The Las Vegas Bowl
The Las Vegas is one of the kick off games (game #3) for the 2019 bowl season and it starts off with Herm Edwards’ Arizona State team and Fresno State.
This has to be kind of a disappointing destination for the Sun Devils after they were very seriously in the conversation for the PAC-12 Championship game (which we covered in the PAC-12 South Playoff Scenarios). However, the game will be national televised on ABC against the (21) Fresno State Bulldogs.
Offense is not an Arizona State has struggled with this year with an average of 427 yards combined offense per game. They are averaging a little less on the road, but I think this is more an artifact of who they’ve played on the road (Washington, Colorado, SDSU, etc.) than of their actual offensive prowess. Their season statistics on the road are 364 yards per game, as opposed to nearly 500 at home. However, I anticipate a solid 400 yards for this game because Fresno State is averaging about 250 passing yards and 100+ rushing yards.
Passing: Arizona State has done a huge portion of their damage (at least yardage-wise) through the air this year. N’keal Harry is responsible for almost half (9 of the 19) touchdowns scored through the passing game this year. Including a mutli-touchdown (3) effort in their upset with versus Utah. While they’ve definitely been less prolific on the road, they (as mentioned above) had a much more difficult away schedule.
Rushing: The Sun Devils have been gaining about 70 less rushing yards per game when are away from their home field. However, in the same number of games (6 at home, 6 away) they’ve actually managed to score one more touchdown on the road. They’ve also managed this feet in almost 9 attempts fewer on the road. They’ve lost almost a year and a half per rush away from home this season as well.
Arizona State has been reliant on their ability to outscore opponents for the most part this season. Of their 12 games played so far, only 3 have been held to less than 20 points scored and all of them were home games. Fresno State has been averaging a similar offensive numbers to what the Sun Devils have been giving up defensively (about 400 yards). Defensively, Arizona State has been missing that home cooking — their statistics suffer pretty much across the board when outside the confines of home.
Passing: Passing yards allowed are pretty much the same regardless of venue (only about 10 yards difference). However, in spite of more attempts made at home the Sun Devil defense has yielded more than double the touchdowns allowed on the road (6 vs. 14). They ave also had 50% (+2) more interceptions at home than they have on the road (4 total) and have yielded a 25 point higher opposing QB rating. Additionally they have 4.5 more tackles for loss (9.17 TFLs/game) with a greater yardage per TFL (4.47) at home. On the road they average 5.17 TFLs/game at 2.875 yards per TFL and less than half of the sacks/game they manage at home.
Rushing: Echoing a similar theme, their rushing defense has allowed almost 80 yards per game more than at home. They’ve also allowed 2 more touchdowns on the road. In addition, their opponents run more frequently against them (~7 attempts) and have much greater success (4.7 yards/rush v. 3.37 yards/rush).
Fresno State continued to build on the momentum from last season, where they finished 9-4 during the regular season (10th win from the bowl game). They’ve improved to 11-2 entering the bowl season this year, with only losses to Minnesota and Boise State (which they avenged in the Championship game). The Minnesota loss is a bit of a blemish for this team, because Minnesota really doesn’t have a season to be envious of. Minnesota basically only beat sub-.500 teams in their own division and some smaller schools.
Fresno State’s offense has been able to basically move the ball at will throughout both its conference and non-conference season. Generally, they have blown away opponents with the exception of 3 games, 2 of which they ultimately lost. This should be a good (or at least better) test of their ability to move the ball.
Passing: Fresno State’s passing game continues to follow the theme of being markedly different on the road. They have 2.5 less yards per attempt, less touchdowns, and a 30 point lower QB rating. The yardage difference is much smaller, only about 50 yards, but they have also through three times the number of interceptions in roughly the same number of attempts (though they do have 1 more away game — against Boise State in the MWC Championship game).
Rushing: Fresno State’s rush game takes a huge hit on the road, nearly 60 yards dropping from 177/game to 119/game. The number of attempts per game is not markedly different (only about 3 rushing attempts). The interesting thing though, is that the number of touchdowns is relatively similar between home/away despite th yardage disparity (15 home vs. 13 away). The difference between home and away is a little over 1 yard per rushing attempt.
Passing: Ironically, this is ne area where the theme is not continued, they are actually substantially better in road games than at home. On the road they are giving up just over 160 yards, compared to almost 230 at home. In road games, they have allowed less than half the number of touchdowns they’ve allowed at home, with almost the same number of interceptions (-1 on the road). They defend the pass by almost 2 yards per attempt better on the road, while maintaining almost identical TFL and Sack numbers (0.5 less on the road).
Rushing: Continuing the struggling on the road theme, the Bulldogs are giving up almost double the rush yards per game in road games (92 vs. 162). The most concerning part for me though, is less about the number of yards allowed but the crazy disparity in touchdowns allowed. At home, they’ve allowed only a single rushing touchdown, yes — you read that right, one touchdown. On the road, they’ve allowed 6 times that. and keep in mind 2 of their road wins the opposing team was held to only a field goal.
The game is played at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada with kickoff at 12:30p PST/3:30p EST). The neutrals are expecting about 55 points to be scored, and Fresno State to be slight favorites.
I think this is going to be a much more defensive game than most of the games they’ve played this year. It matches up nicely with Fresno State defending the passing much better on the road, and ASU being semi-reliant on that (at least for getting down the field). I expect this to stay pretty close throughout most of the game, and definitely shouldn’t be the blowout that Fresno State is used to. ASU will be trying to end Herm Edwards’ first season with a win, after some great victories during the season and continuing to build on them.
Keys to a win for each side
- Keep the game in front of you. ASU needs to make sure that they keep the Bulldogs ahead of them and keep them out of the endzone. This has been Fresno State’s bread and butter all season long.
- Unleash the beast. Eno Benjamin has been a wrecking ball this season, averaging almost 5.5 yards per carry on the season. This is a prime opportunity for Benjamin to have a huge game.
- Convert. ASU needs to take advantage of early opportunities so that they can get Fresno State behind. Fresno State hasn’t been behind much this year, and might try to force some plays. Which would give ASU some prime opportunites to make defensive plays and keep the game in their favor.
- Pick ’em apart. McMaryion has been insane this season with a 25 Touchdown to 3 interception season so far. Defensively, the Sun Devils have not been great defending against the pass and there should be opportunities to make plays.
- Run away with it. ASU has relied on their rushing game heavily to score (25 TDs rushing v. 20 TDs Passing) and they might not be able to keep pace with a pass oriented team. If ASU continues to priortize the rush game, time could definitely become a factor.
- Be easy. Fresno State needs to keep it simple in the passing game, they don’t need every play to go for a touchdown. Be patient, find the open man and march down the field. ASU has tried to put a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks so there should be open guys if Fresno State is willing to take smaller gains.