Lost in the despair, then bewilderment, then begrudging acceptance that finally gave way to cautious a optimism of Arizona State coaching search is the fact that the Sun Devils will be playing in their first bowl game in four seasons this Thursday.
The Devils will tangle with No. 7 Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl in one of the, at least on paper, biggest bowl mismatches. The Broncos are currently a 13.5-point favorite over ASU, which is (as of December 19th) tied for the highest spread of any bowl game with Oklahoma's margin over Iowa in the Insight Bowl.
While many are dismissing the game off-hand as yet another superfluous bowl game blowout-in-waiting, there remain many reasons why Thursday night will hold intrigue.
Here are seven things for Sun Devil Nation to key in on during the game
1) Marshall's Run at the Record
Junior Cameron Marshall is in the midst of one of the greatest seasons of any Sun Devil running back in school history. With 1,038 yards thus far, he became the first back to top 1,000 yards in a season since Ryan Torain in 2006. But more importantly, he has 18 rushing touchdowns on the year, which is tied with Terry Battle (1996) and Woody Green (1972) for the most in ASU history. Marshall has six multi-touchdown games this season, so with just one more against the Broncos, he'll hold the prestigious record all to himself.
2) And Brock Too...
Marshall is not the only Sun Devil with his eyes on a major singe-season record.
Junior quarterback Brock Osweiler already has set the records for completions (296) and is a near-lock for the marks in attempts (needing only 15 to break Andrew Walter's 483) and completion percentage (currently at 63.1%, with Rudy Carpenter's record at 61.8%).
But with 237 yards on Thursday, he will break Walter's season record of 3,877 set in 2004. That should be a cinch, as Osweiler has had only one of his last 14 appearances register less than that total (223 against USC).
3) Discipline in Sin City
One of the main reasons head coach Dennis Erickson was fired was his team's perpetual lack of discipline that manifested itself in costly errors.
With the team mired in a season ruining four-game losing streak, their coach already fired and their role as a heavy underdog, it will be interesting to see if the Sun Devils are able to rise up to the challenge against one of the nation's elite teams.
Reportedly, the players will not have a curfew during their first few nights in Las Vegas, which should be interesting, to say the least.
4) Pass Defense Under Attack
Boise State has one of the elite quarterbacks in the nation in Kellen Moore, whose 3,507 yards and 41 touchdowns have led the nation's 10th ranked passing offense. He has 10 games of three or more touchdown passes.
Trying to stop this potent attack will be an ASU pass defense that was one of the primary causes of ASU's collapse.
Whether it was their third-and-29 conversion allowed to UCLA, the 494 yards and four touchdowns surrendered to Washington State third-string quarterback Connor Halliday, 393 yards and three scores to Arizona's two quarterbacks or even the backbreaking 74-yard touchdown pass to Cal, the pass defense has been atrocious. Not surprisingly, ASU ranks 107th in stopping the pass.
This could get ugly.
5) Tomorrow's Receivers
The Las Vegas Bowl will be the final game for ASU's top three wide receivers.
Gerell Robinson, whose 1,156 yards is the fourth highest season total in school history, has been a breakout star, and Aaron Pflugrad and Mike Willie have each had their moments, but who will Osweiler be throwing to next season?
Jamal Miles is second on the team with 60 receptions, but most have come on swing passes, as evidenced by his paltry 6.0 yards-per-catch average (424th in the nation). However, he has the hands and speed to be an effective slot receiver in spread offense next season, and has shown improved intermediate route running.
One guy to focus on is junior Rashad Ross. The converted defensive back ended the season on a great note, catch five passes--including two that went over 35 yards--for 108 yards an a touchdown in the loss to Cal. He has great deep speed and is developing a rapport with Osweiler.
Sophomore Kevin Ozier may be best known for his reported pre-season fight with Vontaze Burfict, but he has shown flashes of ability with 11 receptions for 169 yards and a score. Junior A.J. Pickens has two touchdowns this season but has played sparingly of late.
6) Momentum for Garoutte
This has been a markedly inconsistent debut year for kicker Alex Garoutte. He connected on his first two field goals--including a 49-yarder--but then missed two of his next three, including a costly miss in Illinois. Garoutte rebounded to hit his next six, but then had a nightmare at UCLA, missing all three attempts in ASU's one-point loss and a devastating 21-yard miss in the loss to Washington State.
He's made his last three field goals, so it will be interesting to see if he can continue some positive momentum and build some confidence in this game to hopefully carry over to next season.
7) Can Jamal Complete the Set?
[This one comes with a major caveat. Reports have indicated that Miles ran afoul of team rules and his status for the bowl game is now very much in doubt. There is no word yet as of this writing on a final decision.]
Another dynamic junior also can accomplish a very impressive feat on Thursday.
Jamal Miles is one of the most versatile weapons in the nation. He has scored touchdowns on receptions(six), kick returns (two), a punt return and he's even thrown a touchdown pass. The only absence in his touchdown resume is a rushing score.
Miles is the team's second leading rusher with 237 yards, although most of those have come on backwards swing passes rather than true running plays. However, if he can manage to find the end zone via the run, he'd complete a very rare feat, last achieved by Clemson's C.J. Spiller in 2009.
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