Ending its season on a high note, ASU held off a talented Duke team in an exciting Sun Bowl, winning 36-31. Arizona State took home its third Sun Bowl victory and closed out the collegiate careers of a few decorated Sun Devils. There were many notable moments and players that impressed in the bowl victory, but three Sun Devils stood out and earned game balls for their performances.
Richard, or "Baby Beast Mode," his Twitter name, ended his already-impressive true freshman season with an all-time performance for ASU. The 18-year-old touched the ball 12 times against Duke, totaling a mediocre 63 yards. But Richard was given the ball deep in the red zone often, and he took advantage with four total touchdowns on the afternoon. His four scores tie the most in ASU;s bowl history and Richard is the first ASU freshman to rush for a touchdown in a bowl game since Hakim Hill debuted in the 2002 Holiday Bowl. Richard came into the bowl with four total touchdowns, and his career day against the Blue Devils doubled his touchdown total for 2014. With Richard playing so well at running back, Arizona State often used D.J. Foster in the slot, and he collected 42 yards on his three receptions. With the emergence of Richard, ASU's running back stable is secured regardless of whether or not Foster opts to leave early for the NFL.
In his final game as a Sun Devil, the fifth-year senior turned in a vintage performance, showing us what a fully-healthy Taylor Kelly can do to opposing defenses. The duel-threat quarterback had struggled after returning from a leg injury to regain his running form, but the month off gave him the rest he needed and it was evident on Saturday. ASU chose to go for it on a 4th and 1 deep in Duke territory, and Kelly read the defense to perfection, pulling the ball and scampering 11 yards for a first down. Arizona State scored on the next play.
Kelly didn't do much else on the ground, but he didn't need to as his arm was working just fine. Kelly completed 24 of his 34 passes on the day, totaling 240 yards and a pair of scores. The biggest chunk yardage of the game for ASU came on Kelly's 49-yard bomb to Jaelen Strong. And most importantly, Kelly didn't throw an interception against Duke, ending his Sun Devil career tied with Rudy Carpenter as the second-winningest quarterback in ASU history.
Strong only spent two years in Tempe, but boy did he make the most of them. Strong's final game as a Sun Devil showed us why he's likely on his way to being a first round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, burning Duke defensive backs all day for seven receptions and 103 yards. Strong demonstrated his superb ball skills and also showed the big-play ability that NFL scouts crave on a 49-yard catch. Strong ended his ASU career with 157 receptions for 2287 yards and 17 touchdowns, leaving a legacy in Tempe even though his time there was short.