Motel 6 Cactus Bowl
West Virginia Mountaineers (7-5) vs. Arizona State Sun Devils (6-6)
January 2, 2016 at 10:15 pm ET on ESPN
Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona
In a battle of Big 12 against the PAC-12 The West Virginia Mountaineers will do battle with Arizona State for the first time since 1979. The Mountaineers would lose that game and now look to even up the series at one game a piece. Arizona State boasts a very efficient offense that can get it done in both aspects of running and passing. They are currently averaging 33.8 points per game with 289 passing yards a game and a very dynamic 185 rushing yards per game.
Like the Mountaineers the Sun Devils have two running backs that get it done on the ground. Running back Demario Richard leads the team in rushing with 1,050 rushing yards while his counterpart Kalen Ballage has produced 627 yards of his own. Where they differ from West Virginia is their ability to pass the ball. Arizona State Quarterback Mike Bercovici is one of the PAC-12 conferences best passers and has passed for 26 touchdowns to go along with his 3,442 passing yards this season. He will face a hampered West Virginia secondary too as they will be without All-American safety Karl Joseph and Big-12 first team cornerback Daryl Worley. Receivers D.J. Foster and Devin Lucien will look to make big plays.
The downfall of Arizona State and saving grace for West Virginia will be a poor Arizona State defense. The Sun Devils have given up about 33 points per game in 2015 and while they have a defense who has been somewhat good against the run, it is the pass defense that may sink them. Arizona state gives up well over 300 yards passing a game and will have to deal with a group of experienced Mountaineer slot receivers as well as the teams fastest receiver on the outside Shelton Gibson.
The Mountaineers also look to keep building on the spectacular season running back Wendell Smallwood is having. The junior back is well over the thousand yard mark in rushing and needs a great game to solidify his name on NFL draft boards. His quarterback Skyler Howard will have to bring everything he has in order to win this one. The Mountaineers have the chance to not only run the ball but pass as well if that opportunity can be taken advantage of.
Look for a shootout in this one as both teams boast explosive offenses. The turning point will be in key defensive stops. ASU will grind out a hard fought win. West Virginia's Daryl Worley is not playing and backup Ricky Rumph just doesn't measure up to the Sun Devil air strike that will come. Also Skyler Howard's struggles through the air may just hamper his chances at this true "coming out" game headed into next years season. That may be the difference maker.