SAN DIEGO — No. 14 ASU football never wanted to play in the Holiday Bowl during the regular season. Although coach Todd Graham called the week’s festivities the best bowl experience he’s ever had, it was a tough consolation for the Sun Devils (10-4, 8-2) to swallow after missing out on a bid to the Rose Bowl.
Their play showed it on Monday night.
ASU had no answer for Texas Tech’s “Air Raid” offense and had trouble putting up points of its own as the Sun Devils fell to the Red Raiders 37-23.
There was nothing about Texas Tech (8-5, 4-5 Big 12) that caught Graham by surprise. Rather, it was the Sun Devils’ lack of preparation that cost them the game.
“I’m ultimately responsible, but I was embarrassed for our fans that showed up today that we did such a poor job of having our guys prepared to play,” Graham said. “Really proud of them, absolutely zero excuses. Just didn’t show up as a coaching staff and didn’t have our guys prepared to play.”
Sound familiar? Graham cited unpreparedness as the main reason why the Sun Devils lost to Stanford in both games earlier this season.
ASU senior safety Alden Darby tried to deflect any criticism on Graham after the game and took responsibility on behalf of his teammates. Darby said feelings of losing the Pac-12 Football Championship Game back on Dec. 7 didn’t linger onto Monday night, but attributed the poor performance to not playing in almost a month.
“You can say what you want about the coaching but we’re the ones on the field playing,” Darby said. “We’re the ones making the plays, that’s us.”
Without injured senior running back Marion Grice, the Sun Devils had trouble moving the ball. Redshirt junior quarterback Taylor Kelly finished the game with 135 rushing yards on 25 carries while only posting 125 yards throwing, going 16-for-25. Sophomore running back D.J. Foster, who started in Grice’s place, added 132 rushing yards on 20 carries.
“They kept dropping back in the coverage, dropping eight and rushing three or four,” Kelly said. “They were doing a good job of taking away the inside guys and having me have to hit the check down or run.”
Meanwhile, the Red Raiders posted 484 yards of total offense. Freshman quarterback Davis Webb, who was announced the starter moments before gametime, had 403 yards on 28-for-41 passing and four touchdowns. Texas Tech converted nine of their 16 third-down attempts.
“(Webb) stepped up big on third downs and ran fearless, making plays, and I’m just proud of (his) toughness,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “He continued to work and he never blinked an eye and when he had his moment, he made the most out of it.”
The Sun Devils also committed uncharacteristic penalties. They were flagged eight times, which is four more of their average for the year.
ASU appeared to be in trouble early. Texas Tech struck first with a 14-play drive that ended with freshman quarterback Davis Webb’s 1-yard touchdown pass to sophomore running back Rodney Hall, but missed the extra-point.
Following an ASU three-and-out, the Red Raiders scored again on Webb’s 18-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Jakeem Grant.
On ASU’s second drive, Kelly salvaged a fumble and ran it for 50 yards, setting up freshman kicker Zane Gonzalez’s 44-yard field goal.
ASU redshirt senior linebacker Steffon Martin recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, leading to Gonzalez’s 31-yard field goal to cut the lead to 13-6.
But ASU still had no answer for Texas Tech. Webb connected with junior wide receiver Bradley Marquez for a 23-yard touchdown and then with Grant again for a 21-yard score.
The Sun Devils showed a little fight to close the first half, though. ASU senior safety Alden Darby recovered a fumble off of a punt return that set up sophomore running back D.J. Foster’s 20-yard touchdown run. The Sun Devils forced the Red Raiders to punt with 5:19 left, but Gonzalez missed a 24-yard field goal at the end of the first half.
ASU went into halftime looking at a 27-13 deficit.
The Sun Devils started the second half with Kelly’s 44-yard touchdown run off a read-option play, but the Red Raiders quickly countered with freshman wide receiver Reginald Davis’s 90-yard kickoff return, which made the score 34-20.
Texas Tech continued to contain ASU and control the clock for the rest of the game. The Red Raiders went on a 14-play drive that ended with junior kicker Ryan Bustin’s 23-yard field goal, extending Texas Tech’s lead to 37-20.
Gonzalez hit a 33-yard field goal with 4:24 left in the third quarter, but the Sun Devils couldn’t put points on the board for the rest of the game.
Despite the rocky ending to the season, Graham still called the 2013 campaign a success.
“It’s a great time to be a Sun Devil,” he said. “A lot of things going on, great recruiting class we’re putting together, these guys set a legacy of ten wins and Pac-12 South champions, so anything less than 11 wins is a disappointment.”
Moving forward, Graham hinted at a certain flaw in ASU’s game that may require personnel changes.
“We have a lot of things to work on on special teams,” Graham said. “That will be dealt with immediately and that will be something I take a personal interest in. That has killed our team, we’ve lost three ballgames this year because of that and it’s a major contributor today.”
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