Texas Tech Preview

Only once since the turn of the century has Arizona State won consecutive bowl games (2004-5), and on December 30th it will attempt to repeat that accomplishment as they face Texas Tech in the National University Holiday Bowl. The Red Raiders have lost their last five contests, but will they still pose a formidable challenge for the Sun Devils in San Diego? Joe Healey analyzes ASU's next opponent

Offense Preview

Baker Mayfield bracketed the 2013 season with national headlines; to start the year he gained attention as a walk-on true freshman to start the season at quarterback for Texas Tech and after 12 games he again hit headlines by announcing to the coaching staff that he planned to transfer out of the program.

Mayfield threw for 2,315 yards with 12 touchdowns and was named the Big XII Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year as well as an Honorable Mention All-Big XII member, but cited a "miscommunication" as his reason for leaving Lubbock.

In Mayfield's absence, head coach Kliff Kingsbury tabbed sophomore Michael Brewer as the National University Holiday Bowl starter against ASU, passing over freshman Davis Webb, a starter in five regular season games Mayfield missed due to injury.

Brewer prepares for his first collegiate start Monday and boasts very little overall experience, having appeared in only three games with just 10 pass attempts this year after passing for 375 total yards in nine games as a redshirt freshman in 2012.

At 6-foot-1, 185-pounds, the former three-star prospect—whom ASU offered out of Austin's Lake Travis High School—brings versatility to the position as a dual threat option for the Red Raiders.

Brewer's christening to the starting lineup will be aided by a host of talented passing targets as the new quarterback looks to maintain the reputation of the nation's second-best passing attack in terms of yards-per-game.

Following Red Raider tradition, the run game is featured significantly less than the pass as Texas Tech uses its ground attack on less than 37% of its overall plays on the year.

When Tech opts to rush, the primary runners are Kenny Williams (117-480-8) and Deandre Washington (93-399-4). Williams (5-9, 225) and Washington (5-8, 190) bring varying physical skills to the lineup and, as expected, both are also used often as receivers with Washington having hauled in 33 receptions in the regular season while Williams caught 28 passes.

The clear-cut headliner on the entire team is Unanimous First-Team All-American receiver Jace Amaro, a hybrid tight end/wide receiver with a dynamically dangerous skill set.

Texas Tech's leader with 98 receptions for 1,240 yards, Amaro uses his 6-foot-5, 260-pound frame to pose a permanent mismatch every time he's on the field. Though Amaro earned virtually all of the national acclaim at his position for the Red Raiders, Texas Tech certainly isn't devoid of additional talent at receiver as three players earned Honorable Mention All-Big XII recognition.

Eric Ward (80-904-8) ranks second on the team behind Amaro in the major receiving statistics—and actually leads the team in touchdown catches—with Jakeem Grant (59-707-5) ranking third and Brad Marquez (46-566-5) coming in fourth.

In total, seven players hauled in at least 26 passes, guaranteeing that Texas Tech will look to numerous options to move the ball through the air against Arizona State.

Along the offensive line, Texas Tech figures to start (left-to-right) tackle Le'Raven Clark, guard Alfredo Morales, center Jared Kaster, guard Beau Carpenter and tackle Rashad Fortenberry.

Clark, the headliner of the group and a Second-Team All-Big XII member, started all 12 games of the regular season, as did Kaster and Fortenberry.

Morales started eight games at left guard and one at right guard, while Carpenter started six games at right guard but was out of the starting lineup the final three games of the regular season.

Statistically, the Red Raider offensive line looks unimpressive on paper by allowing 2.75 sacks (103rd nationally), but with Texas Tech easily attempting well over 50 passes per game the overall sacks-per-attempt ratio is certainly respectable.

Offense in a Nutshell

Despite ushering in a first-time starting quarterback, Texas Tech's offense figures to continue its business as usual, meaning Brewer will take to the air well over 50 times against the Sun Devils.

Amaro will be featured early and often, but won't be the only target featured for the Red Raiders, giving ASU a firm challenge in making sure receiving targets aren't finding easy openings for Texas Tech.

ASU's defense, third nationally in team interceptions and sixth in sacks, brings undoubted abilities to give a first-time starting quarterback hell with its collective ability to crash the pocket and make plays on poorly thrown balls.

The Sun Devil defense is proven, tenured commodity with many key figures playing their final game in maroon and gold. The onus of responsibility in this exchange is for Tech's green signal caller to guide his super pass-heavy offense against an ASU defense that features eight players to receive some measure of All-Pac-12 accolades this year.

Defense Preview

Texas Tech's three-man defensive front features end Kerry Hyder, nose Dennell Wesley and tackle Branden Jackson. Hyder, a Second-Team All-Big XII member, is the only member of the defense to earn either first or second-team recognition this year.

Hyder was the only Red Raider to reach double figures in tackles-for-loss with 11.5 as part of his 60 total tackles. Jackson has posted 42 tackles including 8.0 for loss, while Wesley has 11 tackles with 2.5 behind the line of scrimmage.

The Red Raiders' four linebacker roles figure to feature Will Smith, Pete Robertson, Sam Eguavoen and Terrance Bullitt in the starting lineup.

Smith as a Chris Young type of presence for the Red Raiders, leading the team with 106 tackles including 8.5 for loss with 5.0 sacks. Eguavoen ranks third on the team with 65 tackles, while Robertson has registered 49 and shares the team lead with two interceptions. Bullitt posted 33 tackles in 12 games and ranks second on the squad with nine pass breakups.

Both Smith and Robertson took home Honorable Mention All-Big XII awards after the regular season.

Micah Awe is listed as a reserve linebacker but finished fifth on the team in total tackles with 57.

Tech's secondary is moderately ranked in terms of team pass defense, but a unique figure is that of the eight players listed in the two deep at cornerback and safety only one player has registered an interception on the year.

Bruce Jones and Olaoluwa Falemi are tabbed as the starting cornerbacks with Tre' Porter at free safety and Austin Stewart at strong safety.

Porter, and Honorable Mention All-Big XII selection, ranks second on the team with 75 tackles, while Stewart has tallied 39 with 2.0 sacks. Despite not hauling in an interception, Jones and Falemi combined for 16 pass breakups on the year as well as 89 tackles.

Defense in a Nutshell

Though Hyder enjoyed an excellent season, Texas Tech's defensive front was generally porous as the team ranks 92nd in rush defense allowing 194.3 yards per game.

Additionally, only two teams in the nation have a worse turnover margin than the Red Raiders as Texas Tech enters Monday having surrendered 31 turnovers while forcing only 18, including a grand total of only seven interceptions.

Lastly, a note of intrigue is that the two cornerbacks listed as starters stand 5-foot-7 and 5-foot-9, respectively—and neither has intercepted a pass this year—a collective idea that has "Back Shoulder Fade to Jaelen Strong" written all over it.

Presuming D.J. Foster will be healthy enough to play near expectations, ASU should be able to use him to dart to yardage on the ground, while also allowing options for Taylor Kelly to keep the ball and sprint for mileage. In the pass game, it is largely believable for Strong to have a massive outing and help create openings for targets elsewhere.

Kelly figures to have more than adequate amounts of time in the pocket, as Tech's defense ranks 80th nationally in sacks with an average of 1.75 per game.

Special Teams Preview

K Ryan Bustin took home Honorable Mention All-Big XII recognition after he connected on 22-of-26 field goal attempts in the regular season, including nine of his last 10 spanning the final six games.

Not to be outdone by his kicking counterpart, P Ryan Erxleben also received Honorable Mention All-Big XII accolades after averaging 44.2 yards on 47 punts.

In the return game, Jakeem Grant (21.4 avg.) and Reginald Davis (23.0 avg.) are the primary options on kickoffs with Sadale Foster (7.9 avg.) as the most frequently used punt returner.

Keys to a Sun Devil Victory

Bury Brewer

ASU—and the college football world—knows Texas Tech will pass, pass, pass no matter who is launching the ball from the quarterback position, giving ASU's pass rushers a multitude of chances to wreak havoc in the backfield.

With a host of defenders able to make life painful for any quarterback, if ASU can effectively attack Brewer out of the gates, the likelihood of the first-game starter getting antsy and ultimately inaccurate in the pocket figures to rise.

Go With the Odds

If D.J. Foster is near 100%, ASU should have enticing opportunities on the ground, while Jaelen Strong's talent, size and ball skills should give him numerous chances against smaller defenders.

Against Navy last postseason, the Sun Devil offense took what was available and outmanned the Midshipmen down the field until ASU essentially withdrew from competing at its highest level. Though they might not surface quite as frequently, ASU should be able to impose its offensive will and keeping its approach simple should be completely effective.

Clear The Rose From Your Noses

The dream was fun while it was possible, but the scent of roses is simply not the fate of the 2013 Sun Devil football program. That said, ASU still has the opportunity to hit a major milestone by winning its 11th game of the year, something that has only happened once since 1975.

Some teams might have the propensity to lack motivation after missing out on the "Granddaddy", but the combination of a heavy senior class, the rarity of 11 wins and Todd Graham's track record of stellar bowl preparation leaves little doubt about ASU's mental state entering Monday.

However, the Devils can't afford to expect to sleepwalk to a decisive win over Texas Tech, a team that can certainly add up chunks of yards and points if given the opportunity.

Conclusion

There's no debating the discrepancies between a 10-win team that played for a shot at the Rose Bowl and a squad one game over .500 that lost five straight to finish the season and didn't beat an FBS team with a winning record in 2013.

Over the course of Tech's five-game skid to end the regular season, the Red Raiders allowed an average of about 49 points-per-game and in the final three games they were outscored by a total of 153-76 against Kansas State, Baylor and Texas.

Additionally, the quarterback quandary for Texas Tech adds a new wrinkle of complication for the Red Raiders as, unless he can pull a Sam Keller 2004 Sun Bowl, Michael Brewer will receive baptism by fire against one of the nation's better defenses.

The primary concern for Arizona State is not as much how it will operate without Marion Grice as D.J. Foster more than pulled his weight at running back against Arizona and Stanford, but how motivated the Devils will be after having their Rose Bowl dreams crash down to earth after a decisive loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 Conference Championship Game.

Thankfully, Arizona State head coach Todd Graham has an incredible reputation for perfectly preparing his teams for bowl game appearances as in his last four bowls—all wins—Graham's teams average 58 points-per-game.

With a senior-heavy squad and the desire to achieve an 11-win season for only the second time since 1975, the Sun Devils figure to be heavily motivated and on paper there are no discernable advantages for Texas Tech.

Illogical as it can seem to predict a bowl game blowout, the pieces are undeniably in place for ASU to distance itself from Texas Tech immediately and definitively as it did last season in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against Navy.

Familiar Faces

• ASU Offensive Line Coach Chris Thomsen coached the same position at Texas Tech in 2012. He also served as the Red Raiders' interim head coach in the postseason and guided Texas Tech to a victory in the 2012 Meineke Car Care Bowl.

• Texas Tech Defensive Coordinator Matt Wallerstedt was once a graduate assistant at ASU and is the brother of former Sun Devi linebacker and current Associate General Manager of Sun Devil IMG Sports Marketing Brett Wallerstedt.

• ASU DB Lloyd Carrington, CB William Earley, K Zane Gonzalez, RB Marion Grice, WR Ellis Jefferson, OL William McGehee, S/LB Laiu Moeakiola and WR Cameron Smith are all Texas natives.

• Texas Tech DB Brandon Bagley played for Visalia (Calif.) College of the Sequoias, as did ASU LB Kipeli Koniseti.

• Texas Tech DB Dorian Crawford played for Walnut (Calif.) Mt. San Antonio College, as did ASU WR Alonzo Agwuenu.

• Texas Tech DB Martin Hill and DB Austin Stewart attended Los Angeles (Calif.) Pierce College, as did ASU WR's Joseph Morris and Jaelen Strong.


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