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Motel 6 Cactus Bowl: Five Keys to a Sun Devils win vs West Virginia

What are the five things the Sun Devils need to do in order to come away with a bowl game victory?

Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

For the Arizona State Sun Devils (6-6, 4-5 Pac 12) and West Virginia Mountaineers (7-5, 4-5 Big 12), it wasn't the 2015-16 season either team had probably pictured coming into the year.

However, the results have pitted two underperforming teams looking to finish the year off on a strong note when they go head-to-head, as two aggressive-style offenses have this game featuring the potential to be a shootout. With that said, there's still plenty more each team has to offer than just their offensive firepower (or potential of).

Below, we take a look at the five keys to a Sun Devils victory in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl tomorrow against the Moutaineers.

Contain Wendell Smallwood

This is arguably the least dynamic Mountaineers offense I can recall to date (mind you, I'm a millennial. Also, I don't mean to take on a dismissive tone here).

While this year's West Virginia team doesn't boast a Steve Slaton, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Pat White, Geno Smith, Charles Sims or Kevin White, it does possess a Wendell Smallwood.

The junior running back was impressive on the ground for the Mountaineers, amassing 1,447 rushing yards (2nd in the Big 12) to go with nine touchdowns. He was also a playmaker with the ball in his hands, averaging 6.4 yards per carry, which was good for fifth in the conference this season.

Arizona State comes in having allowed four 100-yard rushers this year, with only two of them topping the century mark in two of the team's losses. The Sun Devils will trot out the 21st-best rush defense in the country allowing only 124.4 yards per game, including the 26th-best rush defense nationally, accroding to Football Outsiders' S&P Ratings.

Slowing down Smallwood will be (and should be) a chief priority for the ASU defense, as it could force West Virginia to rely on what has been a relatively mediocre passing attack thus far.

Limit explosive plays

Under the direction of Dana Holgorsen, the Mountaineers have implemented a variation of the Air Raid offensive scheme, renowned for its pass-heavy philosophies and big-play production.

However, in 2015 the West Virginia offense saw a drop off in its explosive play ability.

After finishing with the 31st-highest explosive play percentage of any FBS team in 2014, the Mountaineers offense only managed to finish as the 69th-ranked explosive offense in 2015, per FEI.

Conversely, the Sun Devils defense ranked 107th in explosive plays conceded this season, based on the metric's findings.

What's also important to note here (as we pointed out in our complete game preview Thursday) is that since Todd Graham was named the Sun Devils head coach in 2012, he is 3-3 against teams that utilize the Air Raid, with all three of the victories coming against Washington State teams.

The Sun Devils come into the contest against West Virginia having dropped their two previous encounters this season against teams that employ the scheme, each on the road against Washington State and California. Giving up explosive plays was at the very root of ASU's demise in each game.

Although West Virginia's explosive plays are more balanced than Wazzu and Cal's as far as occurring by pass or run, it will be interesting to see how Graham's aggressive play-calling holds against a team that could make this game competitive based on its own play-calling.

It can be disputed this will be the least dynamic of the three offenses ASU has faced employing the Air Raid this season, but one has to figure there's a chance lacking top-tier playmakers may not matter given the Sun Devils' track record against teams that run this particular scheme.

Win the turnover battle

Despite losing ball-hawking safety Karl Joseph to a season-ending injury back in October, the Mountaineers still managed to rack up 23 interceptions this season, along with eight fumble recoveries.

In fact, West Virginia finished the regular season with a +11 turnover margin, while ASU finished with an even turnover margin (0).

Considering the two teams rival one another in points per game (ASU - 34.0, WVU - 33.3), manufacturing points and being efficient with offensive possessions will most likely play a key role in determining the winner in this one.

Finish (particularly, in the red zone)

The 2015 Sun Devils were the only team in FBS to make 20 red zone field goals. Those 20 came on 59 red zone opportunities, meaning that over a third of ASU's drives that entered their opponents' 20-yard line resulted in just three points.

If we do the math, that's potentially 80 points left off the scoreboard for ASU this season, not including red zone drives where they came away with no points at all.

If ASU's regular season finale wasn't a grand enough reminder, three-point trips are simply not going to do it against aggressive offensive teams. Against the Mountaineers, the Sun Devils will need to make sure they come away with touchdowns once they reach the red zone.

Furthermore, if they do so happen to jump out to an early lead (like they did against Cal), they need to display the killer instinct to put away the opposition, leaving them with no chance for a comeback.

Win at the Line of Scrimmage/Point of Attack, and play disciplined football off the edge

This key is one of my favorite "buzz phrases" to listen to color commentators discuss and breakdown during live action, because the battle in the trenches can be so crucial in how a game flows.

For ASU, the offensive line will need to set the tone in order to allow tailbacks Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage enjoy some success running the football, most notably on their off-tackle carries.

Even though West Virginia isn't necessarily a great pass rushing team, keeping Mike Bercovici upright and allowing him to get into a rhythm early on will be key for the offensive unit's success, especially if it enables the running game to find success, or vice versa.

Defensively, the Sun Devils will have to rely on their down linemen to establish the advantage at the line of scrimmage, allowing linebackers Salamo Fiso, Antonio Longino and Christian Sam the chance at not only stuffing the Mountaineers ball carriers in the backfield, but also containing quarterback Skyler Howard from becoming a major factor.

Howard is a mobile, athletic quarterback who can extend plays if given the chance to do so. Being disciplined off the edge in rushing the passer, in tandem with reaching the quarterback in a timely manner, should disrupt the timing of the West Virginia passing game, and give ASU the advantage defensively.