The College Bowl Season is upon us, and Pylon University is bringing the breakdowns on offense, defense, and special teams, along with the sport’s traditions and great moments. In this edition, it’s the Sun Bowl preview.
WHAT: Hyundai Sun Bowl
WHEN: Saturday, December 27 – 2:00 PM (CBS)
WHERE: Sun Bowl Stadium – El Paso, Texas
Duke and Arizona State have taken similar paths to the Sun Bowl. The “Duel of The Devils” features a Duke team that had set its sights on getting back to the ACC Championship game, but late-season stumbles against Virginia Tech and North Carolina dashed those hopes as the Blue Devils finished second in the ACC Coastal Division. Despite fading down the stretch and playing a largely forgettable schedule, Duke did notch wins against Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh earlier in the season.
Arizona State also had conference championship aspirations, starting the season 8-1 before suffering defeats at Oregon State and Arizona. ASU recorded strong wins against a number of top-20 opponents, most notably back-to-back victories against USC and Stanford, however, the Sun Devils enter this game having lost two out of their last three.
When Duke Has the Football
The Blue Devils have struggled to establish a consistent offensive identity this year, as senior quarterback Anthony Boone has been erratic. Boone turned in a strong campaign in 2013, but encountered trouble with his accuracy this year, completing only 56.9% of throws for 2,507 yards. He has managed to avoid turnovers, throwing only seven picks on the year compared to 17 touchdowns. Boone’s primary target is all-ACC receiver, and return specialist, Jamison Crowder, who has 78 receptions for 942 yards on the season.
Duke’s running game features a multi-headed attack built around power-back Shaquille Powell. The bruising junior has 501 yards on 105 carries this season, with only one rush resulting in negative yardage. Josh Snead, Shaun Wilson, and Joseph Ajeigbe complement Powell, with Wilson the home run threat of the group.
Defensively, the Sun Devils are led by safeties Damarious Randall and Jordan Simone, who lead the team with 101 and 90 tackles, respectively. Randall is one of the finest safeties in the country, recently picking up All-America honors from Sports Illustrated. Arizona State also features standout defensive lineman Marcus Hardison, who leads the Sun Devils with 10 sacks and 14 tackles for losses. The Sun Devils will look to pressure Boone into quick decisions in the passing game, and use their safeties near the line to help stuff the run against the Blue Devil running game.
When Arizona State Has the Football
Quarterback Taylor Kelly missed three games earlier this year with a foot injury, but has started the last six games for the Sun Devils. Much like Boone, Kelly has struggled with his accuracy this year, completing only 57.8% of his passes ‒ by far the lowest mark of his career. Fortunately for the Sun Devils, Kelly tends to take good care of the football, logging a TD/INT ratio of 20-5 on the year. Through the air, Kelly looks to All-American Jaelen Strong, who has 75 receptions for 1062 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Running back D.J. Foster is also an option through the air, with 59 receptions for 646 yards.
Foster is the primary back in the running game as well, racking up 1,002 yards on 183 carries, good for a 5.5-yard average. His most prodigious output came early in the season, eclipsing the century mark in only one of his last nine games. Demario Richard, with 437 yards on 77 carries in a backup role, supplements him in the backfield and is no stranger to late-game heroics.
The Blue Devils have utilized a 4-2-5 defense for much of the year. Duke lost all-ACC linebacker Kelby Brown to an ACL injury in the preseason, forcing David Helton to slide inside to fill his role. Helton hasn’t missed a beat, notching 125 tackles. The undisputed star of the defense is safety Jeremy Cash, a transfer from Ohio State who put up two seasons of outstanding play in the secondary for the Blue Devils. Built in the Rodney Harrison mold, Cash is a force against the run, and has also notched 5.5 sacks on the season. Duke lacks a significant pass rusher along their defensive line, and the Sun Devils may look to exploit this over the course of the game.
Strong stands out for the Sun Devils, but scouts will closely watch Randall and Hardison during this game as well. Crowder and Cash are two of Duke’s top pro prospects, but the top player for the team is offensive guard Laken Tomlinson, projected to go in the first two rounds of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Right down to their nicknames, these two teams are incredibly similar and should present a great game for fans. Ultimately, Duke finally gets its first bowl win since the 1961 Cotton Bowl Classic.
Duke 31, Arizona State 27
All video and images courtesy ESPN.
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