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?
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
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.