- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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You saw my preview and prediction. Now here are three keys for San Diego State and Navy in the S.D. County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.
San Diego State (8-4)
1. Establish Ronnie Hillman. As we mentioned earlier, he has had a dynamic season, winning Mountain West Freshman of the Year honors and drawing comparisons to former Aztecs great Marshall Faulk. Though Ryan Lindley is capable of leading this offense, everything works so much better when the running game is established. In three of four losses this season, Hillman was held to fewer than 100 yards. He is going to take on even greater importance with the soggy state of the field, parts of which were flooded by torrential rains.
2. Remember Air Force. Defensive coordinator Rocky Long had an effective scheme to slow down Air Force, which runs a similar version of the triple option. The safeties came up and crowded the box, and though the Falcons got their yards on the ground, San Diego State played assignment sound and had a good day tackling. One difference here is Dobbs, who has been a better passer than Tim Jefferson. Watch for linebacker Miles Burris, a first-team all-MWC selection. He led the team with 74 total tackles, and the league with 9.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss.
3. Keep jitters down. This is the first bowl appearance for San Diego State since 1998, so naturally there could be some nerves to start. None of the players have been in a game of this magnitude before, but it should help they will be playing in a familiar spot.
1. Big games from Ricky Dobbs and Alexander Teich. Air Force lost to San Diego State, but was able to rack up 312 yards on the ground in its version of the triple-option. Dobbs can pass the ball, but he and Teich are the primary forces that make this offense go. You figure San Diego State will try to load up the box, but Navy is used to seeing that look and is effective at breaking tackles or making surprises with some downfield passes.
2. No big plays. Navy has been good at limiting big plays through the air this season, and that is going to have to continue against a big-play team in San Diego State. Brown has a 90-yard touchdown reception this season; Sampson has a 71-yarder; Brandon Sullivan has a 57-yarder. On the ground, three running backs have touchdown runs of 44-plus yards: Hillman (93), Walter Kazee (46) and Davon Brown (43). San Diego State has made 71 plays this season that have gone for 20-plus yards. The Midshipmen simply cannot afford to give up the big play consistently.
3. Stay disciplined. Navy is the least-penalized team in the nation, and also is one of the best teams at hanging on to the football. Playing yet another clean game is going to be absolutely key in this one. The defensive backs have to be especially careful to not commit careless pass interference penalties when trying to slow down Sampson and Brown.