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Navy Midshipmen
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On the surface, the Poinsettia Bowl matchup of two five-loss teams, Navy and San Diego State, doesn't appear particularly enticing.

However, serious football fans especially aficionados of the X's and O's could find a fascinating game on Dec. 23 when the teams meet in San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium.

While Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo built his reputation on offense, guiding the confounding triple-option set of the Midshipmen, San Diego State coach Rocky Long is a bona fide defensive guru building his career on finding ways to thwart innovative offenses.

The triple-option is more throwback than innovation, but Navy's version has vexed some of the best defensive minds in the sport, which is where Long comes in.

Seven years ago, as coach at New Mexico, Long faced the potent pistol offense of Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl. His task in that game was to deal with Wolf Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

In preparation for that game, Long told the Reno Gazette-Journal: "It's scary. I compare this to preparing for the triple-option because it's unique and you don't see it all the time."

Long handled his fear well. New Mexico shut out Nevada, befuddling Kaepernick in a 23-0 victory.

Now Long's mission is to stop a man who last month broke a record that Kaepernick shared. Navy's Keenan Reynolds has scored 61 rushing touchdowns in his career the most by a quarterback in FBS history, two more than total posted by both Kaepernick and former Nebraska star Eric Crouch.

Reynolds is at the controls of Navy's triple option. The scheme traces its roots to the 1940s, but the Mids' version is successful for the same reason that spread offenses of this generation work: Lining up more offensive players on the perimeter prevents defenses from loading the box.

To counter such offenses, Long developed a 3-3-5 set with lots of moving parts pre-snap in the front six. It is an aggressive defensive scheme that keeps offenses guessing.

However, stunts and gambles and odd looks rarely confuse Navy. The Midshipmen are adept at reading what the offense is giving. Sometimes the most vanilla and conservative of schemes can be the most successful against Navy.

This isn't the first time Long will face Navy. Before taking over as head coach at San Diego State in 2011, he was the Aztecs' defensive coordinator.

In the 2010 Poinsettia Bowl, San Diego State limited Ricky Dobbs and Navy to 235 yards rushing and 382 overall in a 35-14 win.

Niumatalolo undoubtedly will view film from that game many times before the teams meet Dec. 23. It will be interesting to see what the Mids do differently this time in one of the more intriguing chess matches of the bowl season.





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