Heading into their bowl game with Texas Tech on Monday night, the Arizona State football team has the same challenges as any other bowl team: preparation, logistics, holidays and a long lay-off. However, in the end, a bowl game is just like every other football game, having it’s own unique challenges to secure a win.
Here are some keys to victory for ASU against the Red Raiders:
1) Be Happy to be There
This may be the most important key. Coaches and experts will all tell you that in most bowl games, the team that is more excited to be there usually wins. Bowl games can be funny like that. Quite often, a team expects to be in a big, high-profile bowl. But when that doesn’t happen and they are instead going to a smaller bowl against a lesser regarded opponent, there is a let-down. So, one team is really happy to be there and the other team is busy fuming that they aren’t somewhere else. That leads to upsets.
That may not necessarily apply in this situation, but it’s a possibility for ASU. The Holiday Bowl is a quality bowl for a Pac-12 team. And the Red Raiders from Texas Tech are a worthy opponent from a legitimate conference. But if the Sun Devils are consumed by the notion that they could/should be playing in the Rose Bowl, it could cause them to be mentally unprepared for this match-up. Coach Todd Graham is aware of this situation and should be doing everything he can to make sure his players feel privileged to be playing in San Diego.
2) Get After the Quarterback
After the announcement that starting QB Baker Mayfield is transferring, Texas Tech is looking at starting an unproven and inexperienced quarterback. Couple this with the fact that the Red Raider offensive line has given up 33 sacks this year and you have good reason to really go after whoever is conducting coach Kliff Kingsbury’s version of the “Air Raid” offense with a variety of stunts and blitzes. Conventional wisdom says that if a young, inexperienced QB is pressured enough, he’ll make plenty of mistakes.
3) Handle TE Jace Amaro
The Red Raider tight end is an NFL prospect and a huge part of Tech’s offense. He will especially be a favorite “comfort” target for a new quarterback. ASU must pay special attention to Amaro. The Sun Devils need to look to re-route him on every play. Amaro needs to be hit on the line of scrimmage to slow down his release, and then he needs to be re-routed again 5-7 yards later before he makes his break. This duty might fall to Carl Bradford and linebackers Anthony Jones and Chris Young. The Sun Devil safeties also might have to get in on the act, depending on formations and blitzes.
4) Taylor Kelly Must Be a Dual Threat
With a few exceptions, the Big 12 conference features some really good passing quarterbacks, but not very many true dual-threat signal-callers. ASU should take advantage of this fact. QB Taylor Kelly has to execute the zone-read play with great efficiency. When he is at his best, he has confounded good Pac-12 defenses that see the zone-read play with regularity. If Kelly can run this effectively against Texas Tech, it could be a long night for the team from Lubbock.
5) Focus on Special Teams
As always, the kicking game will be critical for the Sun Devils. Poor play in this area was a big culprit in two of ASU’s losses this season. All of the special teams units must handle their assignments and avoid silly miscues in order to preserve field position for this game. And, of course, bowl games are often a stage for trickery on special teams. ASU’s coaches and players should be on guard for on-side kicks, fake punts and fake field goals.