The Matchup: ASU Offense vs. Tech Defense

It is no secret Texas Tech's defense wilted over the final five games of the regular season. Now the Red Raiders face a high-powered Arizona State offense in the Holiday Bowl. Can All-Big 12 linebacker Will Smith (pictured) and the Tech defense return to early season form and contain the Sun Devils?

Arizona State and Texas Tech football fans are going to get to know each other very well, from the bowl game on December 30 to a home-and-home series beginning in 2016.

Monday, the Red Raiders will take on the No. 14 Sun Devils (10-3) in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. The Texas Tech defense will have their hands full trying to contain an Arizona State offense which averaged 41 points per game this season en route to claiming the Pac-12 South championship.

Texas Tech's defense was once touted as one of the best in the country in mid-October, but a slow, steady collapse resulted in the Red Raiders losing five consecutive games to end the season.

Against Oklahoma, Tech (7-5) allowed 277 rushing yards and 526 total yards of offense in a 38-30 defeat. The next four opponents were even more run-heavy, exploiting the weakness in the Red Raiders' defensive line. Kansas State spent the second half of a 49-26 victory running the Wildcat with ease, using running back John Hubert and quarterback Daniel Sams. Baylor assaulted Tech with a superior performance on the pass, run and special teams. Texas pounded a helpless Red Raider defensive line to the tune of 281 yards rushing.

The margins of defeat were not even close: 52-34, 49-26, 63-34 and 41-16.

The point here is that Texas Tech has shown no ability to prevent run-based teams from having their way with their defense.

Arizona State is a team that doesn't set the world on fire with their running game, but their 4.3 yards per rush is about par for the course when you consider Tech gave up 4.4 rushing yards a game this season.

The Sun Devils prefer the passing game, but won't go to the grave with it like the Red Raiders. Todd Graham's team is 29th nationally in passing offense (276.8), helmed by redshirt junior Taylor Kelly, who has thrown for 3,510 yards and 28 touchdowns at a 62.2 percent completion rate.

The Sun Devils have a receiving threat in 6-foot-4 junior college transfer Jaelen Strong, and considering that Tech's secondary (which allowed only 16 touchdowns on defense) is the brightest spot of the overall defense, expect the Red Raiders to focus on covering Strong. He has 71 receptions for 1,094 yards and seven touchdowns; the next ASU receiver has 630 yards.

The Sun Devils do have several weapons in the backfield though, and would like to turn to senior workhorse Marion Grice (with his 996 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns), but Grice is doubtful to play after missing the last two games with a leg injury. Taylor Kelly, who is prone to losing yards (212) and is the Arizona State short-yard threat, scored eight of his own this season. If Grice doesn't play as expected, look for Deantre Lewis and D.J. Foster, who both average five or more yards per rush, to share the bulk of the carries.

Again, Texas Tech will have to focus on clamping down on the run – a tall order considering their prior performance.

Key Matchup: ASU rushing Attack versus Tech Defensive Line

As mentioned earlier, Texas Tech has struggled mightily to contain big-play runners from their own conference. While Arizona State isn't a power running team, the Sun Devils average 184 rushing yards per game and will test the mettle of the Red Raider defensive line. Surely, Todd Graham has paid attention to Tech's weakness on that front and will try to run the ball with whomever lines up in the backfield to put the Sun Devils in a position to score early and often.

Quick Note: Chris Thomsen, a former Texas Tech offensive line coach under Tommy Tuberville who led Tech to a Texas Bowl win over Minnesota last season, is now the offensive line coach at Arizona State. He certainly could be a go-to source for information on Texas Tech.

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