Television: 9:15 Central Time, ESPN
To put it bluntly, things do not look good for Texas Tech as they roll, or rather stumble, into San Diego to take on Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl on Monday night.
QB Baker Mayfield, the true freshman walk-on who started the majority of games for the Red Raiders due to an injury to Michael Brewer, is transferring out of the program due to what he calls a "miscommunication" between himself and the coaching staff.
A recruit also spoke rather negatively of Tech after choosing to commit to Notre Dame over the Red Raiders.
Not to mention, Tech is in the middle of a five game losing streak after beginning the season 7-0.
Meanwhile, Arizona State finished the year at 10-3, with two of those losses coming at the hands of Rose Bowl bound Stanford (the second coming in the Pac-12 Championship) and the third being a heartbreaking loss to Notre Dame at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Tx.
Texas Tech Offense vs. Arizona State Defense
First things first, Texas Tech absolutely must have Brewer protect the football. Tech has had problems with turning the ball over this season, and they're going up against an Arizona State team that has forced at least one turnover in every game this season. For the year, Texas Tech is -14 in turnover margin, coughing up the ball 31 times while turning over opponents 17. They committed three or more turnovers nine times this season. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils are the exact opposite, turning opposing teams over 31 times while only committing 17 themselves. ASU has forced teams into four or more turnovers five times this year.
The one place Arizona State has struggled this season is defending the intermediate passing game, especially when their pass rush breaks down. If Tech can get Jace Amaro involved early, they should be able to move the ball. As Bill Connely put it in his preview to this game:
ASU's secondary is solid enough, but the Sun Devils have proven vulnerable to methodical, dink-and-dunk drives at times. That's basically Tech's specialty. The Red Raiders are in the nation's top 10 when it comes to generating 10-play drives, and they sport one of the nation's more physical passing games.
How does a passing game get labeled physical? It has a lot to do with Jace Amaro, the 260-pound tight end who apparently caught too many passes to be a true tight end. He caught 98 of 141 passes (70 percent catch rate) for 1,240 yards and seven scores but was passed over as a Mackey Award finalist by three players who combined for 121 catches. (Two of the three finalists had 33 each.) Regardless, he had almost as many intended touches in this offense as any of Tech's running backs, which is incredibly unique.
Texas Tech Defense vs. Arizona State Offense
Things could get really ugly on this side of the ball for Texas Tech if they aren't careful. ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly has a lot of fun toys to play with, most notably Jaelen Strong and Marion Grace, who have combined for 27 touchdowns on the season (16 receiving, 14 rushing). Strong is a 1,000 yard receiver to lead the Sun Devils, and Grace is four rushing yards away from a 1,000 yard season himself. He's also 62 receiving yards away from 500 on the season.
Not to mention what Kelly has done on the ground. Kelly has run for almost 500 yards on the season and eight touchdowns, good for second best on a team that has four 300+ yard rushers. In total, seven Sun Devils players have accounted for at least one rushing touchdown, and nine have caught at least one touchdown pass. Simply put, Arizona State can beat you a hundred different ways.
Texas Tech will have to get a lot out of its secondary in this game, which is definitely the best unit on the defense, but if they can't stop the run (which they typically cannot do, they're 104th in the country against the run) it's a moot point.
Prediction: Arizona State 41, Texas Tech 28.
The Red Raiders could come out and surprise people if their offense is clicking, but if it isn't they don't have much hope to win this game.