The Holiday Bowl often gets labeled as the location of dying dreams for Pac-12 teams. Texas Tech carried on that trend by dismantling Arizona State 37-23.
From the opening snap, the Red Raiders appeared to want it more. The Sun Devils were disinterested at times, jogging to ball carriers and committing rare mental mistakes.
Red Raider quarterback Davis Webb drove Texas Tech down the field for four consecutive touchdowns to begin the game. The offensive explosion turned into a 27-13 advantage at halftime. The Arizona State defense simply had no answers.
By the time intermission came around, Webb already notched 301 yards and four touchdowns, which tied a Holliday bowl record. Webb ended up tossing the pigskin for 403 yards. The rapid tempo Texas Tech featured made Arizona State look slow.
All-American Jace Amaro caused problems all night. The San Diego crowd is accustomed to elite tight end play from Antonio Gates and Amaro followed suit perfectly, posting eight catches for 112 yards and a touchdown. Amaro rose to the occasion when Webb needed him most, consistently beating linebackers over the middle while showcasing precise route running and heads up body positioning. Amaro was the key reason for the Red Raiders going 9-for-16 on pivotal third downs.
Taylor Kelly struggled through the air, only posting 14 yards in the first half. The offensive line wasn't able to give Kelly enough time, which led him to make poor decisions. Excluding a Kelly fluky 51-yard fumble recovery and an inspired performance fromD.J. Foster -- the offense lacked its normal high powered punch.
The rushing gains via Foster and Kelly were the sole bright spots from the No. 9 ranked scoring offense in college football. Foster ran tough and seemed to be fully healthy after getting banged up in the Pac-12 championship, logging 132 yards. Kelly surpassed the 100-yard plateau on the ground for the first time in his career, ending up with 135 rushing yards. Foster and Kelly are the first pair of Arizona State players to gain 100-plus yards in the same game since 2001.
The glimmer of optimism for Sun Devil nation occurred in the beginning of the second half. Kelly directed an efficient 6-play 78-yard touchdown drive. The score was capped off by Kelly eluding defenders for a 44-yard trip to pay dirt, pulling the deficit to only 27-20.
The positive momentum for the maroon and gold didn't last long. Texas Tech regained control on Reginald Davis's 90-yard kick off return to the house, pushing its advantage back to double digits at 34-20. The Arizona State special teams units have now surrendered touchdown returns in three straight postseason outings.
Ryan Bustin extended the lead to 17 (three possession differential) by connecting on a 23-yard field goal later on.
Another issue for Arizona State was surprisingly discipline. The Sun Devils received seven yellow flags, creating numerous adverse situations. The sole other game the Sun Devils drew 6-plus penalties in was against Stanford on Sept. 21.
In the opening minutes of the final frame, Kelly somehow dodged the heavy Texas Tech pass rush to pick up a crucial fourth down. Kelly followed it up with a costly low incomplete pass to Kevin Ozier, who would've scored easily. Zane Gonzalez trotted on and hit his third field goal, making it 37-23 in favor of Texas Tech. The field goal pushed Gonzalez to 25 on the season, tying him for the NCAA freshman record.
The Sun Devils earned their biggest stop at 11:50 remaining in the game, granting themselves with one final preyer. Jaelen Strong caught a deep bomb on the next drive but it was retracted due to a controversial offensive pass interference call. Richard Smith proceeded to burn the defense over the top and somehow dropped a wide open chance in the end zone.
The call against Strong and the drop by Smith symbolized the Holiday Bowl problems for Arizona State. The Sun Devils' 2013 season may now be perceived much differently after the disappointing effort.