The 2011-12 bowl season continues Thursday night with the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl between Arizona State and Boise State.
The Sun Devils will be playing their last game under Dennis Erickson, who will be replaced by former Pittsburgh boss Todd Graham. The Broncos, meanwhile, will say goodbye to prolific quarterback Kellen Moore, who will be playing his final collegiate game.
Let’s take a look at this contest a little more closely…
MAACO Las Vegas Bowl preview: Arizona State (6-6) vs. Boise State (11-1) at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
ICONDennis Erickson will coach his last game at Arizona State on Thursday night.
This was the season that Arizona State was finally going to live up to preseason expectations. Despite suffering a few key injuries on defense in the preseason, the Sun Devils returned a boatload of experience and were primed to take advantage of USC being ineligible to win the Pac-12 South. Erickson's squad sat at 6-2 entering its road game against UCLA on the final Saturday in October. But the Bruins pulled the upset, and the Sun Devils couldn't recover. Bad losses to Washington State and Arizona followed, and the regular season concluded with a home loss to Cal. The defense that played so well in the upset of USC just went flat during the losing skid, unable to force turnovers and get stops in the red zone.
Now, ASU will try to avoid losing a fifth consecutive game and finish the year with a losing record. Offensively, quarterback Brock Osweiler has put up big numbers and should have plenty of chances to make plays down the field against this Broncos secondary. He’s thrown for 3,769 yards and 24 touchdowns, and he has a deep receiving corps including Gerell Robinson, Aaron Plugrad, Jamal Miles and Mike Willie. But he's thrown 4 interceptions in his last two contests and has completed less than 60 percent of his passes. Can he get help from running back Cameron Marshall, who has a vast amount of talent but has also had some “off” games as well, having four games where he's averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry? If Marshall could loosen up the Boise defense, more plays could be available for Osweiler through the air.
Boise State, meanwhile, was arguably a missed field goal against TCU away from playing LSU for the BCS national championship in New Orleans, the second straight year it's been burned by a missed kick and the second straight campaign in which it finished regular season play 11-1. But Chris Petersen will have his team focused for this contest, which will be Moore's final game in a Broncos jersey. Despite not netting an invite to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, Moore had yet another dominant season, throwing for 3,507 yards with 41 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Tyler Shoemaker stepped up in the absence of Titus Young and Austin Pettis, recording 15 touchdown catches to lead the receiving corps. Fellow receiver Matt Miller and tight end Kyle Efaw also emerged as top options, and they should be able to take advantage of an ASU pass defense that ranks 107th nationally and really struggled down the stretch.
ICONCan Shea McClellin and the Broncos get to ASU quarterback Brock Osweiler?
Defensively, the Broncos took a slight step back in 2011. The secondary was young and inexperienced, and it was exposed in the loss to TCU when Casey Pachall lit up a depleted defensive backfield due to injury. The defensive line also didn't generate the consistent pass rush we've been used to seeing in recent years. Ends Shea McClellin and Tyrone Crawford were named to the MWC first team, but the defense has recorded just 14 sacks over the last 11 games since putting on a dominant effort in the opener against Georgia.
Keep an eye on: Vontaze Burfict. The Arizona State linebacker struggled in his junior year after beginning the season with four sacks in his first two games. After that, he reached the quarterback just one more time. If he shows up in Las Vegas, he has a chance to impress NFL scouts. Or has he already mentally “checked out?”
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave