Maaco Bowl – Boise State (11-1) vs. Arizona State (6-6)
Las Vegas, Nev.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
5:00 p.m. PT – ESPN
Neither Arizona State nor Boise State thought they would be here when the year began. Now that they are playing in the Las Vegas Bowl, how interested will they be?
The Broncos are here because the BCS put in a rule saying that for a non-AQ school to play in a BCS Bowl Game, it must win its conference title. Well, despite being 11-1 and ranked 7th in the BCS rankings they end up in Nevada because of a missed field goal against TCU – can they PLEASE recruit a kicker already. Chris Petersen had no problem blasting the BCS for this whole thing (check the 1:12 mark) and who can blame him after Alabama is playing in the National Championship Game even though it did not win its own division, let alone the conference.
Regardless, Boise St. went on to do what they do every year: blast opponents, this year by an average of 25 points. They went into the Georgia Dome and beat Georgia, got revenge against Nevada, and powered past a pretty good San Diego State team. The TCU loss came because of smart coaching by Gary Patterson and a great performance from Casey Pachall. The refs helped the Broncos get into field goal range but Dan Goodale shanked it and that spelled the end for Boise’s magical season. It did everything else right but unfortunate circumstances held them back for another year. It is pretty clear why the team decided to jump to the Big East beginning in 2013.
This marks the second season in a row that Boise will play in Vegas after having its season derailed by a kicker. Last year they stomped a 10-win Utah team that was playing its final year in the WAC. Petersen always has his squad focused and he has posted a 3-2 bowl record, including two Fiesta Bowl victories. This is also the final game for prolific QB Kellen Moore, who already has set the record for most victories in a career. As usual, he has played lights-out football and is the fourth most efficient passer in the country.
The Sun Devils began the year as favorites to win the Pac-12 South and potentially take the crown from USC moving forward. They started off by winning five of their first six games, crushing USC and prevailing over Missouri in primetime. The one loss in that span came against an Illinois team that was riding its own successful first half of the season. Heading into the Oregon game many people thought the tough defense, led by Vontaze Burfict, had a chance to stop the Ducks’ high-flying offensive attack. In the end, ASU was outmanned and lost 41-27 and the wheels fell off from there. After a win against Colorado they fell in their final four games including a one-point loss to UCLA and an upset at the hands of Washington State in the snow. On that day the defense let third-string quarterback – also a redshirt freshman –throw for 494 yards and four TDs. A defeat to rival Arizona at home and a night loss against Cal led the AD to fire head coach Dennis Erickson.
Last year Arizona St. finished 6-6 but was not bowl eligible after two of the victories came over FCS teams – Portland State and Northern Arizona. Erickson’s only other bowl game as the Sun Devils’ head coach was in 2007 when the team was embarrassed by Texas 52-34 in the Holiday Bowl. This is the first time Arizona State has played in the Las Vegas Bowl and it may not be a happy memory.
Statistical Breakdown – Boise State
They pass well, they run well, and they score a lot of points. The Broncos are averaging 43.25 points per game which ranks seventh in the nation and they are also in the top ten for total offense, passing yards and pass efficiency. This isn’t your gimmicky offense anymore; the offensive line is physical and they have allowed the least amount of sacks in the nation, allowing Moore to sit back and pick apart opposing defenses. He has thrown for three touchdowns or more and hit the 250-yard mark in ten games this season. The O-line is also moving around opposing defensive lines and the run game is averaging 4.5 yards per carry for a total of 2,073 yards on the year. Doug Martin has rushed for 1,148 yards and 15 touchdowns while backup DJ Harper has accumulated 553 yards and eight TDs. Harper gets a good amount of carries and helps the offense where Martin leaves off. Since missing the TCU game, Martin has finished the last three contests of the season with 392 yards and six rushing scores.
The defense has been just as dominant, ranking 16th nationally in total defense. They are allowing a measly 18 points per game and shut out New Mexico in the last game of the year. They are holding opponents to under 200 yards passing and only 120 yards rushing. The leader of the defense is Tyrone Crawford who is getting at least one tackle for loss per game and has come up with six sacks while forcing three fumbles. The secondary is stacked with talent but not one person seems to stand above the rest after Jerrell Gavins went down with an injury early in the year. 11 different players have made an interception this year while 15 have broken up a pass. The weakness comes from the front seven getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, where they have only recorded 20 sacks this year which is tied for 79th in the nation.
Statistical Breakdown – Arizona State
The offense throws the ball a lot but not necessarily well. Brock Osweiler is averaging 301 passing yards per game but has tossed 12 interceptions to go along with his 24 touchdowns. Osweiler does have an impressive streak of 14 consecutive games with a passing TD and many of those saw consecutive tosses. He is completing 63% of his throws and his efficiency rating of 140 is 40th in the country and sixth in the Pac-12. Cameron Marshall has surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark and has a nose for the endzone, accounting for 18 rushing touchdowns with 16 of them coming in the last nine games. He is averaging close to five yards per carry but the team seems to forget about him at times. The team passes so much that he has only reached 100-yards rushing in four games and has been held to under 50 yards in four others. Marshall is relied on so heavily as the primary back that the second leading rusher on the team is Jamal Miles, the jack-of-all-trades player on the team. He has rushed for 237 yards, caught 361 for six touchdowns and even thrown for a 35-yard touchdown strike. He snags punts and returns kicks, scoring TDs in both ways this year.
For all the good the offense has done this year, the defense has done a lot wrong. As a whole, they are allowing 418 yards of total offense which ranks 88th in the nation. In the past six games – beginning with the loss to Oregon – they are allowing 488.8 of total offense with a combined 24 rushing and passing touchdowns. Their pass defense is 107th in the nation, partially due to the fact they are getting little pressure on the quarterback. The rush defense has not been much better, as they are allowing 148 yards per game. Burfict was supposed to have a dominating year, terrorizing opposing QBs while finally controlling his temper. In actuality, he only had five sacks with three of them coming against FCS foe UC Davis. Aside from those five moments, he had zero solo tackles for loss. His speed and power was supposed to help him create turnovers but he accounted for zero forced fumbles. Many scouts see him as a great linebacker at the next level, but his performance at the collegiate level has been sub-par. While he leads the team in total tackles, he is not even in the top 100 of all college football players. Between all the media hype that surrounds him it is clear he is an overrated player. Vontaze Burfict: prove us wrong.
X Factor – Boise State
If this game is close it needs to be Dan Goodale, but the Broncos are going to jump out quick so let’s put the pressure on the secondary to hold Osweiler to low passing yards. He has put up big numbers against good defenses this year so the group needs to come together and shut him down early to put the game away.
X Factor – Arizona State
Jamal Miles is really going to have to do everything he can to help the Sun Devils pull off the upset. Getting him in space to stretch out the defense will in turn help the passing game get going using the four and five-receiver sets. It will also help get Marshall going if linebackers are trying to find where Miles is. He will not only have to get involved in the screen game and on end-around rushing plays, but also in the return game where he can help the team start drives with good field position.
Boise State may not want to play in this bowl game, but Petersen keeps his team focused and they will come out of the gates flying. Mix that with the fact the Sun Devils are without a head coach and have lost five of their last six games and it could be a recipe for disaster. The Arizona St. defense will struggle to put pressure on Moore and he will throw for four touchdowns and a lot of yards. The Sun Devils will put up some yards behind Osweiler but in the end the Boise State defense will end any chance of an upset.
Since the Las Vegas Bowl’s inception in 1992, only one defensive player has won the MVP award. Nevada linebacker Mike Crawford took the honors in 1996 after recording 14 tackles while forcing a fumble and intercepting a pass to give the Wolf Pack an 18-15 win over Ball State.
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- Donny Turnbaugh