ASU vs. Texas Tech: Holiday Bowl players to watch

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When the Sun Devils and Red Raiders square off at Qualcomm Stadium on Monday Night, keep your eyes peeled for these players.

Both Arizona State and Texas Tech have earned the right to play in the Holiday Bowl but each team took a completely different path to get there. The Red Raiders fell from grace with five straight losses to end the season while the Sun Devils fell just short of a Rose Bowl berth while playing one of the toughest schedules in the nation. One thing remains the same for both teams. The players about to be mentioned need to show up in order for either team to have success.

Arizona State

Robert Nelson, corner

Death, taxes, and Texas Tech passing the football a copious amount are the three things you can count on in this life. The Red Raiders finished second in passing in the country averaging 392 yards per game through the air. Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsburry was the offensive coordinator at Houston in 2011 which led the nation in passing offense that year with Case Keenum at the helm. He then moved to the same position at Texas A&M last season where he coached the high-flying Aggie offense and Johnny Manziel to a Heisman Trophy. Stopping Texas Tech in the passing game begins and ends with the cornerbacks on the opposing team. Osahon Irabor can only defend so much without help. If the Red Raiders throw it deep, the Sun Devils will likely get burned at least once just due to the potency of the offense. It will be up to Nelson to help his fellow defensive backs over the top and potentially pick off some under thrown balls.

Davon Coleman, defensive end

Will Sutton is not the most reliable option this season with nearly every team planning its offensive line blocking schemes around double teaming him. Besides good coverage, the other way to stop the passing game is by hurrying the quarterback into poor throws. Coleman is tied for the team lead in sacks with 8.5 and is second in tackles for loss with 15. Throws and passing routes need time to develop and if Coleman can find his way into the backfield quickly, then ASU might be able to stunt the Red Raiders' passing attack.

Jaelen Strong, wide receiver

The way both of these offenses function, this game should be a high-scoring shootout. If this does in fact end up being the case and the Sun Devils find themselves needing to score quickly and often, there isn't a much better option than Strong. The Red Raiders' No. 1 defensive back is J.J. Gaines who is 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds. This gives Strong a full eight inches and roughly 30 to 40 pounds on his matchup. If Strong can exploit this and run crisp routes mixed in with solid read option by Taylor Kelly to keep the safeties on their toes, the man from Price Junior College in Los Angeles could have himself a big day.

Texas Tech

Jace Amaro, tight end

Sun Devil fans should think of Amaro as a pesky little mixture of Chris Coyle and Mike Evans of Texas A&M. He was the favorite target of Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield all season long averaging 103.3 receiving yards per game and 12.7 yards per reception. He can line up at tight end and in the slot and isn't a bad pass blocker when he needs to be. He's usually open on the crossing route and sneaks out of protection late to catch a pass as well.

Will Smith, linebacker

The Red Raiders' run defense is ranked 107th in the country giving up an average of 121.3 yards per game, but it could be a lot worse if it weren't for Smith. He is the heart of the Texas Tech defense registering 106 tackles, five sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss on the season. If the Red Raiders need a stop on defense, it's likely going to come down to Smith making the right adjustments at the line of scrimmage and reading the read option correctly.

Davis Webb, quarterback

Losing Baker Mayfield is not that big of a problem for Texas Tech thanks to Webb. He and Mayfield split time almost exactly down the middle this season. The freshman threw 16 touchdowns with nine interceptions in nine games played and we expect him to start the Holiday Bowl. He's tall but unlike Mayfield, he doesn't care to tuck the ball and run and would rather stay in the pocket. He threw for 2,315 yards completing 61.9 percent of his passes on the season. Compare that to Taylor Kelly who had 3,510 yards passing and a 62.9 completion percentage and he played in five more games than Webb. Kelly did face a much tougher schedule. In an offense that relies so heavily on the pass, the Red Raiders will lean on Webb to accomplish what is sure to be a Herculean task for just a freshman.

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