Arizona State had a rough outing in the Pac-12 Championship Game but will look to rebound in the Holiday Bowl.
The Arizona State Sun Devils and Texas Tech Red Raiders will face off in this year's edition of the National University Holiday Bowl.
The Red Raiders and Sun Devils have had two very different seasons.
Texas Tech jumped out of the gate under new head coach Kliff Kingsbury to a 7-0 start. Fans in Lubbock thought they had a Big 12 Championship in their sight, until the wheels came off.
The Red Raiders lost their last five games, some in embarrassing fashion, and come limping into this bowl game with many question marks, including who will be under center come December 30.
Arizona State had many ups and downs to start the year. The Sun Devils were 3-2 following a close loss to Notre Dame, and Sun Devils fans weren't sure what kind of team ASU would be.
ASU quickly silenced any doubters, though, by going on a tear and ending the season with seven straight wins.
ASU earned a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game, where it was just one win away from playing in its first Rose Bowl since 1997.
Unfortunately for Sun Devils fans, ASU met a Stanford team that bested it in every facet of the game and ASU lost its championship game, 38-14.
Arizona State and Texas Tech don't have much of a storied football history in terms of matchups as the teams have only met one other time in the modern era, but this Holiday Bowl game should be a fun one to watch.
Here is all the information you need to know about this Pac-12, Big 12 matchup.
Time: 10:15 p.m. ET, Dec. 30
Location: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, Calif.
Radio: Sun Devil IMG Sports Network, KTTU-FM 104.3
Arizona State will need its special teams to play well in the Holiday Bowl if the Sun Devils want to win.
Special Teams Success
A major reason ASU will be playing in the Holiday Bowl and not the Rose Bowl is because of its special teams woes. ASU had trouble all year with its special teams unit, and near the end of the season, it seemed like it was all coming together at the right time.
Kicker Zane Gonzalez had made 18 straight field goals entering the Pac-12 Championship Game, and Alex Garoutte seemed to be ASU's answer at punter.
That all changed against Stanford, though.
Gonzalez missed his first kick since Week 3 of the season, and Garoutte shanked a few punts giving the Cardinal a short field. If the Sun Devils want to win this Holiday Bowl, they need to play much better on special teams and make sure they keep the momentum on their side.
Pressure Texas Tech's Quarterback
Texas Tech ranks near the bottom of the Big 12, having allowed 33 sacks this year.
ASU's defensive line should be able to dominate at the point of attack and pressure whoever the Texas Tech signal-caller is in this game. Will Sutton, Carl Bradford and the rest of the Sun Devil front seven should be able to get pressure in the backfield and blow up the Red Raiders plays before they even begin.
ASU's exotic blitz packages will also cause Texas Tech trouble. If ASU can dominate in the trenches, it will win its second straight bowl.
Keep Kelly Comfortable
Quarterback Taylor Kelly had a good season for ASU, but he didn't play well in the team's championship game. Kelly had to scramble a lot and was sacked multiple times. ASU ranks last in the Pac-12, having allowed 37 sacks this year.
For ASU to win, Kelly needs to have time to read through his progressions and make plays downfield. Against Stanford, Kelly barely had time to get off of his first look before he had to scramble and run for his life.
Evan Finkenberg, Kody Koebensky and the rest of the ASU offensive line needs to protect the quarterback and give him time to hit his playmakers like wide receiver Jaelen Strong.
Texas Tech's ability to protect its quarterback will be key.
Protect the Quarterback
Texas Tech ranks near the bottom of the Big 12 in tackles for a loss and sacks allowed. ASU's front seven is potent and is led by future NFL star Will Sutton.
The Red Raiders offensive line will have to play well in the Holiday Bowl protecting whoever the quarterback is if they want to win.
Texas Tech's offense is built to score through the air, and if it can't do that, it'll be a long San Diego night for the Red Raiders. If the Red Raiders can protect their quarterback, though, and give whoever the signal-caller is plenty of time in the pocket, they will have a chance to win.
Play Fundamentally Sound Defense
ASU has one of the most potent offenses in the Pac-12.
Texas Tech has allowed opponents to score almost 35 points per game on the road or in neutral site games this year, and that will have to change if the Red Raiders want to win the Holiday Bowl.
It'll be important that Texas Tech fills its gaps and doesn't bite on ASU's play fakes. Texas Tech will also have to be careful in how it plays against ASU's option running attack, as Kelly has shown breakaway speed this year once he's in the open field.
For the Red Raiders to beat ASU, they'll have to slow down a high-octane offense that will be looking to prove a point after being held to 14 points in the Pac-12 title game.
Spread ASU Out
Texas Tech will look to spread ASU out on defense and will need to utilize its big tight end, Jace Amaro, a lot.
Arizona State's line backing corps is one of the better units in the Pac-12, but it has been exposed at times this year. If the Red Raiders can spread the field and get favorable matchups against ASU's linebackers, they'll have a chance to move the ball.
Against Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game, ASU had a hard time getting defensive stops and getting off the field.
Texas Tech will need to sustain drives and keep the Sun Devils offense on the sideline if it wants to win this bowl game.
Will Sutton will be able to dominate in the trenches.
The JUCO transfer quickly became ASU's No. 1 wide receiver target this year. Strong and Kelly developed chemistry early in the Sun Devils' season and never looked back. The sophomore receiver caught 71 passes this year for 1,094 yards and seven touchdowns.
His unique combination of size and speed make him a matchup nightmare for any team. Texas Tech will have its hands full with Strong all game and may not have an answer for stopping him.
Linebacker Carl Bradford leads the team with 18 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks. He's also accounted for 55 tackles this year. Bradford is only a junior but could declare for the NFL draft, although it's hard to say where he would get drafted.
He's a little undersized and may stay another year to help his stock. Bradford is a defensive force, though, whose motor never stops.
It will be really hard for Texas Tech to contain him when he blitzes, and the way ASU disguises him in coverage will make it all the more difficult for the Red Raiders.
His numbers aren't as flashy as last year, but his ability to eat up blockers has freed up his linebackers and other linemen to rush the passer and blow up runs. Sutton will be able to win the battle at the point of attack in this game and apply pressure in the Red Raiders backfield.
Texas Tech hasn't really had to deal with a force like Sutton all year and will have its hands full in the Holiday Bowl.
Here is ASU's complete depth chart.
Will Smith is a major playmaker for the Red Raiders defense.
Amaro is a junior tight end who could go to the draft, but he will likely stay another year at Texas Tech. He's very similar to ASU's Chris Coyle and, like Coyle did last year, leads the Red Raiders in receiving yards.
Texas Tech runs a pass-heavy offense and will look to pass in any situation. The team will line up Amaro all over the field and could get favorable matchups for the big tight end.
If Amaro can use his physicality to attack the ball, he'll play a major role in this Holiday Bowl.
Senior linebacker Will Smith has accounted for 106 tackles and 8.5 tackles for a loss this year. He also leads the team with 4.5 sacks.
He's a do-it-all linebacker who has NFL potential. Smith might not get drafted, but he will get a shot at the next level. ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly will need to account for him on every play whether in pass coverage or when Smith rushes off the edge.
Smith will play a big role in helping to stop the Sun Devils' option attack as well.
Defensive Tackle Kerry Hyder also has NFL potential. He'll probably be a late-round pick, but he will make a major impact against Arizona State. Hyder leads the Red Raiders with 11.5 tackles for a loss and will play a big role in stopping ASU's rushing attack in this bowl game.
If Hyder can get off the ball and get into the Sun Devils backfield, Texas Tech will have a chance to win this game. The key to beating ASU is making Kelly and Co. uncomfortable and taking them out of rhythm.
Hyder has the ability to do just that.
Here is Texas Tech's complete depth chart.
Will Marion Grice be ready to go for ASU in the Holiday Bowl?
Marion Grice's status for ASU's bowl game is still uncertain, and Jeff Metcalfe of azcentral.com helped put his loss in perspective:
#ASU without Marion Grice is somewhat like end of 2007 without Ryan Torain— jeffmetcalfe (@jeffmetcalfe) December 8, 2013
As arizonasports.com points out, there is a lot of history at stake for Arizona State in this matchup:
ASU has made three prior appearances in the Holiday Bowl (1985, 2002 and 2007) but has yet to come away with a victory. If the Todd Graham's squad is able to snap that streak against the Kliff Kingsbury and the Red Raiders in San Diego, it'll mark the program's first 11-win season since 1996.
ASU head coach Todd Graham told Doug Haller of azcentral.com he's excited for the opportunity to play in the Holiday Bowl:
We are very excited for our seniors to get an opportunity at such a great bowl with a rich and historic heritage. We are honored and looking forward to traveling to San Diego where our fans will have a short commute and we can celebrate these seniors and the 2013 Sun Devil football team. We have one more game with this special group and our focus will be Holiday Bowl Champions and to win No. 11!
Brad Denny of azfamily.com breaks down the matchup in one simple statement:
Discipline will be a key in the Holiday Bowl. #ASU is nation's 4th least penalized team...Texas Tech is the most penalized squad— Brad Denny (@BDenny29) December 9, 2013
ASU will need to watch for some Texas Tech trickery in this bowl game, courtesy of Fox Sports on YouTube:
Sparky and the Sun Devils will celebrate an 11-win season after their bowl victory.
Arizona State 55, Texas Tech 24
Texas Tech hasn't held an opponent under 30 points since Week 3 of the season, and that won't change in the Holiday Bowl.
ASU has something to prove in this game.
The Sun Devils want to wash the sour taste of the Pac-12 Championship Game out of their mouths as quickly as possible, and ASU's senior class will leave with a huge bowl victory.
Kelly will be able to lead ASU's offense up and down the field at will over a Texas Tech defense that allows more than 400 yards per game.
ASU's defense will be able to dominate at the point of attack as well and will be in the Red Raiders backfield all night.
Unfortunately for Texas Tech fans, their fairytale start to the year will have a nightmare ending.
On the flip side, Sun Devils fans will have plenty to cheer about, as their team will end the year with 11 wins and a full head of steam heading into the offseason.