By JOSH DUBOW
AP Sports Writer
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Arizona State contends with a variety of offenses in the Pac-12 conference.
From the Air Raid at Washington State to the power running game at Stanford to the pro styles at Southern California to the fast-paced option at Oregon.
None of that will prepare the Sun Devils (7-5) for what they will face on Saturday in the Fight Hunger Bowl when they take on Navy (8-4) and its vaunted triple-option running attack.
“Honestly it’s totally different from everything we’ve seen all season and my five years here,” linebacker Brandon Magee said. “Their offense is really disciplined. They can get the ball to the quarterback, they can pitch it, they can hand it off to the fullback and they can also beat you deep on some passes if you fall asleep on the passing game. Very explosive offense.”
Navy is sixth in the nation in rushing with 275.6 yards per game and has won seven of eight games heading into the bowl matchup against the Sun Devils.
Arizona State coach Todd Graham said he would have been “miserable” if this game was in the regular season and he only had a few days to prepare. He hopes his past experiences going against triple-option teams and the extra practice before the bowl game will help his team’s preparation.
The Sun Devils have gone to unusual measures in their preparation, using cornerback Robert Nelson as the scout team quarterback simulating running plays.
“The knowledge of the triple option and being able to put it on the board and being able to talk about it is one thing,” Navy slotback Bo Snelson said. “But to go out and practice and have guys who have never run it before, guys who aren’t as in tune to the nuances of the offense and have them run it at the speed we do, that’s extremely difficult to do.”
Stopping the option is simple in the abstract — players must be disciplined enough to stay with their responsibility and not try to freelance, which can open up big running lanes.
It’s appropriate that discipline is the keyword in the final game of Graham’s first season as coach because that has been the key to the team’s success all year.
Graham took over from Dennis Erickson and immediately set out to change the culture that led to the Sun Devils leading the nation last year in penalties per game and penalty yardage. This season Arizona State is tied for the 11th fewest penalties in the nation and is hoping for its first bowl win since 2005.
“People will meet whatever expectations you set,” Graham said. “I was very fortunate because these guys embraced it. I don’t yell and scream or tell them to do this and that. I put in a values system and here’s the values we’ll be about and here’s the accountability.”
Navy has become more difficult to defend since making a quarterback switch early in the season when the Midshipmen turned to freshman Keenan Reynolds.
Reynolds led a comeback win against Air Force that helped Navy get out of the hole of a 1-3 start has not looked back ever since. He has thrown for eight touchdowns, run for 10 more and thrown just one interception, giving the Midshipmen a legitimate passing attack to pair with the option running game,
“If knew he was that poised we’d have put him in earlier,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “He’s exceeded my expectations. We knew he was a good quarterback, that’s why he moved up the ladder pretty quickly. I didn’t know he’d be this good. Right now he has a chance to be the best quarterback we’ve had in my time at the academy. He’s on that track.”
Arizona State will be playing the game with heavy hearts after running back Marion Grice’s brother was killed in Houston last week. He rejoined the team for practice in San Francisco and will leave from the game to go to his brother’s funeral, along with members of the coaching staff.
“He felt like his brother would want him to play and be here,” Graham said. “I personally think it will be a lot better for him.”
The game is sponsored by Kraft and is dedicated to fighting hunger in the United States. Three meals will be donated to local food backs for each ticket sold, with more than 100,000 meals expected to be donated this year.
Both teams also spent Christmas day serving meals to needy families in the San Francisco area.
“I haven’t had an experience in a bowl game that came close to that experience of serving,” Graham said
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)