by Mike Mitchell
Navy made it to a bowl game for the fifth straight season under head coach Paul Johnson, but Johnson will not be coaching the Midshipmen in this game. It was announced December 7 that Johnson had become the new head coach at Georgia Tech, replacing Chan Gailey. The next day, Navy promoted assistant head coach Ken Niumatalolo as Johnson's replacement.
There is no doubt that the Naval Academy's football program will miss Paul Johnson. Prior to his arrival, the Midshipmen had never appeared in more than two consecutive bowl games. Of course, none of the bowls during their streak were even in existence when Johnson took over the program in 2002.
Navy has lost a Houston Bowl (2003) and Meineke Car Care Bowl (2006), and won an Emerald Bowl (2005) and Poinsettia Bowl (2004).
Johnson was 45-29 in 6 years as head coach of Navy, and 43-19 over his last five years. The Midshipmen have also captured five straight Commander-In-Chief's Trophies as winners of the annual round-robin scheduling between Navy, Army and Air Force.
Utah has won its last six bowl games dating back to 1999, and is headed to the postseason for the fifth straight season. Like Navy, however, this is the third straight trip to a bowl game that didn't even exist until the recent proliferation of these games.
Navy's defense is non-existent, surrendering over 40 points in seven games. In a 74-62 regulation win at North Texas, the 136 combined points tied the FBS record set earlier this year in a 4-overtime game between Boise State and Nevada that ended with the Broncos on top 69-67. The schools combined to score 63 points in the second quarter alone.
The Midshipmen also lost at home to FCS member Delaware 59-52 for the low-water mark of the season, but then won 46-44 at Notre Dame the following week to end an NCAA record 43-game losing streak to the Irish.
Navy, along with Minnesota and SMU, was one of three teams to have three games decided in overtime this season.
Navy tries to make up for its porous defense by displaying the nation's most-potent running attack at over 350 yards per game, orchestrated by Niumatalolo. This season, the Midshipmen gained a season total of over 600 yards more than the second-place team in that category.
However, Utah's defense ranks 4th nationally over-all, and it allowed just 130 yards per game on the ground.
The Utes began the season by losing 3-of-4, but reeled off seven straight wins after getting a healthy Brian Johnson back at QB full time in week 5. Johnson separated his shoulder in the season opener.
Both teams are 8-4.