CFN Bowl Analysis ...
San Diego State 35 ... Navy 14
This is when Navy needed the thumper to come through, and instead, it went finesse.
On a slick and slippery field that needed 24 hours of work to get all the water off of it, the Midshipman offense wasn't able to work the offense like it normally could. Who has the advantage on a lousy track? Teams with good receivers, because they know where they're going and the secondaries struggle to cut and adapt, and teams that can run inside and don't have to rely on precision and timing.
This version of the Navy offense works well on the outside and needs the play of QB Ricky Dobbs to keep things moving. While he wasn't bad throwing the ball – again, because the targets knew where they were going – the ground game couldn't seem to find its footing, literally.
San Diego State RB Ronnie Hillman was able to run on the outside, but he wasn't taking a pitch from a quarterback running full steam and throwing it to a spot. Hillman's best work came on the inside when he was able to burst through the hole and make big things happen. While the Aztec freshman is hardly a physical runner, even though he tries, he was tough up the gut. Navy didn't have that.
One of the normal staples of the Navy offense has been a tough runner who can soften things up on the inside so everything will work better on the outside. Army has its pounder in Jared Hassin, and Air Force has Asher Clark, who's physical to a point. The 6-0, 217-pound Alexander Teich, Navy's second leading rusher, should've been more effective, but he wasn't with just 38 yards on ten carries and wasn't given enough time to break off anything big.
It might have been a home game for San Diego State, but this was still a statement of a performance. Outside of the receiving corps, the team comes back loaded and should be one of the stars of the Mountain West. It's San Diego, so the Aztecs are built to play when everything is fine. Now the team knows it can play in the adverse conditions and thrive.
- Ronnie Hillman might have been the star of the show, but everything worked for the San Diego State offense. The passing game moved the chains and was explosive, with Vincent Brown exploding. This was the Brady Hoke offense at its best.
- There wasn't as much slipping and sliding as expected, but whenever there was a big spill, it always seemed to be Navy who was on the ground.
- Navy never got control of the game. The time of possession had to be big in the Midshipman's favor, and it was 30:19-29:41 SDSU.
- Get time to prepare and have a challenged defense with a good, motivated linebacking corps. That's how you beat Navy.
And he has three years of eligibility left, Aztec fans.
RB Ronnie Hillman is the poster child, literally, for what's taking place at San Diego State under Brady Hoke. Just a freshman, he sparkled in the Aztecs' first bowl win since 1969 and second in school history. QB Ryan Lindley still has one more season of eligibility left, so the program will enjoy balance again in 2011. How did the Pac-10 miss out on this kid? He possesses a fantastic combination of quickness, vision, and soft hips, cleaving the Navy defense for well over 200 yards and four total touchdowns. He moves effortlessly, gliding beyond the first level of defense, often before it's able to get a clean shot on him. The Aztecs just put a bow on one of the best seasons in school history. Because of the precocious Hillman, there's a feeling around campus that the unexpected success won't be temporary.
- Every day that Hoke is still on the Mesa, it's great news for San Diego State fans. He's a hot commodity among athletic directors, and a banner win, such as tonight's, is not possible had the coach not made the move from Ball State a couple of years ago.
- The bowl slate is way too inclusive. I get that. However, it does afford smaller schools an opportunity to showcase their talent to a much broader audience. San Diego State, for instance. Raise your hand if you'd seen WR Vincent Brown or LB Miles Burris before this evening.
By Matt Zemek
Both San Diego State and Navy had problems finishing off opponents this season. The Aztecs and the Midshipmen allowed inferior teams to hang around and steal wins. SDSU and Navy also displayed the maddening tendency to lose focus in the middle of dominating drives. The 2010 Poinsettia Bowl was going to be decided by the team that found the ability to complete what it started. San Diego State wasn't perfect in that regard, but coach Brady Hoke's team was definitely better than Ken Niumatalolo's crew.
On multiple occasions, Navy drove toward San Diego State's third of the field, only to stall after showing an ability to move the sticks on the ground. It's instructive to note that Navy used long passes to either score or set up its two touchdowns; when the Mids had to cover the final 25-35 yards of the field on the ground, they couldn't do so. San Diego State's secondary was suspect in its pass coverage, but the Aztecs' defensive line got feisty and flinty when it needed to. SDSU beat Navy's offensive line in man-making moments.
The play of the game was easy to identify: Navy's inability to convert a fourth-and-goal pass from the 3 in the third quarter (with SDSU leading 21-14) represented the turning point in this tilt. The failed pass – on what was a perfect play call by Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper – typified Navy's inability to finish drives, a bad habit manifested in the Mids' other three losses this season (to Maryland, Air Force, and Duke). San Diego State hit a third-quarter lull, but once Navy missed a final and fateful chance to tie the score at 21-all, the Aztecs put the pedal to the metal and used the passing game to pull away on their home field. San Diego State started well in its wrenching Nov. 20 loss to Utah; in this game, the Aztecs found a crunch0-time finishing kick. They fully deserved a long-sought but very elusive bowl win, the program's first since a fellow named Don Coryell delivered the goods in 1969.
-- Want to gauge the big-picture health of Navy's football program? The Midshipmen went 9-4 this season, and that's going to be considered a so-so season. Beating Army makes the year a success, but just barely. The Midshipmen did not overachieve this year; when nine wins and "overachievement" don't belong in the same sentence, you know that the bar has been raised in Annapolis.
-- If Brady Hoke stays in San Diego for the next three years, the Mountain West Conference matchup between the Aztecs and Boise State could provide some classic confrontations.
-- Was this Navy's best team in the Ken Niumatalolo era? No. Should that take away from the magnitude of San Diego State's accomplishment? Not at all. SDSU is a West Coast cousin of North Carolina State and Clemson, or – if you already live on the West Coast – a poor man's UCLA. The Aztecs' football history is dominated by failure and has known nothing but misery over the past decade. This win breaks a number of evil spells that have lingered over the program; we'll see if it generates long-term confidence and transforms SDSU into a Mountain West powerhouse akin to what TCU has become under Gary Patterson.