Apparently, the weather outside is frightful in El Paso. It was snowing this morning at the Sun Bowl, where Arizona State prepares to face Duke tomorrow. The Sun Bowl has been rude to Pac-12 teams of late. Prior to UCLA's win last year, USC and Stanford both lost games in which it was favored.
And we all know what happened to ASU in its bowl game last year.
Here are the keys to avoiding another upset:
1. Be more motivated than Duke: The Sun Devils looked decisively not motivated in the 2013 Holiday Bowl loss to Texas Tech. ASU was coming off a disappointing loss in the Pac-12 championship game, and Texas Tech was making its bowl debut for a new coach. Coaches making bowl debuts with new teams fare well because there's a motivation factor. Anyone remember Todd Graham's first bowl at ASU?
Fortunately for the Sun Devils, Duke doesn't have much motivation, either. The Blue Devils are a good team, make no mistake. A win would give the program its first bowl victory since 1961. Last year, Duke went toe-to-toe with Johnny Football in a 52-48 loss to Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. But much like ASU, Duke lost a pair of games late in the season that ruined hopes of a grander game.
The teams are mirages of each other at this point, so this game really should come down to who wants it more.
2. Feed Jaelen Strong: It's the final game in a Sun Devil uniform for the greatest receiver in school history. With all due respect to anyone with better career numbers, nobody has been as talented or productive in such a short amount of time. The Sun Devils should reward Jaelen, feed him the football and let him go out in style.
3. Regardless of the scoreboard, let Taylor Kelly finish the game: This game essentially means nothing, but Taylor Kelly means everything to this program. He's had another month to rest his ankle, and I believe he'll play the game of his life. But even if he doesn't, you can't pull him in this one. The man has meant everything to this program; a shining example of what Todd Graham wanted his program to look like. Let him finish his final game. He'll reward you.
4. Load up the box: Duke runs the ball very well behind All-American guard Laken Tomlinson, a future NFL star (or at least as big of a star as a guard can become) in my eyes. The Blue Devils use a varied attack, with only one back having over 100 carries, but four of them over 70. None of Duke's backs are particularly explosive, but they stay fresh and follow Tomlinson as he pulls to both sides, and the team averages a healthy 4.9 ypc. The focus will be on Salamo Fiso and D.J. Calhoun to shut this down.
5. A healthy Laiu Moeakiola gives the Sun Devils an edge: Moeakiola has emerged as a key component of this defense. Much like Chris Young the prior two seasons, Moeakiola doesn't necessarily wow you with any of his physical metrics, but he can play all over the field and has consistently made big plays when ASU needed it most. His 10.5 tackles for loss are third on the team, and when Moeakiola was removed from games with injuries this year, the defense felt it. If he's 100%, or as close to it as a player can be in December, the Sun Devils defense should be able to slow Duke enough to win the game.