Big 12: D.J. Foster

ASU can't match Texas Tech's energy

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
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SAN DIEGO -- Cursed! Cursed, I tell ya!

Make it three years in a row that the loser of the Pac-12 championship game has gone on to have an uninspiring performance in the bowl season. In 2011 it was the waiver-approved UCLA Bruins who fell to Oregon in the title game and then dropped a 20-14 contest to Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Last year, it was the Bruins again who lost to Stanford in the title game and then got stomped by Baylor 49-26 in the Holiday Bowl.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsTodd Graham talks with defensive back Damarious Randall during Monday's loss to Texas Tech.
The latest Pac-12 team to catch a vicious strand of shootium self em footseeitus is the Arizona State Sun Devils who, as head coach Todd Graham said, picked the last game to play their worst game of the season. The Sun Devils watched Texas Tech jump out to a 27-13 halftime lead and were never able to gain traction in a 37-23 loss in the National University Holiday Bowl.

Whether a title game hangover actually does exist is probably more fodder than fact. But Graham wasn’t interested in excuses. Rather, he and his coaching staff shouldered the brunt of the blame.

“It’s not the players’ fault, that’s why they hire coaches, to get your guys ready to play,” Graham said. “We didn’t get our guys ready to play and on the other hand the other team did … I was embarrassed for our fans that showed up today that we did such a poor job of having our guys prepared to play. I love these players, tremendous group of seniors. Guys gave us everything they had. Really proud of them. Absolutely zero excuses. We just didn’t show up as a coaching staff and didn’t have our guys prepared to play.”

Of course, there is something to be said for Texas Tech hearing all week how great a team Arizona State was and how out of hand this game might get.

“Everybody was picking them,” said Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury. “They were one of the top 15 teams in the country, we knew that sentiment going in and the kids responded well. They felt it all week. It was a celebration of Arizona State … but we wanted them to know that we were here, too.”

Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb certainly made his presence felt. He threw four first-half touchdowns -- matching a Holiday Bowl record for passing touchdowns in a game -- while completing 28 of 41 passes for 403 yards. All-American tight end Jace Amaro was the recipient of eight of those passes for 112 yards. Jakeem Grant caught two of Webb's four touchdowns.

“Going out, beating a top-15 team as your last game when everyone had you losing by 20 points initially is something to be proud of,” Amaro said. “We knew we were a great team this whole year. We knew how great we could be and I think we proved it tonight on national television.”

On the flip side, ASU’s defense didn’t look good in HD, SD or in person. The Sun Devils were gutted by Webb & Co. as Texas Tech scored touchdowns on four of its first five possessions and had six plays of 20 yards or more in the first half.

Playing without injured running back Marion Grice, the Sun Devils offense got off to a sluggish start -- though it did finish with 287 yards on the ground. That was mostly because quarterback Taylor Kelly was pressured all night and had little time to throw. He was just 5-of-7 for 14 yards in the first half and the Sun Devils gained just 181 yards to Texas Tech’s 352. They settled for a pair of Zane Gonzalez field goals in the first quarter and finally got a touchdown from D.J. Foster midway through the second quarter.

“He’s one of the top scorers in the country and he’s a guy we miss,” Graham said of Grice. “D.J. was a little banged up too. … But we didn’t protect our quarterback. We took too many negative-yardage plays. We just didn’t play well and I think that had a lot to do with Texas Tech and the energy they were playing with. This game is meant to be played with great passion and you gotta bring it every single game. They brought it. They were the more passionate team today and, again, it’s a disappointment for our fans.”

Just when it seemed like ASU could grab some momentum, something catastrophic would happen. Case in point: a mismanaged final drive of the first half -- that had the Sun Devils with first-and-goal at the 1-yard line -- yielded no points. Then the Sun Devils marched the opening kickoff of the second half down for a touchdown, only to watch Reginald Davis return the ensuing kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.

The first-half deficit was too much to overcome.

“The worst half of football we have played defensively all year,” Graham said. “We just didn’t have them prepared. Seven critical errors in the first half … we didn’t see anything, really, we didn’t see in practice. We didn’t come prepared to play, and that’s our job as coaches.”

Holiday Bowl roundtable

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
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Polar opposites meet Monday night when Arizona State takes on Texas Tech in the National University Holiday Bowl (10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN) in San Diego, Calif. The Sun Devils won seven straight games before their Pac-12 title game loss to Stanford to end the season, while Texas Tech lost five straight games after beginning the season 7-0 to end their campaign at 7-5.

To get you ready for the second Pac-12 vs. Big 12 battle of the day, Pac-12 reporter Kevin Gemmell answers three questions about the Arizona State and Big 12 reporter Brandon Chatmon answers three questions about Texas Tech before the Holiday Bowl.

Gemmell answers three questions about Arizona State

What’s the key to stopping the Sun Devils' offense?

[+] EnlargeD.J. Foster
AP Photo/Matt YorkSophomore running back D.J. Foster brings an explosive element to the Arizona State offense, one it can exploit against a porous Texas Tech rush defense.
You’re going to have to stop them, because they aren’t going to stop themselves. The Sun Devils have a plus-14 turnover ratio – which was tops in the Pac-12 -- including a league-high 21 interceptions. They convert better than 90 percent of the time they get into the red zone and, despite being up tempo, they are capable of long and deliberate drives.

There is hope that Marion Grice will be able to play. If he does, that changes the way the Sun Devils can run their offense because they can have Grice and D.J. Foster on the field at the same time, which opens up all sorts of possibilities in the screen game. ASU is a tempo offense, so Texas Tech’s best chance to is to do what it can to disrupt that tempo.

How does Will Sutton compare to the top defensive tackles you’ve seen? Can he take over the game?

The Will Sutton of 2012 is a lot different than the Will Sutton of 2013. Both were able to take over games for different reasons. Sutton is a workhorse. And that he’s added 20 pounds from last year to this year has changed the way he attacks offenses, and likewise how offenses attack him.

Last year he was about 275-280 and had one of the fastest first steps I’ve seen from a defensive tackle -- so much so that there was some question about whether he’d be a tackle or an end at the next level. He's returned, added the weight and kept most of his quick first step, but teams have keyed in on him much more than they did last season -- which is why his numbers are down. But that’s opened things up for guys such as Carl Bradford and Chris Young to up their games. Plus he rarely sits a snap.

Which relatively unknown Sun Devil is a guy to keep an eye on in the Holiday Bowl?

Offensively, I’d keep an eye on tight end Chris Coyle. He’s well known in the Pac-12, but nationally he doesn’t get the ink that Mackey Award winner Austin Seferian-Jenkins from Washington gets. Ironically, ASJ (as he’s known in these parts) was second-team all-conference to Coyle but still won the Mackey. Coyle is the perfect tight end for what ASU likes to do offensively. When Grice and Foster are on the field together, they’ll run Foster out of the slot, which opens up the middle for Coyle on seam and drag routes. When he gets going with a full head of steam, he’s tough to bring down.

Defensively, safety Alden Darby gets a lot of the publicity for being the leader of the secondary. But defensive back Robert Nelson had an outstanding season with 42 tackles and six interceptions, which was tied with three other players for tops in the Pac-12.

Chatmon answers three questions about Texas Tech

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
AP Photo/Chris JacksonFreshman Davis Webb will likely split time with sophomore Michael Brewer at quarterback for the Red Raiders.
What’s the pulse of the team right now having dropped five in a row?

It’s hard to remain too confident when your last win was in mid-October. But the Red Raiders have the personality of their coach, Kliff Kingsbury, which means they’ll enter the game expecting to win and won’t leave any stone unturned in their pursuit of a season-ending win. Tech would like to send its seniors, some of whom have played for three different coaches, out with a win. And lack of effort has never been a problem during the losing streak; it’s been a lack of experience that has reared its ugly head and led to losses. So, even though they haven’t had a lot of recent success, the Red Raiders won’t go down without a fight.

What’s the latest on the QB situation?

Kingsbury expects to play Michael Brewer and Davis Webb in the Holiday Bowl but has declined to name a starter. Brewer, a sophomore, was expected to start after the spring, but a back injury kept him sidelined for the majority of the season. Webb, a true freshman, had an up-and-down season but definitely had good moments under center in Kingsbury’s offense. With neither guy really separating themselves during bowl preparations, Kingsbury will probably go with the hot hand against the Sun Devils.

During the losing streak Tech has given up nearly 49 points per game. Is there any reason to think they can slow down ASU’s offense?

Not really. I was going to give TTU's defense the benefit of the doubt, then I remembered it allowed at least 277 rushing yards in every game during this five-game losing streak. Injuries and inexperience have played a role, but there’s no reason to think the Red Raiders will shut down ASU’s explosive offense. TTU just has to hope it slows ASU's offense down enough, get a turnover or two and operate efficiently on offense to stop its losing skid. They can’t enter the game expecting the defense to win it for them.

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