noah Copeland and Chris Swain will help Reynolds tote the rock as the Midshipman seek to control the clock in order to protect their defense which ranks 78th in the country.
Offensively, San Diego State relies on running back Donnel Pumphrey who averaged 146.2 yards per game carrying the ball while scoring 19 of the Aztecs 25 rushing touchdowns this season. Pumphrey will be taking handoffs from quarterback Quinn Kaehler who has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns this season. Kaehler completed 56.4 percent of his pass attempts this season while throwing nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions. With Navy giving up close to 200 rushing yards per game this season the Aztecs will look to ride Pumphrey to their fourth victory over Navy in four games.
Prediction: San Diego State 24 – Navy 16
Navy will be bowling for the 20th time and are 8-10-1 in its postseason history. The Midshipman beat Middle Tennessee in the Armed Forces Bowl last season, but have won only two of their last seven bowl appearances.
The Aztecs will have the advantage of playing in front of their families, friends and fans at Qualcomm. San Diego State is 6-6 all time in bowl games but just 3-5 since moving to division I competition. The Aztecs stopped a two game post season losing streak last year by beating Buffalo in the Famous Potato Bowl. Despite a large contingent of servicemen and women in San Diego the Aztecs should be able to capitalize on the home cooking and throw the ball just enough to sink the Midshipmen in this year’s Poinsettia Bowl.