San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
Dec. 20, 6 p.m. PST
Navy (8-4) vs. Utah (8-4)
San Diego, California
Spread: Utah -8.5
Utah is more than a touchdown favorite in this game and rightfully so.
They opened the season riddled with injuries and a 1-3 record. The Utes rebounded, however, going 7-1 down the stretch with the lone loss coming in a close game against in-state rival BYU. In six games against bowl-bound teams, the Utes were 3-3, beating UCLA, New Mexico and TCU. There was also a road win against the disappointing Louisville Cardinals, who are bowl eligible but were not selected to play in the post-season.
Navy’s defense has been porous this year, allowing over 30 points in eight contests. Utah quarterback Brian Johnson should take full advantage. He’s missed a few games to injury this year but out dueled Louisville’s Brian Brohm (a future first round pick) and completed 65 percent of his passes this year. Junior running back Darrell Mack didn’t take the starting job until the UCLA game when he ran for over 100 yards against the Bruins. He eclipsed the 100-yard mark five more times over the course of the season to finish with 1,128 yards.
Navy has lost it’s head coach. Paul Johnson did amazing things at Navy and is taking his option offense to the ACC with Georgia Tech. Ken Niumataolo, formerly the offensive coordinator, will take over as the new head man and as a result, the offensive gameplan will remain intact. Quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada runs the option brilliantly and wouldn’t you know it, Utah had trouble with a similar offense against Air Force early this season. They have tough inside runners in Adam Ballard and Eric Kettani while slot backs Reggie Campbell, Shun White, and Zerbin Singleton are undersized speed demons. Seven players on this team (the above six and backup QB Jarod Bryant) have at least 460 yards rushing and 5 TD’s. It’s an intriguing offense that really spreads the ball around and can be difficult to attack. Campbell is also the team’s leading receiver and has hauled in 4 TD’s through the air. As a team they’ve barely thrown for over 1,000 yards this season and it’s largely and afterthought, most teams will stack the box defensively to stop the Navy offense and Utah will do the same.
Of the three teams took the Midshipmen to overtime this season, none can claim to be a good football team (Ball State, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh). They managed to win two of those games, losing to Ball State, the only team of the three playing in a bowl game. Division 1-AA (FCS) power Delaware also beat them and ACC bottom-feeder Duke were within a field goal of Navy. Despite the 8-4 record it hasn’t been a banner year for the naval academy.
I expect this to be an excellent game. Navy should have a slight home-field advantage despite having to travel from Maryland to California since San Diego is a naval town. The move of Paul Johnson won’t have a large effect on Navy overall but at some point Niumataolo will be called on to make an important decision that he’s never had to make on this big of a stage and it could be decisive. Both offenses have playmakers but it’s the Utah defense that has stepped up their play over the course of the season. They are ranked No. 15 in the country in total defense.
Utah should extend one of the longest bowl winning streaks in the country to seven after this game.
Utah 31- Navy 24
The game will be televised in Canada on The Score.