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NAVY VS UTAH
Let's take a look at the obvious first. This is a match up of a spread attack Navy team that can give defensive units fits, and can put some big time points on the board, yet, can't stop a Pop Warner team defensively. Going up against a Utah team, that can also score some points but also actually has a defense. Navy held Army to a field goal, but that's about the only team they held all year. Even Temple managed to score 19 points on them with the norm being somewhere in the 35-40 points per game range. That's poor.
Utah meanwhile, held opponents to under 10 points 5 times this year, including holding UCLA TO 6 and shutting out Wyoming. But they did have trouble stopping the spread attack when they faced Air Force. As a matter of fact, Air Force is the only common opponent for these two, and Navy came out on top when they played Air Force while Utah lost. But if you recall the Navy/Air Force game, Air Force had several opportunities in that game. A TD called back, the inability to punch it in once in the red zone. The result could have been different and looking at the stats from the game, it would appear Utah actually handled Air Force better than Navy. Navy gave up 474 yards and 25 first downs while Utah gave up 390 yards and 20 first downs.
Another wrinkle in this game is that Navy will be without long time coach Paul Johnson, who resigned to take the head job at Georgia Tech. Losing your coach for the Bowl game can have a positive or negative affect. The team can be lost without their head man who guided them every step of the way during the year, or, they can dedicate the game to him and win one in his absence.
Here's the way we see this game - No question, Utah has played the more difficult schedule. The Navy dance card contains some powder puffs. Both teams had 8-4 seasons, but one thing really stands out with Navy. Two of their four losses were against decent Rutgers and Wake Forest teams. Not great editions of either team, but good. Yet Navy lost those games by 17 and 20 points. They also lost to a very good Delaware team by a touchdown, and lost to Ball State by 3. The point being, when Navy stepped up in class, they not only lost, they lost by wide margins. Navy came up short, by a bunch, against the toughest teams they faced.
Just the opposite stands out with Utah. In their 8 wins, their lowest margin of victory was a touchdown. The rest of their wins were between 9 and 50 points! After stumbling out of the gate, and starting the year 1-3, Utah rattled off 7 straight wins before losing their final game to BYU. During that stretch, they proved that they can adapt to different styles of play and can win different kinds of games, Case in point, the closest game to what they'll face in Navy was probably Louisville. Louisville, like Navy, was a team this year that could score on anyone, yet had no defense. Just like Navy. Utah won a shoot out with Louisville 44-35.
So when looking at this game you have to try to figure out which team, and more to the point, which unit, offense or defense, has the potential to come up big here? Which unit is more than likely to make big plays and end up being the difference in the game? That would have to be the Utah defensive unit. We know Navy can't stop anyone, and we know both teams will move the ball and score some points. But it's the Utah defense, which ranked 15th in the land, that has the potential to decide this game. They kept some pretty good teams out of the end zone this year and they'll have plenty of time to prepare for this Navy offense. The spread attack is difficult to prepare for when you only have a week to do it. In this case, they will have had over a month of doing nothing but looking at Navy film and figuring out how to stop them.
Bowl games rated on a scale of 1* to 10*
3* UTAH -8 OVER NAVY