Arizona State was a game away from playing in the Rose Bowl. The Sun Devils will have to settle for playing the fifth pick from the Big 12 in the Holiday Bowl.
The San Diego bowl, played on Dec. 30, is always a popular destination; good city, good weather, good hospitality. But ASU might not be the only team feeling a bit disappointed.
Arizona State earned the right to host the Pac-12 championship game because of its 8-1 league record, but the Sun Devils lost to Stanford for the second time this season, falling 38-14. Texas Tech, sitting at 7-0 and No. 10 in the AP poll in mid-October, might have been dreaming of a BCS game, too, but the Red Raiders lost their final five regular-season games under first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury. They lost the last four games by at least 18 points each.
It's no coincidence that the losing streak corresponded with the schedule turning tougher, as Tech played at Oklahoma, vs. Oklahoma State, vs. Kansas State, at Baylor and at Texas.
"We played good teams," Kingsbury said.
"We made too many mistakes against good teams. We got away with it early on in the year against teams that weren't so good. We went against five good teams in a row and haven't played our best game and that's what happens."
But a bowl can be a like a one-game season, and if you like offense, this will be one of the bowls for you.
"We are fired up that this year's bowl game is going match a pair of high-scoring, potent offenses from two of the strongest conferences in the nation," said Holiday Bowl president Bill Geppert.
Arizona State averages 41.0 points per game, the ninth-best mark in the country. Texas Tech averages 35.7 points and is second nationally in passing at 392.0 yards per game.
ASU had only 311 yards against Stanford, overpowered by the Cardinal's defensive front, something the Red Raiders can't match. And the Sun Devils didn't have running back Marion Grice (expected to return from a leg injury) and lost backup D.J. Foster during the game.
ASU (10-3 overall) will be looking to get back on the kind of roll that led to a seven-game winning streak before the Pac-12 title game. Texas Tech is 89th nationally in scoring defense, allowing 31.2 points per game.
"At the end of the day I feel like we had a very good season," said ASU senior safety Alden Darby. "It's not over now. We've got to get the 11th win. But I feel like we're in a good spot now. We've shown signs of greatness and that we can play with the top dogs."
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--ASU DT Will Sutton was selected the Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, although his numbers were down this season. Coaches recognize the disruptive value he provides, and ASU coach Todd Graham raves about Sutton's leadership. The 300-pounder will have lots of sack chances against Texas Tech's pass-happy offense.
--ASU QB Taylor Kelly was second-team all-conference behind Oregon's Marcus Mariota, a nice reward for a season in which he moved past the "game-manager" label. Kelly has completed 286 of 455 passes for 3,510 yards, with 28 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. On the other hand, he passed for at least 300 yards in each of the first five games of the season, but hasn't had one since.
--ASU LB Carl Bradford is a physical freak, with 18 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. He plays the Devil-backer position, needing to be an attacking force into the backfield and adept at covering running backs in the passing game, which should be an important skill in the bowl game as Tech effectively uses its running backs as pass-catchers.
--Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro is an absolute stud, no matter what position label you put on him or where Tech lines him up. He has made 98 catches for 1,240 yards and seven touchdowns, so he's capable of taking over any game against anybody. He is having one of the best statistical seasons ever for a tight end.
--Texas Tech DE Kerry Hyder is the leader up front for the Red Raiders, with 11.5 tackles for loss, but the team's sack total is only at 21. Hyder and LB Will Smith (five sacks) need to make ASU QB Taylor Kelly uncomfortable; if not, his accuracy will be deadly.
--Texas Tech WR Eric Ward is working on a five-game streak in which he has caught at least seven passes and has had at least 82 yards receiving. In all, he has 43 receptions in the past five games, a total that accounts for more than half of his season number (80 catches).
BOWL HISTORY: Arizona State, which is 13-12-1 in bowl games, is making its fourth Holiday Bowl appearance, looking for its first win. The Sun Devils lost 52-34 to Texas in their most recent Holiday appearance in 2007. They are in the postseason for the third consecutive year. ... Texas Tech is 13-21-1 in bowl games with three wins in a row, including 34-31 over Minnesota in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Just being honest with you, it's been the most frustrating thing I've ever dealt with in coaching. To work so hard and be so good on offense and defense, and to play like that in the games we've played, it's been so frustrating." -- ASU coach Todd Graham on his special teams, specifically his punting unit.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scouting the running game: ASU's Todd Graham runs an up-tempo system that favors the run, and the Sun Devils are at their best when Marion Grice is the backfield and D.J. Foster is in the slot. With Grice out for the past two games, Foster had to take over as the single back, until he got hurt. Foster might actually be more explosive, but Grice has a nose for the end zone and can handle a big workload. ASU averages 184.0 yards per game on the ground. Texas Tech doesn't get many big plays in the running game and has had trouble mounting a consistent effort, averaging 121.3 yards per game.
Scouting the passing game: JC transfer Jaelen Strong has been a key addition to Arizona State, as he stretches defenses on the outside. The All-Pac-12 second-teamer has made 71 catches for 1,094 yards and seven touchdowns. TE Chris Coyle earned first-team all-league honors, although he's not nearly the prolific threat that Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro is. The Red Raiders' passing game provides 392.0 yards per game, even though the quarterback position has been unsettled with true freshmen Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb.
Scouting the run defense: Arizona State struggled against the power run teams on its schedule (Stanford, Wisconsin, Notre Dame), but it should be able to effectively handle the modest attack of Texas Tech. On the other side, the Red Raiders were miserable against the run late in the season (281 yards rushing to Texas, 304 to Baylor, 291 to Kansas State, 281 to Oklahoma State and 277 to Oklahoma).
Scouting the pass defense: Texas Tech's young offensive line gave up nine sacks to Texas in its final regular-season games, and that's an indication it could struggle against an aggressive ASU defense that likes to blitz and is tied for seventh nationally with 3.1 sacks per game. The Sun Devils also have standouts in the back end such as CB Osahon Irabor, CB Robert Nelson and S Alden Darby. ASU also is used to seeing plenty of pass-happy teams in the Pac-12. Texas Tech has intercepted a mere seven passes all season.
Scouting the special teams: ASU's kicking game has been fine with freshman PK Zane Gonzalez, who is 22 of 26 on field-goal attempts. The problem has been punting, with the Devils averaging 32.25 net yards per punt, the second-worst mark in the nation. This area is a strength for Texas Tech. Junior Ryan Bustin, like Gonzalez, is also 22 of 26, while senior P Ryan Erxleben is one of the best, averaging 44.3 yards per attempt.
Intangibles: Arizona State should have some crowd support as it is playing close to home in a popular destination spot for folks from the Valley of the Sun. ASU is trying to get its 11th victory of the season, something it has not accomplished since its 1996 Rose Bowl season. It would seem hard for Texas Tech to get up after a five-game losing streak against the kind of ranked team it hasn't shown it has the ability to beat. The Red Raiders are one of the biggest underdogs of the postseason.
--ASU RB Marion Grice, who missed the past two games because of a leg injury, is expected to be ready. He has 996 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns, as well as 438 receiving yards and six scores.
--ASU RB D.J. Foster left the Pac-12 title game with a leg injury, although his status was not known soon after the bowl announcement.
--Texas Tech senior DL Kerry Hyder has started 37 consecutive games.
--Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro is fifth in school history in single-season receiving yardage with 1,240.
--Texas Tech senior LB Will Smith had a career-high 18 tackles in the regular-season finale at Texas. That was the most individual tackles in a game at Tech since 2005.
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