2007 Poinsettia Bowl Preview
by Josh Nagel
Utah (8-4) vs. Navy (8-4)
Conference Matchup: Mountain West vs. Independent
Date: Dec. 20
Location: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, Calif.
Spread: Utah -9
The Poinsettia Bowl kicks off the bowl season in San Diego featuring a pair of 8-4 teams. Traditional Mountain West power Utah has won seven of its last eight, while independent Navy has had an up-and-down season in which it lost to Delaware, almost lost to Duke, but ended a decades-long drought against Notre Dame. The Midshipmen also just lost their coach; Paul Johnson selected Georgia Tech over suitors that included Duke and SMU. Johnson, who went 45-29 at Navy in six seasons, will be replaced by assistant Ken Niumatalolo. It will be interesting to see if Johnson's departure will have any effect on the Midshipmen. If the players respect and rally around Niumatalolo, who was athletic director Chet Gladchuk's hand-picked successor to Johnson, then motivation shouldn't be a problem.
Utah can cover if: If the Utes can get an early lead behind their spread offense, Navy could be in trouble. Using the same system that memorably led to an undefeated season and BCS appearance a few years back under Urban Meyer, the Utes are capable of posting some big offensive numbers. A big two-score lead will force Navy out of its triple option and into the passing game, which the Midshipmen would rather not do; they have 1,082 yards total passing this year. When he's healthy, Brian Johnson is one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the country. In somewhat limited action, he has completed 65 percent of his passes, thrown for 1,621 yards and 10 touchdowns; backup Tommy Grady has thrown for 681 yards and four scores. The Utes average 35 points per game in their wins, which could spell trouble for Navy, which has yielded 45 points per game in its losses. Teams with similar balanced attacks such as Rutgers and Wake Forest each blew out Navy without much problem. Utah's defense has been mostly solid; its 320 yards per game average is 16th in the nation.
Navy can cover if: the Midshipmen can eat up a bunch of clock with time-consuming drives and finish them with touchdowns. The best way to stop a potent offense is to keep it off the field. Navy's offense, which leads the country in rushing, features seven players who have rushed for more than 400 yards and have at least five touchdowns. Quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada leads the way with 782 yards and 11 touchdowns, followed by Eric Kettani (755/nine TDs) and Adam Ballard (644 yards/five TDs). On the rare occasion Navy throws the ball, Reggie Campbell (213 yards, four TDs) is the primary target. Campbell also has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season. However, the key to the Midshipmen making a game of it relies on its leaky defense, which gives up a woeful 420 yards per game and is ranked 100th nationally. They must get some stops against Utah's powerful attack or it could be a long day.
General Notes: Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is familiar with bowl games in San Diego, having played in the first four Holiday Bowls with BYU. Niumatalolo, Navy's new coach, was born and raised in Hawaii although he is of Samoan descent. HE is believed to be the first Polynesian head coach in NCAA history. Navy's 74-62 win over North Texas on Nov. 10 is the highest-scoring game in major college history. Although it's officially a neutral site, Navy should enjoy a bit of a partisan-crowd advantage because Qualcomm Stadium is located in San Diego, a noted Navy town.
Re: Poinsettia Bowl
Utah, Navy kick off bowl season in Poinsettia
By: Chance Harper
Still more than a week away from the Bowl Season getting underway, Chance Harper looks at some intriguing early matchups, beginning with the Poinsettia Bowl. Will Navy coach Paul Johnson's decision to move to Georgia Tech be cause for Midshipmen concern? Can the Utah Utes come up with a defense to stop Navy's option regardless of who coaches them?
The first week of the college football bowl season usually serves up its share of clunkers. This year looks a little more promising.
Pro handicappers and casual bettors alike will be flocking to their TV sets to see some of the more intriguing bowl games on tap. We have three of them right here.
The Utes have proved themselves the better team over the course of the season. Although each finished at 8-4 straight up, the Midshipmen dropped the cash in their first four games to end up at 4-7 against the spread. Utah was a healthy 7-5 ATS and won six in a row before losing the game and the Mountain West title to BYU. The Utes finished No. 35 in the FBS in Fremeau efficiency; Navy was No. 66.
There aren’t many places on the field where the Midshipmen have the advantage in this matchup. Quarterback is one of them, as Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada is entrusted to helm the Navy triple-option, while Utah's Brian Johnson has 11 touchdown throws and 10 interceptions on the season. The triple-option, however, might not work as smoothly now that Navy coach Paul Johnson has defected to Georgia Tech and Ken Niumatalolo has stepped up with just two weeks to work things out.
Still, are 8½ points too many for Utes supporters to stomach? Anything over a converted TD is a big spread to cover, even in college. The giant total of 67 may suggest a shooting match between these two spread-based offenses. However, Utah held opponents to 15.6 points per game and drove the under to an 8-4 record.
Re: Poinsettia Bowl
Poinsettia Bowl Preview
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl – Dec. 20, 2007
Navy Midshipmen (8-4 SU, 4-7 ATS)
Utah Utes (8-4 SU, 7-5 ATS)
The first bowl game to kick off the postseason will be an entertaining one. Navy is back at the Poinsettia Bowl for the second time in three years. This is a game it knew it would be playing way back in September when it accepted an invite to San Diego as long as it became bowl eligible. It's the first time in school history that the Midshipmen have gone to five straight bowl games, but they will be without the coach that got them there each time after Paul Johnson accepted the position at Georgia Tech.
Utah is also bowling for the fifth straight season and will be looking for its seventh straight bowl victory. The Utes' winning bowl streak dates back to 1999, which is the second-longest postseason win streak in the nation. Utah started the season 1-3 and things were not looking good as injuries piled up. But they started getting healthy and won seven straight games before losing a heartbreaker to BYU in the regular season finale. Three of the four losses this season came away from home.
Why Navy Will Cover
The Midshipmen shouldn't miss a beat as new hire Ken Niumatalolo was the assistant head coach and offensive coordinator all six years under Johnson. Navy leads the nation in rushing with 351.5 yards per game and will likely wrap up the rushing title for an unprecedented third straight season. The offense scored 30 or more points in 10 of 12 games and averaged 49 points per game over its last five games. This team is not only capable of outscoring anyone, but is always in position for a backdoor cover.
Utah’s offense got better as the season went along, but it did not close the season in impressive fashion. The Utes had a combined 544 total yards in its final two games and the offense topped 28 points only once in the team's final six games. Utah had a golden chance to take out hated rival BYU but gave up the winning score with only 38 seconds remaining. While that game will have been 26 days in the past once this one kicks off, one wonders how the Utes will respond to that disappointment.
Why Utah Will Cover
The Utes' rushing defense has really clamped down after a sluggish start. Utah allowed 198 yards per game through its first five games but has allowed just 81.4 over its last seven games. The scoring defense has been even better. It has allowed 20 points or fewer in its last six games and an average of just 9.5 points over that stretch. Navy hasn't faced many solid stop units this year, going against teams ranked 113th, 91st, 96th, 94th and 88th in overall defense.
While Navy may have the best rushing offense, the defense is horrendous, allowing 438.2 yards per game which is 99th in the country. The unit did improve toward the end of the season, posting two of its three best efforts on the year in the final two contests. However those games were against Northern Illinois and Army, a combined 5-19. The Midshipmen played a very weak schedule, 89th in the country, and the victory over Air Force was their only win against a team playing in a bowl game.
**Utah is 24-9 ATS in road games when playing against a team with a winning record since 1992.
**Navy is 63-38 ATS as an underdog since 1992.
Re: Poinsettia Bowl
Game Preview for Utah vs Navy
Back in the San Diego Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl for the second time in the three-year existence of the event, the Navy Midshipmen suit up against the Utah Runnin' Utes on Thursday night at Qualcomm Stadium. In the first year of the Poinsettia Bowl, the Middies crushed another representative from the Mountain West Conference with a commanding 51-30 victory in 2005. Last year Navy, which has a bowl record of 6-6-1 dating back to the 1924 Rose Bowl, was slighted by Boston College (25-24) in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. As far as this past regular season is concerned, the Mids closed out the 2007 campaign with four straight victories, logging a 38-3 thrashing versus Army on the road to secure yet another Commander-in-Chief Trophy (fifth straight) in the process. Overall, the academy finished with a record of 8-4 for head coach Paul Johnson, who has since jumped ship and is making his way to Atlanta to become the new head coach at Georgia Tech. Stepping in for Johnson is assistant head coach Ken Niumatalolo who is believed to be the first Polynesian head coach in NCAA history as he becomes the 38th head man in the history of the program. Taking a closer look at the Utes, they too finished this past season with a record of 8-4 and tied New Mexico for third place in the MWC standings with five wins in eight tries. The start of the season didn't look all that promising with the team falling in back-to-back meetings versus Oregon State and Air Force and then losing to a woeful UNLV squad in Las Vegas, but that 1-3 start was followed with a seven-game win streak before Kyle Whittingham's team fell to nationally-ranked BYU in the regular-season finale, 17-10. The first non-BCS program to make it to a BCS bowl contest in 2005 with a 35-7 victory over Pittsburgh at the Fiesta Bowl, Utah is 9-4 since beginning postseason play in the 1939 Sun Bowl. The squad has played in a bowl game in each of the last five seasons and has won six straight bowl games beginning with a 17-16 decision against Fresno State in the 1999 Las Vegas Bowl. As far as a relationship between these two programs is concerned, this is the first-ever game between them.
The Utes failed to place a single offensive player on the All-MWC First Team this season, but the squad is stacked with talent on that side of the ball. More than just a passing quarterback, Brian Johnson has always posed a threat as a runner as well, which explains why he has just 10 passing scores and nine interceptions this season. Johnson, who has been injury prone during his stay in Salt Lake City, was once again on the sidelines this season and is listed as probable for this game with a shoulder injury, which means there's a slight chance of seeing Tommy Grady in the huddle instead. One of the top rushers in the MWC this season, Darrell Mack took his lumps with 231 carries for 1,128 yards and accounted for 10 of the unit's 16 rushing scores. The Utes had some issues with scoring this season, with the shutout against UNLV being the most devastating, but they are still better than their 25.5 ppg indicates. One such performance was the 50 points scored in a grudge match versus Wyoming.
The Utes are known more for their defense than anything else. The squad ranked first in the Mountain West Conference in scoring defense, giving up a mere 15.6 ppg (third in the nation). The pass defense was especially stingy, permitting only 189.4 ypg to rank first in the MWC again and 15th in the country. In terms of a pass efficiency defense, a mark of 94.47 was better than every other team in the nation except for Ohio State. The run defense wasn't bad either, allowing just 130 ypg and limiting as many as five different opponents to less than 100 yards on the ground. Were it not for the 334 yards given up to Air Force and the 575 total yards between the Falcons and Oregon State in the first two games, there's no doubt the Utes would be have been tops in the country in that department. One of the main reasons for the toughened defense up front was the play of Martail Burnett, an All-MWC First-Team member who led the program with 14 tackles for loss and seven sacks, as part of his 47 stops overall.
The nation's leader in rushing in four of the last five seasons, Navy again did the job in 2007 with a program-record 351.5 ypg on the ground. By leading the country in rushing in each of the last three seasons, the Middies established an NCAA record, one that might never be matched by anyone other than the Midshipmen. Directed by quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, there really isn't a single dominant force in the running game for the Middies, which makes it that much harder for opponents to stop the hard-charging ground attack. The team has a total of seven different players who have gained at least 463 yards rushing and scored a minimum of five touchdowns. The team as a whole registered an incredible 51 scores on the ground, with Kaheaku-Enhada leading the way with his 11 TDs. Eric Kettani and Zerbin Singleton accounted for nine each, while Shun White (seven TDs) averaged a stunning 8.2 yards per attempt when given the chance. The top running team in the country has had to make some concessions in the passing attack, and that has resulted in a mere 93.1 ypg to rank dead last in the nation. However, with barely one sack per game being allowed by the offense, the approach has again proven fruitful for the Middies as they rank eighth in the country in scoring with 39.9 ppg.
Perhaps not having much of a passing offense the last few years has also taken its toll on the team's pass defense to a degree. Without such a force to practice against day-in and day-out, the defense for the Middies showed it had serious problems trying to slow down aerial attacks. Navy was tabbed for an incredible 265.5 ypg through the air, which ranked the squad 106th in the nation. Worse than that though, as far as the pass efficiency defense is concerned, the Middies have a rating of 163.7 which ranks the squad dead last among the 119 FBS programs. With an average of just one sack per game, Navy is 115th in the country in that department and is 111th in terms of TFLs with close to five per game. Put it all together, with a run defense that allows 172.7 ypg (80th), and you come up with a squad that is 109th in the country, allowing 36.5 ppg. Clearly, a lot of that has to do with the five-game stretch between October 10th and November 10th that saw the group surrender no less than 44 points in every outing and a high of 62 in the slugfest versus North Texas. Wyatt Middleton tops the team's tackles list with 85 stops, while Michael Walsh (54 stops) has accounted for 10.5 TFLs, three sacks and three forced fumbles.
When the Utes were charged with trying to stop a dominant running game like they were when they faced Air Force, the squad didn't stand up that well. However, that was months ago and the team has since leveled out. However, with some uncertainty at the quarterback position, Utah is not a lock for a victory by any stretch in this game.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Utah 35, Navy 28
Re: Poinsettia Bowl
Poinsettia Bowl Preview
By Chris David
Navy (8-4 SU, 4-7 ATS) vs. Utah (8-4 SU, 7-5 ATS)
How they got there:
Navy closed the season with four straight wins, three coming in double-digit fashion and the other coming in overtime against Notre Dame, 46-44. The Midshipmen have played in three overtime games this year, going 2-1 both SU and ATS.
Utah finished second in the Mountain West Conference and almost captured the title, but fell short against intrastate rival Brigham Young 17-10 in its season finale. The Utes closed the season strong, winning seven of their final eight games.
What to expect:
This is going to be a classic battle of offense vs. defense, with Navy's option attack against Utah's solid defense. The Midshipmen lead the nation with their rushing attack (351 YPG), but the Utes' defense (319 YPG) is ranked 15th nationally in yards per game. While Navy has been able to light up the scoreboard (39.9 PPG) this year, the defense has been torched for 36.5 PPG -- which is ranked 109th nationally. Navy will be without its former head coach Paul Johnson, who accepted the vacant position at Georgia Tech earlier this month. Assistant coach Ken Niumatalolo will take over the coaching duties for the Midshipmen and plans to run the same attack.
The Utes have held their last six opponents under 20 or less points and are ranked third in points per game allowed (15.6), only listed behind stellar units in V-Tech (15.5) and Ohio State (10.7). On the other hand, Navy has only held two opponents (Temple, Army) under 20 points this season. Utah has gone 3-3 both SU and ATS versus bowl eligible teams.
Players to Watch:
Navy - Quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada (1,612 total yards, 17 TDs) and slot back Reggie Campbell (1,815 all-purpose yards) are the main cogs of the Navy offense. Kaip-Noa can beat you with his arm or legs and Campbell has proven his worth on offense, and special teams too. Fullback Adam Ballard (644 yards, 5 TDs) is looked upon often to pound the ball early and late.
Utah - Quarterback Brian Johnson (1,621 yards, 65% completions) is very accurate but sometimes tries to squeeze the ball into tight places, evidenced by his nine interceptions. Running back Darrell Mack (1,128 yards) has been able to take pressure off Johnson with his speed and power. Wide receiver Derrek Richards (53 catches) leads seven players with double-digit catches for the Utes. Nose tackle Gabe Long (shoulder) is a question mark for Thursday and a big factor for the Utes. He's a senior leader and the main cog on the defensive line.
Navy has produced a 6-6-1 ledger in its 13 postseason games. This will be the school's fifth straight year in a bowl game and is 2-2 SU and 3-1 ATS during this run. Last year, Navy lost a 25-24 heartbreaking loss to Boston College in the Meineke Car Care bowl.
Utah has been a serious money-maker for gamblers during the bowl season, posting a 9-3 all-time mark. This includes six straight (5-1 ATS) victories, including a pair of back-to-back wins by head coach Kyle Wittingham, both by an average of 20 points (31.5-11.5) per game.
Navy has won impressively at this venue before, smashing Colorado State 51-30 in the 2005 Poinsettia Bowl. The favorite has gone 2-0 both SU and ATS in the only two meetings. The total has gone 1-1.
Inside the Line:
The number on this game opened at 9.5 and 67.5 and has since dropped in the last couple weeks. It's currently hovering at 7, with the total falling to 64. A chance of rain is expected on Thursday in San Diego, which could be the reason for the drop on the total.
Navy owns a 2-2 both SU and ATS mark as an underdog this year. Utah has helped its backers with a 7-5 ATS mark this year.
Navy has watched the 'over' go 7-4, but Utah has countered with an 'under' mark of 8-4.
Expert Opinion: - Paul Bovi
The question one must ponder is what effect Utah's last minute loss to BYU will have going into this match up with the Naval Academy. In the game, the Utes had the Cougars by the tail until a 4th and 18 conversion with under a minute remaining led to the game winning score and costing Utah the Mountain West Title. Prior to that heartbreaker, the Utes had ran off seven straight wins after opening the season 1-3. At least two of those losses could be attributed to an injury to QB Brian Johnson suffered in the opening day loss to Oregon State.
The Utes could be up for a let down game against Navy when they could be heading to Las Vegas to take on a more formidable opponent in UCLA. On the other side of the ball, Navy will be looking to avenge a heartbreaking loss to BC in the Car Care Bowl last year as they were out pointed 25-24 on the strength of a field goal at the gun. Aside from that, service academies are traditionally more focused for their bowl games based on the military mind set. One must also take into account that the crowd will be overwhelmingly supportive of the Midshipmen due to the presence of a Naval Base in San Diego.
Navy began the year with only three returning starters from last year, and then suffered several injuries to that side of the ball including the loss of LB Clint Sovie, who led the returnees with 61 tackles in 2006. At one point, they went over the number nine straight before closing the year with 2 unders, one versus a depleted Northern Illinois team in which their own QB, junior sensation Kaheaku-Enhada sat out, and then versus the woeful Cadets who managed only a field goal Navy's ability to stop a legitimate offense is in question here as is the incentive for the Utes to put forth their best effort.
Handicapping this game is as black and white as it gets in my opinion. Navy's defense is atrocious, which means Utah should be able to name its number. But can the Midshipmen post enough points against a stout defense that has fared well against similar attacks? Navy will have the crowd on its side and the weather (expected rain) could help the military academy, who have been great against the spread (19-6) in bowl games. While Navy has been a solid look in bowl games, Utah has been tremendous - especially on defense. In the last five bowl games, the Utes have given up 6, 0, 7, 10 and 13. The public is on the underdog in this spot and we believe they're wrong. A great defense always stops a good offense, and a bad defense makes a good offense looks great.
Final Score: Utah 49 Navy 31
Re: Poinsettia Bowl
What bettors need to know: Navy vs. Utah
Navy Midshipmen vs. Utah Utes (-8½, 65)
It’s no great surprise that Utah is an 8 ½-point favorite to take the Poinsettia Bowl when you consider its recent record. They boast the nation’s second-longest bowl winning streak with six in a row, trailing only Boston College’s run of seven.
"Somebody's got to lose bowl games – it just hasn't been us," senior center Kyle Gunther told the North County Times ahead of Thursday’s matchup with Navy in San Diego.
That’s certainly been true during his four-year stint at the school and for a good few seasons before that. The Utes have the highest bowl-winning percentage (75 percent) of any team with at least 10 appearances.
So what’s the secret to that success?
"It's simply because of the preparation that we do," senior middle linebacker Joe Jiannoni said. "I don't think other teams take it serious; I think they see it as just a fun time. We see it as a fun time and a business trip. We're here to get the job done.”
The Utes have been getting the job done since a massive turnaround in October. They got off to a 1-3 start, mainly due to losing four key starters to season-ending injuries. But they recovered to win seven straight games.
"It forced us to circle the wagons and come together," head coach Kyle Whittingham said of the adversity. "Not that we weren't together before, but we hung together and didn't point fingers and kept believing and working hard. It would have been easy to get discouraged or frustrated, but it didn't happen. We just kept at it."
New coach, same offense
Navy will feature a new head coach for the Poinsettia Bowl, but don’t expect to see a new offensive approach. The Middies will continue to rely on their hugely successful triple-option rushing attack when they face Utah this week.
When former head coach Paul Johnson left after six seasons to take the Georgia Tech job on Dec. 7, Navy handed the job to assistant coach Ken Niumatalolo the next day. Athletic director Chet Gladchuk cited Niumatalolo’s familiarity with the option as the reason for his appointment.
"I don't care whose offense we call it," Niumatalolo told NCAA.com. "We're going to use it because it works. I've been involved with this offense for 20 years. I've called the plays for this offense before. I learned a lot from Paul about the various wrinkles and how to make adjustments."
The triple-option has worked wonders for Navy. The Middies have led the league in rushing in four of the last five seasons, including an NCAA-record three straight times. This season, they have the most yards on the ground (4,218) and rushing touchdowns (51).
Despite these figures, Navy doesn’t have a single player who has breached the 1,000-yard mark. Instead, they have seven players – led by quarterback Kaipo Kaheaku-Enhada – who have rushed between 400 and 800 yards.
Utah will fancy its chances in a close game this Thursday. It has one of the most reliable punters in the nation on the sideline.
Louie Sakoda is the Mountain West Conference's special teams player of the year and it’s easy to see why. He ranked eighth nationally in punting averaging with 44.8 yards and is 19-for-22 on field goals this season.
Sakoda’s 19 successful field goals set a new school record. Ten of those field goals were from 40 yards or more.
The junior showed last season that he can deliver in crunch situations too. He kicked the game-winning 37-yard field goal against Air Force last year and was the MVP of the Armed Forces Bowl.
He said he doesn’t expect to feature as prominently against Navy this week.
“That was fun, but it shouldn't come down to that this year," Sakoda told the Salt Lake Tribune. "The only reason that happened last year is because I was put in that position. This year our offense is hot and our defense is on top of it, so I don't think it will come down to me, in that sense.”
Home away from home
When Navy takes the field at Qualcomm Stadium, it should not be short of fans in the stands. The service academy scheduled men’s and women’s basketball games in San Diego this week in an effort to attract more supporters to all the events.
“We did that with the hopes we would be out there,” Navy athletics spokesman Scott Strasemeier told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
“Instead of trying to play a basketball home game when there's no one here (on the Navy campus), why not play in San Diego when we've sold upward of 14,000 bowl tickets now and will have a large contingent?”
Re: Poinsettia Bowl
Potent Navy ground game could doom Utah
Navy has been a bowl regular behind the leadership of Paul Johnson but Johnson recently accepted the coaching position at Georgia Tech which left the Midshipmen searching for a coach.
Enter assistant Ken Niumatalolo.
Niumatalolo was hand pointed by athletic director Chet Gladchuk for his familiarity with the triple option offense and has learned all the intricacies of the complicated scheme under the watchful eye of Johnson. He will take the reigns when Navy takes on Utah and from Niumatalolo's recent comments; he feels he's a capable replacement.
"I don't care whose offense we call it," Niumatalolo said. "We're going to use it because it works. I've been involved with this offense for 20 years. I've called the plays for this offense before. I learned a lot from Paul about the various wrinkles and how to make adjustments."
And man has it worked. Navy was the best rushing offense in the country this season (average 351 yards per game) but also ranks 8th nationally in scoring offense averaging nearly 40 points per game.
Much of the success of the Midshipmen can be attributed to quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada. Enhada led Navy in rushing (782 yards and 11 touchdowns) and passing (830 yards and six touchdowns) but his decision making in the triple option has been remarkable.
Enhada seemed enthusiastic about the promotion of Niumatalolo and figures to have continued success.
"It's a great move," junior quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada said of Niumatalolo's appointment. "Personally, I'm happy because we've got a coach who really knows the option. We got a curveball thrown at us, but we woke up and found out we already have a new coach."
Two other players to watch on the Navy offense are Reggie Campbell and fullback Eric Kettani. Kettani ranks second on the team in rushing with 755 yards and nine scores while Campbell is tied for the team lead in touchdowns (11) with Enhada.
Campbell also returned two kickoffs for scores and averaged over 14 yards per punt return. He will assuredly be a priority for the Utah defense.
Speaking of the Utah's defense, it currently ranks 15th nationally in total defense but allows close to 130 yards a game via the ground. Utah lost all four games in which it allowed over 136 yards rushing so this should be a telling tell in the outcome of the game.
Offensively, Utah hasn't been consistent but it's been good when clicking. During its seven game winning streak, which was snapped by BYU to conclude the season, Utah averaged 33 points per game.
The Utes should find the end zone often against a porous Navy defense that allowed 438 yards per game (99th nationally) but a good game from quarterback Brian Johnson will be the key.
Johnson is a good athlete who's very adept as a runner and passer, but he's thrown one or more interceptions in seven out of his last eight games. If he has an off night, Navy could control the clock and the game.
Prediction: Navy appears to be using the Johnson departure as motivation, which can be a big momentum factor in bowl games. Utah lost a heartbreaker to BYU to conclude the season so it will be interesting to see if this team is still suffering the lasting effects.
Our Call: Navy: 42, Utah 36
Re: Poinsettia Bowl
Middies, Utes know Poinsettia Bowl's all about the option
December 19, 2007
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- The Poinsettia Bowl between Navy and Utah on Thursday night could come down to whoever can play keep-away the best.
Already beaten once this year by a service academy and its perplexing offense, Utah knows it will have its hands full trying to stop Navy's potent triple-option that's run by a quarterback with double hyphens, Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada.
Ditto for Navy, which will try to stop Utah's spread option with a defense that came close to blowing out scoreboards around the country by allowing at least 30 points a whopping eight times this season. In the span of three games, the Midshipmen lost 59-52 to Delaware, beat Notre Dame 46-44 in three overtimes -- their first win against the Fighting Irish in 44 years -- and won 74-62 at North Texas in the highest-scoring game in major-college history.
Utah is favored in the matchup of teams that finished 8-4. Navy's Ken Niumatalolo will be making his head coaching debut, having been promoted from assistant head coach and offensive line coach after Paul Johnson left for Georgia Tech.
"Navy's been involved in a lot of shootouts this year. Most of their games have been tremendous scores," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "The best way to defend their offense is to keep it on the sideline, keep our offense moving the chains and not turn it over. The best defense against a team like this is to keep that option offense grounded on the sideline."
Utah faces the option every year when it plays Mountain West Conference rival Air Force. But the Utes lost to Air Force this year, allowing 334 rushing yards, and Whittingham said it's tough trying to emulate the option in practice.
"Anytime you have the quarterback run game as the viable option, which obviously the triple option they employ has available, you've got to play what we call 1-11 defense," he said. "All 11 guys have their one job to do. It's assignment football. Any breakdown in those assignments and the ball's out of the gate for a big gain."
Navy leads the nation in rushing at 351.5 yards per game and is eighth in scoring offense at 39.9 points.
Seven Midshipmen have rushed for more than 450 yards, led by Kaheaku-Enhada with 782 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has also thrown for six touchdowns.
What makes the Middies so efficient, Whittingham said, is their discipline and execution.
"The biggest problem we have is duplicating that in practice. We can duplicate schemes, who's got the pitch, who's got the dive, but the speed at which we see it in practice is nowhere near the speed we're going to see it tomorrow night. So that's going to be an adjustment period for our defense, particularly in the first couple of series trying to get used to the speed that that thing's coming at us."
That's precisely the kind of headache Navy tries to give an opponent.
"We always go with that mentality," Niumatalolo said. "If we can jump out on people early before they pick up on the speed of it, hopefully we'll have a lead and we can kind of minimize their possessions.
"A lot of what we do is we try to keep the ball away from their offense. We're patient in what we do. We don't care. Three yards for us is good. Four yards for us is good. We'll continue to eat the clock and hopefully have a time of possession advantage so that Brian Johnson isn't on the field and they aren't giving the ball to Darrell Mack and we can keep the ball in our hands."
Johnson has thrown for 1,621 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Mack, who grew up in the San Diego area, has rushed for 1,128 yards and 10 TDs.
Utah is making its fifth straight bowl appearance and has won its last six bowl games dating to 1999, the second-longest streak in the country.
The Utes have held five of their last seven opponents to less than 100 yards rushing, allowing just 84.3 yards per game.
Navy is also making its fifth straight bowl appearance. It won the inaugural Poinsettia Bowl in 2005, beating Colorado State 51-30.
Navy beat Notre Dame on Nov. 3. The Midshipmen routed Army 38-3 on Saturday, their unprecedented sixth straight win in the big rivalry.
"We've got some confidence, "Niumatalolo said. "Hopefully, we can carry it on to this bowl game."
Re: Poinsettia Bowl
POINSETTIA BOWL (at San Diego)
Navy (8-4, 4-7 ATS) vs. Utah (8-4, 7-5 ATS)
College football’s second season kicks off at Qualcomm Stadium, where the Midshipmen clash with Utah in a battle between schools that are both making their fifth consecutive bowl appearance.
After closing the regular season with four straight wins (2-2 ATS), including a 38-3 rout of archrival Army on Dec. 1 as a 14-point chalk, Navy lost head coach Paul Johnson, who left to take the same post at Georgia Tech. Though Johnson has guided the Middies to great success, particularly on offense (39.9 points per game this season), the squad shouldn’t miss a beat under newly named head coach Ken Niumatalolo, who has been an assistant head coach overseeing Navy’s offense for 10 years.
Utah finished the regular season with a gut-wrenching last-second 17-10 loss to rival BYU as a 4½-point road underdog. The defeat ended the Utes’ seven-game winning streak (6-1 ATS), but the still finished second in the Mountain West Conference.
The Midshipmen are 3-1 ATS in their last four bowl games, including consecutive win and covers against Mountain West teams (2004 Emerald Bowl against New Mexico; 2005 Poinsettia Bowl against Colorado State). Navy is 10-1 ATS in its last 11 against Mountain West foes.
The Middies went 20-10-1 ATS catching points under Johnson (2-2 ATS as an underdog this year). Also, Navy is 8-2 ATS in its last 10 neutral-site games. However, the Middies are just 2-7 ATS in their past nine non-conference affairs.
The Utes are on a 5-0 SU and ATS run in bowl games, including a 25-13 win over Tulsa as a 2½-point favorite in last year’s Armed Forces Bowl in Texas. They are also on positive ATS runs of 4-0 as a favorite, 5-1 against teams with a winning record and 22-7-1 in their last 30 non-conference contests.
Navy scored at least 31 points in 10 of its 12 games, including averaging 49 per contest over its last five. Meanwhile, Utah scored at least 27 points six times during its seven-game winning streak, but managed a total of just 29 points in its three losses.
Navy led the nation in rushing offense for the third consecutive year (351.5 yards per game). QB Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada paced the triple-option attack, with 782 rushing yards and 11 TDs. He also passed for 830 yards (17.3 per completion) and six more TDs, against four INTs. Navy had four players rush for more than 550 yards, and three more who broke 450.
The Midshipmen will run against a Utah defense that yields 131.3 rushing yards per game (3.7 yards per carry), but that number dropped to just 91 rushing ypg (2.9 ypc) in the last three contests.
Utes QB Brian Johnson, who missed three games early in the season with an injury, passed for 1,621 yards (161-for-247, 65.2 percent), with 10 TDs and nine INTs. RB Darrell Mack was the difference maker, though, breaking 100 yards in each of the last six games to finish the season with 1,128 yards (4.9 per carry) and 10 TDs.
The over is 7-4 for Navy this year, 8-2 in its last 10 neutral-site outings and 9-3 in its last 12 non-conference starts. However, Utah stayed under the total in five of its last six outings.
ATS ADVANTAGE: UTAH and OVER