Holiday Bowl 2013: 10 Things We Learned from Arizona State vs. Texas Tech

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistDecember 31, 2013

Holiday Bowl 2013: 10 Things We Learned from Arizona State vs. Texas Tech

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

    The Holiday Bowl might not have the same prestige of a New Year's Day bowl game, or of one of the games involved in the soon-to-be-dead BCS or the soon-to-be-born College Football Playoff.

    But the late-December game in San Diego somehow proves to be one of the most entertaining of each bowl season, and this year was no different thanks to Texas Tech's surprising 37-23 upset of Arizona State.

    The game had many great things happen for Tech (8-5), as well as some not so good occurrences for the losing Sun Devils (10-4).

    Check out what we think were some of the most important things we learned from the 2013 Holiday Bowl.

Arizona State Was Highly Overrated

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Arizona State wasn't getting much national attention when it was 3-2, even with that second loss coming in a hard-fought neutral site game against Notre Dame.

    But after the Sun Devils ran off seven straight wins to take the Pac-12's South Division and earn the right to host the league championship game, suddenly ASU was a trendy team to talk and write about.

    Then came a woeful showing in the Pac-12 final, with the team losing 38-14 at home to Stanford. And three weeks later, this disappointing result to a Texas Tech team that was riding a five-game losing streak and was a two-touchdown underdog.

    ASU had a very good year, finishing with 10 wins for just the fifth time in the last 35 seasons. But the Sun Devils came up way short in their big tests and didn't look nearly as good as they'd been made out to be.

Texas Tech Took Its Late-Season Skid Personally

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

    First-year coach Kliff Kingsbury was getting the rock star treatment by the college football media horde after leading Texas Tech to a 7-0 start. Then came a loss at Oklahoma. Then losses to Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Baylor and Texas, each seemingly worse.

    Suddenly, the Red Raiders were 7-5 and a complete afterthought, yet still bowl-bound thanks to an overabundance of bowl slots that don't discriminate as long as you're from a power conference and have six wins.

    Tech hadn't played a game since losing 41-16 to Texas on Thanksgiving, and Monday's convincing Holiday Bowl win showed that Tech made great use of that downtime. The Red Raiders didn't want to be remembered as the first team to start 7-0 and end 7-6, and they made darn sure of that from the opening snap.

Kliff Kingsbury Has His Quarterback of the Future

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    The loss of transferring Big 12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year Baker Mayfield might not be that big of a deal after the way Davis Webb played in the Holiday Bowl.

    Webb, a true freshman who hadn't played since the Nov. 9 loss to Kansas State, was the game's runaway offensive MVP after tying the bowl record with four first-half touchdown passes. He finished 28-of-42 for 405 yards, his fourth career 400-yard passing game despite only starting a handful of the Red Raiders' contests.

    Kingsbury, in case you didn't know, was a very prolific passer at Texas Tech back in the 1990s, had a short journeyman professional career and coached the likes of FBS career passing leader Case Keenum and Johnny Manziel before coming back to his alma mater.

    He knows quarterbacks and after tinkering with numerous passers during the season, he seems to be quite content with Webb for the future.

Arizona State Underestimated Texas Tech's Passing Game

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    This might seem hard to believe, considering Texas Tech entered the Holiday Bowl with the nation's No. 2 passing offense at 392 yards per game.

    However, the way Tech seemed to be able to convert nearly every third down (it was 11-of-16) with a pass to an open receiver, or how Davis Webb rarely had to look beyond his first or second option, makes it appear that ASU didn't properly plan for how much the Red Raiders were going to throw the ball.

    Either that, or the Sun Devils' defense just wasn't very good on Monday.

The Loss of Marion Grice Hurt ASU More Than It Led On

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    Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    Marion Grice is one of college football's most versatile running backs, showing his ability to run the ball and catch passes at a high rate throughout his ASU career. He had 20 touchdowns this season, six of which came on receptions and had 1,434 yards on 241 offensive touches.

    But a leg injury sustained late in ASU's Pac-12 South Division-clinching win at UCLA on Nov. 23 ended up knocking Grice out for the rest of the year. And though ASU was able to win its regular season finale easily over Arizona without him, Grice's absence was evident in the Sun Devils' final two games.

    Without Grice, ASU became much less diverse on offense, with QB Taylor Kelly having to run far more than he'd like to. Kelly also had his second-best receiving option, which led to 298 passing yards in the Sun Devils' final two games compared to 278 yards per game in the first 12 contests.

Jace Amaro Is Going to Be Fun to Watch on Sundays

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

    A tweet by ESPN's Joe Schad shortly before the Holiday Bowl indicated Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro was going to skip his senior year to enter the NFL Draft.

    And though he's only considered the third-best tight end entering the draft, according to most draft experts, there's no doubt he's going to be highly coveted and well-used in the pros.

    If the Holiday Bowl was indeed his collegiate swan song, he made it a good one. Amaro finished with eight receptions for 112 yards, serving as Davis Webb's go-to guy on third down throws.

    He had 106 catches for 1,352 yards for the year, setting the FBS single-season record for yards by a tight end.

Todd Graham Is a Stubborn Play-Caller

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

    Arizona State coach Todd Graham calls the defensive plays for his Sun Devils, and his Holiday Bowl gameplan was heavy on blitzes and extra men rushing the passer.

    However, even as this approach was unsuccessful early with Texas Tech throwing the ball all over the place to score touchdowns on its first four possessions, Graham kept dialing up the pressure. The blitzes remained all game and though ASU got close, it registered no passing sacks and very few throwaways or rush passes.

    No adjustments seemed to be made to instead prevent Red Raiders receivers from getting open throughout the night. As a result, Tech was able to still throw in the fourth quarter, not having to rely solely on running out the clock.

Will Sutton's Draft Stock Took a Big Hit

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

    Bleacher Report's Matt Miller recently did a mock draft projecting every one of the picks for all seven rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft in April.

    That projection listed ASU senior defensive tackle Will Sutton as going to the Oakland Raiders early in the second round, one spot ahead of Missouri standout DE Michael Sam.

    There were no doubt some scouts at the Holiday Bowl were there to check out not only Sutton but Jace Amaro and other potential pro prospects. What those scouts saw in Sutton, though, had to be a bit unimpressive.

    Despite ASU's nearly constant overloaded push on the pocket, Sutton had no sacks and no tackles for loss.

Texas Tech Has an Endless Supply of Capable Receivers

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

    Tight end Jace Amaro appears to be leaving early for the NFL. Senior Eric Ward leaves with 255 career receptions, the second-most in school history and just a few behind what Wes Welker had in Lubbock.

    Big losses, sure. But irreplaceable? Not if the Holiday Bowl stats are anything to indicate the Red Raiders' receiving future.

    Amaro and Ward had 11 catches for 155 yards in the win over Arizona State, but seven of the other eight Tech players to catch balls on Monday are underclassmen. That includes a pair of capable pass-catching running backs, as well as future star wideouts Jakeem Grant, Bradley Marquez and Reginald Davis.

    Passing is the culture in Lubbock, and Texas Tech continues to have great receivers. That doesn't look like it's going to change anytime soon. 

Big 12 Teams Like Playing in San Diego

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    The Big 12 Conference has had an affiliation with the Holiday Bowl since the mid-1990s, with 22 league participants playing in the game since its inception in 1978.

    The league is now 14-8 all-time in the Holiday Bowl, including three straight victories over the Pac-12.

    Texas Tech particularly likes playing in San Diego. Though the Red Raiders have only done so twice now, both trips have resulted in epic upsets of highly regarded opponents. Besides the upset of Arizona State this year, in 2004 the Raiders cruised to a 45-31 win over a fourth-ranked California team led by future NFL superstar Aaron Rodgers.

    The Holiday Bowl might only get the equivalent of the Big 12's fifth-best team under the current bowl agreement, but most of those No. 5 teams have brought their A-games to Qualcomm Stadium.