After two straight ten win campaigns by Todd Graham’s Arizona State Sun Devils it goes without saying that the six win season that this team has to their name is an extreme disappointment. The Sun Devils were projected to perhaps win the Pac-12 and even fight for a spot in the College Football Playoff and the National Championship but at the end of the day they have to settle for the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl at Chase Field in their hometown of Phoenix against the West Virginia Mountaineers. If the Sun Devils take a loss in this final game it would be the first losing season Todd Graham will have to stomach since 2009 back at Tulsa.
Something To Prove For West Virginia
The battle at the Cactus Bowl will have a meeting between two of the Power 5 conferences in college football with Arizona State University representing the Pac-12 and West Virginia in the Big 12. The move for the Mountaineers has been rocky early on since their arrival in the conference back in 2012 with multiple seasons of doing well, but just not well enough to stand out among a talented group of teams. A win in this game would give Dana Holgorsen’s team the most wins since joining the Big 12 as well as their second bowl victory after beating Clemson, who is now going on to the National Championship game, in the Orange Bowl the same year just prior to them leaving the Big East in a devastating 70 to 33 victory over the Tigers. The Mountaineers however have not faced off against the Sun Devils since 1979 in a game that they lost 42 to 7 and this Todd Graham squad could prove to be a serious problem with the kind of pass rush they bring to every game. The Mountaineers have surrendered 30 sacks on the season and when rush is on the way quarterback Skyler Howard can sail the ball into bad spots and throw an interception, a feat he has accomplished 12 times this year. If West Virginia wants to build on their Big 12 potential, they must handle the pass rush.
Fostering The Passing Attack
D.J. Foster may not be ending his collegiate career in the grand way he was expecting to this year with all the talk about his team finally taking the top spot and standing alone in the Pac-12 to start the 2015 campaign off but it shouldn’t cast a cloud over his impressive career as a Sun Devil to be sure. Some could argue that Foster is perhaps one of the most consistent wide receiver stat wise in the history of Arizona State and maybe the conference with his outlandish 52 consecutive games with a catch which stands as the longest current streak in the FBS. While he only has 54 catches for just under 550 yards this year he also has played the ball carrier on reverses this year with 52 carries for 276 yards on the ground. While Foster hasn’t been a stat stuffer this year yardage wise his fellow receiver in Devin Lucien has with his 930 yards and 7 touchdowns on the year. For the man throwing the ball for the Sun Devils, Mike Bercovici has a very enjoyable problem deciding who is he going to throw it out to. Does he put the ball in the bread basket of his consistent catch machine, or does he air it out for his speedster to catch it and maybe take it to the house. Whatever he chooses the Mountaineers know that they have to dedicate some extra help to keep both of them from getting into a groove. Question is who do you double in those situations.
Post Holiday Turnovers
While the holiday season is over there are still plenty of cookies and sweets left in the fridge for all to enjoy. The Sun Devils however won’t be going into that stash for this bowl game if they want to win. Instead they will have to generate some turnovers on the field and fix their ratio that has not lived up to standard this season. Arizona State currently sits at dead even in turnover ratio with 19 turnovers and 19 takeaways this year. However this game may not be so easy to generate those kinds of opportunities as the Mountaineers are an impressive plus 11 in that stat and are a team that knows how to jump the passing lanes and rip the ball out of the hands of runners. West Virginia took the ball back from their opponents this year 31 times already, which allowed them to take fourth in the FBS in that category. The best way for the Sun Devils to try and keep the ball in their favor is to avoid any kind of risky calls during the game and keep the defense guessing as to what will be coming next. However, Graham loves to take risks and go for the whole thing rather than pick parts of the field away bit by bit like an old Renaissance era sculptor. If things stay the way they always have, Bercovici will have to play with his cards very close to his chest so that the Mountaineers don’t get any ideas on what his play calls are or whether the ball is going inside or outside on a run. The less of a jump the defense has on the Sun Devils offense, the less likely they are to add to those impressive takeaway numbers for the Mountaineers.
The game will kickoff at Chase Field at 8:15 PM on ESPN this Saturday.