SAN DIEGO, CA-Arizona State ended an otherwise successful season on a sour note Monday night here in southern California falling to Texas Tech 37-24 in the National University Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium.
Here are five things we learned in the loss.
1. It was as ugly as it looked: The vibe inside the stadium on the chilly night matched ASU’s intensity from the opening kick. A 14-point-favorite the Sun Devils (10-4) fell behind early and could never find their sync offensively, specifically the passing game. Taylor Kelly threw for just 125 yards and was intercepted twice. Conversely, the vaunted Sun Devil defensive line never touched Tech freshman quarterback Davis Webb who threw for 403 yards and four scores. In short, ASU no-showed in their second consecutive, ESPN “spotlight game.”
2. Especially terrible: First it was Alex Garoutte getting benched for poor punts. Then normally reliable freshman kicker Zane Gonzalez missing a chip-shot 24-yard field goal which killed any momentum ASU had going into the half. Finally the backbreaker when Tech reserve kick returner Reginald Davis housed a 90-yard sprint in front the Sun Devil bench moments after ASU closed the gap to 27-20. It all drew the ire of head coach Todd Graham. “We have a lot of things to work on on special teams, that will be dealt with immediately…that will be something I take personal interest in.”
3. Kliff was the King Monday: To think Tech (8-5) headed to the coast on a five-game losing streak is almost unthinkable after seeing their execution on both sides of the ball. There’s obviously a lot more to Kliff Kingsbury than his looks. An offensive wiz who tutored Case Keenum at Houston and Johnny Football at A&M appears to have another good one in Webb showed the stage wasn’t too big. Defensively, they neutralized Jaelen Strong (four catches, 28 yards) and made Kelly check down or run.
4. Remember the Amaro: How Tech’s Jace Amaro didn’t win the Mackey Award (given to the nation’s best) is downright embarrassing. The junior found seams in the secondary and used his 6’5, 240-pound frame to bully linebacker Anthony Jones, safety Damarious Randall and others for eight catches and 120 yards. For the season he caught 106 for nearly 1400 yards. He’s the perfect target to go with speedy wideouts Jakeem Grant (89 yards, two scores), Brad Marquez (67 yards, touchdown) and others in Kingbury’s ‘Air Raid’ offense.
5. The Sun (Devil) will come out tomorrow: Despite a downer finish, things look bright for Graham and the program moving forward. Key conference wins over USC, UCLA and Arizona will help future recruiting and an 8-1 Pac-12 mark exceeded all our expectations. “[The seniors] set a legacy of ten wins and Pac-12 south champions,” Graham explained. “So anything less than 11 wins [in 2014], will be a disappointment.” As usual, left lane, hammer down.