By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Las Vegas Bowl
Arizona State (6-6) vs. Boise State (11-1)
Date: Dec. 22 at 8 p.m. ET
Location: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, Nev.
Another season, another near miss for Boise State. The Broncos will be making their second consecutive bowl trip to Las Vegas, while certainly wondering what might have been. A missed game-winning field goal against Nevada last season and TCU this year likely have cost Boise State two BCS appearances.
While the Broncos come into this game hoping to send a prolific senior class out on a high note, Arizona State enters with a four-game losing streak. The Sun Devils appeared to be in full control of the Pac-12 South before the November slide, which cost coach Dennis Erickson his job. He will coach the bowl game, and Todd Graham (from Pittsburgh) will be taking over in Tempe after this matchup.
Boise State has won its last two postseason games, including a decisive 26-3 victory over Utah in this bowl last season.
Arizona State has never played in the Las Vegas Bowl and it is riding a two-game losing streak in bowl games.
These two teams have only met one time, with Arizona State winning 56-7 in 1996.
WHEN ARIZONA STATE HAS THE BALL:
While the 2011 season was a major disappointment for Arizona State, scoring points certainly wasn’t a problem. The Sun Devils ranked 25th nationally in scoring, averaging 33.9 points a game, along with recording 450.9 total yards per contest.
Quarterback Brock Osweiler was solid in his first full season as the starter, throwing for 3,641 yards and 24 touchdowns, while tossing 12 picks. Osweiler likes to spread the ball around, as four Sun Devils had at least 36 receptions. Gerell Robinson led the team with 64 catches for 1,156 yards, while Aaron Pflugrad and Mike Willie will figure into the gameplan. Jamal Miles was a big part of the receiving corps in the regular season, but won't play on Thursday night.
Although the Sun Devils averaged 310.2 passing yards a game, the rushing attack shouldn’t be overlooked. Cameron Marshall led the way with 1,038 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns, while also catching 23 passes for 192 yards. He has scored at least one rushing touchdown in nine consecutive games.
Arizona State runs a lot of quick passes, which should be a good gameplan against Boise State’s defense. The Broncos are rock solid up front, led by three all-conference linemen – tackle Billy Winn and ends Shea McClellin and Tyrone Crawford. Boise State is allowing only 18.3 points a game and led the Mountain West in rush defense.
Although the Broncos are strong up front, the secondary has been a weak link most of the year. The pass defense ranks 25th nationally, but that number is a bit deceiving. TCU gashed the Broncos for 473 yards and five touchdowns through the air, while San Diego State threw for 350 yards and three scores in mid-November. Injuries have played a large role in the struggles of the defensive backfield, which will be tested once again by Arizona State.
With the struggles in the secondary, Boise State needs to get pressure on Osweiler and not allow him to get comfortable in the pocket. If the Broncos get to Osweiler, the Sun Devils will have trouble getting their offense on track.
WHEN BOISE STATE HAS THE BALL:
This is the final game at Boise State in a prolific career for quarterback Kellen Moore. The senior has thrown 140 touchdown passes and 14,374 yards in his career, while also setting a NCAA record with 49 career wins.
Moore should star in his final collegiate game, especially against an Arizona State secondary that ranks 107th nationally against in the pass. The Sun Devils have allowed only 18 passing scores this year, but opposing quarterbacks are completing 64.9 percent of their throws against this defense.
The Broncos entered the year with a glaring question mark at receiver, but this group has emerged as a strength. Tyler Shoemaker leads the team with 59 receptions for 959 yards and 15 scores this year. Matt Miller has also been another favorite target for Moore, catching 58 balls for 647 yards and eight touchdowns. Mitch Burroughs, Geraldo Boldewijn and Kirby Moore round out the receiving corps, while tight ends Gabe Linehan and Kyle Efaw combined for 49 receptions this year.
Running back Doug Martin is often overshadowed by Moore’s accomplishments, but he is quietly one of the top running backs in college football. The senior finished the regular season with 1,148 yards and 15 scores and caught 25 receptions for 229 yards and two touchdowns.
Arizona State’s defense has struggled throughout the team’s four-game losing streak, as it has allowed 29 or more points in each matchup. The Sun Devils rank 59th nationally in rush defense and that will be tested against Martin and one of the best offensive lines in college football.
If the Sun Devils want to knock off Boise State, getting pressure on Moore is going to be priority No. 1. Arizona State cannot allow Moore to have a clean pocket all night or he will pick apart the secondary. The Sun Devils have done a good job of winning the turnover battle this year, and they will have to force a few turnovers to win this game.
Field goals have been a headache for Boise State all season. Dan Goodale has connected on three of five attempts, while Michael Frisina has hit on three of four. Neither player has made an attempt longer than 32 yards, and coach Chris Peterson probably doesn't have a lot of trust in going for field goals.
While field goals have been an adventure, the rest of the groups on special teams have been solid for Boise State. Punter Brad Elkin is averaging 41.8 yards per punt and has placed 24 inside of the 20. Mitch Burroughs is averaging 13.3 yards per punt return, while Doug Martin is averaging 26.8 yards per kick return.
Arizona State hasn’t been much more reliable than Boise State on field goals this season, as kicker Alex Garoutte has hit on 14 of 21 attempts.
Sun Devils’ punter Josh Hubner is averaging 41.8 yards per punt, while placing 23 inside of the 20.
Jamal Miles earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors for his work on returns, averaging 16.6 yards per return on punts and 26.3 on kickoffs. Miles has taken three returns for a score this year. However, he won't play against the Broncos, leaving Arizona State with a significant void on returns.
Arizona State certainly has the firepower to hang around in this game. However, does it have any motivation after losing its final four games?
While Boise State probably deserved a better bowl, there is no question the motivation is clearly on its side. Kellen Moore and this senior class have a chance to close out a special tenure in Boise by earning their 50th career win.
The Sun Devils passing attack could give the Broncos’ secondary trouble early. However, Boise State’s defensive line will eventually win the battle in the trenches, and the Broncos will assume control of this game late in the third quarter.
Boise State 41, Arizona State 24