Pac-12: Jace Amaro

ASU can't match Texas Tech's energy

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
4:26
AM ET
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.”


SAN DIEGO -- A blitz-happy Texas Tech defense kept the Arizona State off balance all night en route to a 37-23 win in the National University Holiday Bowl. Here's how it all went down at Qualcomm Stadium:

It was over when: Holding on to a 37-23 lead with 3:35 left in the game, Justis Nelson picked off Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly in the end zone. From there, the Red Raiders were able to eat up enough clock to thwart any chance of a comeback.

Game ball goes to: For all the hub-bub about Baker Mayfield transferring out, Davis Webb was more than up to the task, matching a Holiday Bowl record with four touchdown passes. He was controlled and efficient, completing 28 of 41 passes for 403 yards.

Unsung hero: Be it a third-down conversion, a big play or simply a 5-yard gain to get a little breathing room, All-American tight end Jace Amaro came through with a huge performance. He caught eight balls for 112 yards.

Key stat: Not that it made a huge difference in the outcome, but ASU has now forced a turnover in 29 straight games, which is the second longest active streak in college football behind Missouri.

What it means for Texas Tech: It snaps a five-game losing streak and gives it a little more credibility for knocking off the Pac-12 South champs. After spending five days in San Diego, hearing about how good ASU is and while they are two-touchdown underdogs, the Red Raiders certainly looked like the more poised team. This win should provide a nice momentum boost heading into the offseason.

What it means for Arizona State: It sours what had been a pretty good season for the Sun Devils, who actually had the best overall record in the Pac-12 during the regular season. With 26 seniors departing, the Sun Devils should be solid again on offense next season, but they lose a lot of production and leadership on the defensive side of the ball.

To watch the trophy presentation of the National University Holiday Bowl, click here.

Pac-12 lunch links

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
2:30
PM ET
She could not explain in so many words, but she felt that those who prepare for all the emergencies of life beforehand may equip themselves at the expense of joy.

National University Holiday Bowl preview

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
12:00
PM ET
Arizona State (10-3) and Texas Tech (7-5) square off Monday night in San Diego in the National University Holiday Bowl at 10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Here’s a quick preview:

What to watch: There is a good chance, a very good chance actually, that this game could turn into a track meet. The Sun Devils average 41 points per game -- 10th in the country -- and Texas Tech isn’t too shabby offensively either, averaging almost 36 points per game. Which defense is going to step up and make a play? Arizona State seems the more likely option of the two. Texas Tech gives up 31.2 points per game while the Sun Devils only give up 25.8. The Sun Devils also have a plus-14 turnover margin with 21 interceptions. Opposing quarterbacks are completing just 54.7 percent of their passes against ASU.

Who to watch: The big question is who will start at quarterback for Texas Tech -- Davis Webb or Michael Brewer. This all came about after Baker Mayfield, in a strange turn of events, announced after the season that he was transferring. There's also a chance we could see both QBs. For the Sun Devils, it looks doubtful that Marion Grice will play, meaning the bulk of the running work falls on D.J. Foster. Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton is an All-American and the Pac-12’s two-time defensive player of the year. Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro is also an All-American with more than 1,200 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.

Why to watch: The Holiday Bowl is traditionally one of the more exciting games of the postseason. Since its inception in 1978, 17 of the 35 games have been decided by a touchdown or less, and 20 of the games were decided in the final four minutes. This is also the last year that it will keep ties with the Big 12. Next year one of the top tier teams from the Big Ten will be paired against the Pac-12.

Prediction: Arizona State 42, Texas Tech 24.
We continue our look at each of the Pac-12’s opponents during the bowl season.

National University Holiday Bowl
San Diego, Dec. 30, 7:15 p.m. (PT), ESPN
Arizona State (10-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Coach: Kliff Kingsbury (First year)
Record: 7-5, 4-5 Big 12
Combined opponents’ record: 74-70 (.513)
Common opponents: None.
Leading passer: Baker Mayfield (no longer with team), 218-340 (64.1 percent), 2,315 yards with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Leading rusher: Kenny Williams, 117-480 with eight touchdowns.
Leading receiver: Jace Amaro, 98-1,240 with seven touchdowns.
Leading tackler: Will Smith, 106 tackles.

What to know: In a bizarre turn of events, Mayfield has opted to transfer off the team before the game. That leaves Davis Webb (198-320-2,315, 16 touchdowns, nine interceptions) or Michael Brewer (7-10-65, one touchdown) competing for the starting gig. Many were projecting Brewer to be the starter in the preseason, but he never earned the job and was also hampered by a back injury. Webb stepped in for Mayfield when he was injured.

It’s been a strange season for the Red Raiders. They started the year 7-0 and reached as high as No. 10 in the AP top 25 and the BCS standings. Of course, only one of those seven teams (Texas State) finished with a .500 record. The rest were sub-.500 teams. Then they lost at No. 15 Oklahoma, 38-30, kicking off a tailspin that is yet to stop. They’ve dropped five in a row (all against teams with winning records) -- including losses to No. 18 Oklahoma State and a 63-34 blowout loss to Baylor. They closed the year with a 41-6 loss to Texas.

Say this, though, for the Red Raiders, they can chuck it. With an average of 392 passing yards per game and an average of 35.7 points per game, they can score. Tight end Amaro is an All-American and a legitimate NFL tight end, though as recently as yesterday he tweeted that he hasn’t decided what his future will be.

But for as solid as they have been on offense, the defense leaves something to be desired as they allow 31.2 points per game.

Key matchup: Arizona State’s pass defense is holding opposing quarterbacks to a 54.7 percent completion rate. That was tops in the Pac-12. They also snagged 21 interceptions -- also first in the league and third nationally. Part of the reason the Sun Devils are so good at creating turnovers in the secondary is because of their pass rush, which averages better than three sacks per game and ranks in the top 10 nationally. The Sun Devils' offense should be able to put up points. The question is whether ASU’s defense allows it to become a shootout.

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