West Virginia Ready for Pac 12 foe Arizona State in the Jan. 2 Cactus Bowl

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia and Arizona State have gone through the trials and tribulations of a mediocre season. Both have been a part of heartbreaking losses and elating victories. The Motel 6 Cactus Bowl should be a heated matchup.

Coming into the season Arizona State had its eyes set on a Pac 12 title, but expectations quickly changed after a 2-2 start including blowout losses delivered by Texas A&M and USC. But a huge win over UCLA sprung the Sun Devils back to life, momentarily. After a win over Colorado, the team spiraled downward again, losing to No. 4 Utah, Oregon in triple overtime, and on the road at Washington State.

Don’t be fooled, though. ASU beat the teams it was supposed to, and lost to the ones they weren’t. So aside from their shining moment against UCLA, the team has been consistent - consistently average. Now, ASU (6-6, 4-5 Pac 12) is looking to finish the season with a winning recordand a springboard to 2016. 

There aren’t any common opponents to compare between the two. With the exception of Texas A&M, which beat West Virginia in the 2014 Liberty Bowl, then followed up with a win over ASU in their first game of the 2015 season, there aren't many points of comparison. The point being, this is a great contest between schools on opposite sides of the country that have little connection. It’s safe to say it’ll be a tough fought victory for either side. 

On the field, ASU will bring a lot of pressure. Coach Dana Holgorsen said it’s the most he’s seen all year. 

“On video, it seems like they blitz 100 percent of the time,” Holgrosen said. “They’re great against the run, and it’s because they’re big. They can tackle. Their backers can go lateral, and they can fill gaps. They blitz to get you behind the chains.”

“They’re are good as anyone in the country with forcing negative plays, whether it’s sacks or tackles for loss. They are getting to teams at least nine or 10 times a game.”

Quarterback Skyler Howard said the Sun Devils look similar to Oklahoma in terms of ferocity and amount of pressure, but they’ll will be prepared. 

“When they bring that many guys it leaves them a little empty in the back,” said Howard. “They like to use a lot of exotic blitzes, but it’s nothing we haven't already seen. 

Because of the large number of bodies they attack with, ASU has been good at slowing down opponents on the ground, which has been Holgorsen’s source of attack this year. Wendell Smallwood is a game plan nightmare, and has been the centerpiece of West Virginia’s 235.25 rushing yards per game. For ASU to control tempo they’ll have to keep him subdued, but Smallwood said there are ways to counter such pressure. 

“Be aggressive, play how we play, and not try to force things,” said Smallwood of West Virginia's plans. “If we can execute our game plan, we’ll have a good game. It means everything to this team to come out with a win and finish 8-5.”

Some food for thought - It’ll be the latest start time of the season for any of the Mountaineers, as kickoff isn’t until 10:30ET. It’ll be interesting to see how how big of factor the time change will play. 


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