Pac-12: Kliff Kingsbury

ASU can't match Texas Tech's energy

December, 31, 2013
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
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.

Video: Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury

December, 19, 2013

Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury talks about playing Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl, his quarterback situation and the up-and-down year.
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.
I work like I drink: alone, or with a monkey watching.

Finalists for Broyles Award announced

November, 26, 2012
The five finalists for the Broyles Award, which is given annually to college football's top assistant coach, were announced Monday.

Two reasons you should care: 1. One was Stanford's defensive coordinator Derek Mason; 2. When you talk about potential hot coaching prospects, these five should be on your list.

The winner will be named on Dec. 4.

The finalists are:
Mike Bobo (Georgia -- offensive coordinator/quarterbacks)

Bob Diaco (Notre Dame -- defensive coordinator/linebackers/assistant head coach)

Kliff Kingsbury (Texas A&M -- offensive coordinator/quarterbacks)

Derek Mason (Stanford -- co-defensive coordinator/associate head coach)

Dan Quinn (Florida -- defensive coordinator/defensive line)

Take 2: Pac-12 QB competitions

February, 24, 2012
Quarterback competitions are going to be on the minds of many as Pac-12 teams gear up for spring ball. Pac-12 bloggers Ted Miller and Kevin Gemmell decided to take a look at the two quarterback races they found the most intriguing. Ironically, it was Miller, not Stanford blogger Gemmell, who found the Cardinal competition the most intriguing. Gemmell thinks the arms race in the Pacific Northwest with new Washington State coach Mike Leach has the most intrigue.

[+] EnlargeBrett Nottingham
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireBrett Nottingham is the leading candidate to replace Andrew Luck as Statnford's quarterback.
MILLER: You want to talk about big shoes to fill? How about replacing a guy who’s touted as the best NFL QB prospect of a generation, a guy who endeared himself on campus for not only his statistics and unprecedented winning, but also for how he represented the school with class, intelligence and humility.

Yeah, replacing Andrew Luck is not unlike replacing Peyton Manning, which, oh by the way, Luck appears likely to do as the Indianapolis Colts have the top pick in this spring’s NFL draft.

The good news is the Cardinal offense will continue, as it did even with Luck, to emphasize a power, run-first attack, so the player who wins the QB job won’t be asked to win by throwing 40 times a game. Further, the new guy won’t likely be calling his own plays at the line of scrimmage, as Luck did. Whoever wins the job will be asked to be more of a game manager, a guy who plays within himself and doesn’t make mistakes.

The frontrunner is 2011 backup Brett Nottingham, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound redshirt sophomore who impressed coaches in practices last year after experiencing some early struggles with the complex offense his first year. He saw action in six games in 2011, completing 5 of 8 passes for 78 yards with a TD and no interceptions. He was a highly rated recruit out of Monte Vista High School in Danville, Calif., -- the Cardinal lured him away from a commitment to UCLA -- where he passed for 3,818 yards, 44 touchdowns and six interceptions his senior season. He’s smart and athletic and reputed to be accurate and efficient. You know: Luck-ish.

Nottingham will compete with Robbie Picazo and Josh Nunes, a pair of juniors, and freshmen Evan Crower and Kevin Hogan perhaps could enter the picture. Coach David Shaw, a believer in sustaining competition, won’t hand the job to Nottingham, and it’s more than likely the competition won’t be decided until the fall. But a pecking order is likely to be established by the time the Cardinal wrap things up on April 14.

[+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
James Snook/US PresswireConnor Halliday will be competing with Jeff Tuel to be Mike Leach's first quarterback at Washington State.
GEMMELL: Every Pac-12 QB competition has its own level of intrigue and subplot. But it's the battle in Pullman, Wash., that piques my interest. Not just because of who the candidates are -- but who they could become.

Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday, both coming off of significant injuries, are now products of the Mike Leach system. And that means whoever wins the job is probably going to put up monster numbers.

As the Pac-12 blog readers will discover, I'm a bit of a stat cruncher. So consider this: During Leach's 10-year reign at Texas Tech, his quarterbacks attempted an average of 654 passes per season and completed an average of 438 per year -- that's an average completion percentage of 66 percent. The 10-year average was 4,837 passing yards per season, 381 passing yards per game and 38 touchdowns. Why is this significant? Because whoever wins the job -- Tuel or Halliday -- if they put up "average" Mike Leach numbers in 2011, they would have led the NCAA in attempts, completions, total passing yards, finished fourth in passing touchdowns and would have been in the top 20 in passing efficiency rating (if my math is right, no promises).\

That means the next guy in Washington State is going to catapult atop national statistical rankings, get more national exposure and -- possibly -- play their way into the NFL draft down the line. Kliff Kingsbury and B.J. Symons both finished in the Top 10 in Heisman voting when they played for Leach.

There is the sidebar of veteran Tuel versus the youthful moxie of Halliday. Both have good size. Tuel, who hails from Fresno, Calif., is 6-3, 225. Halliday comes from Spokane, just an hour north of Pullman and is 6-4, 180. He'll likely put on more weight in the offseason. There will be plenty of time to pick apart every nuance and mechanical aspects of their game. But at first glance, this competition intrigues me more than any other because statistical history suggests whoever starts for Leach usually plays their way into the national conversation of top quarterbacks.