InsideTheACC: Previewing The Sun Bowl

The Blue Devils (9-3) will tangle with the Sun Devils (9-3), as they look to improve on ACC play in the Sun Bowl. We have the details here.

Duke Offense

  • Scoring offense: 32.5 PPG (45th nationally)
  • Passing offense: 214.9 YPG (80th nationally)
  • Rushing offense: 183.2 YPG (47th nationally)
  • Total offense: 398.2 YPG (69th nationally)

Senior quarterback Anthony Boone added another efficient season to his resume of consistent play at Duke. Boone isn’t flashy, doesn’t grab the headlines, and won’t be mentioned in the same breath as the Heisman Trophy, but he has guided the Blue Devils back to prominence. Boone threw for 2,507 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2014, and only had seven interceptions. Boone also showed his worth as a dual threat option, rushing for 346 yards and five touchdowns. Fellow quarterback Thomas Sirk proved to be a secret weapon for head coach David Cutcliffe as well. The sophomore had 232 ground yards and eight rushing touchdowns.

The explosive and fleet-of-foot Shaun Wilson was the top option at running back for the Blue Devils. The freshman enjoyed a solid first season in Durham, leading the team in rushing yards with 590 on 74 attempts, with five touchdowns. His versatility as a pass catching back was also on display, as he put up 179 receiving yards and a touchdown. Junior Shaquille Powell lead the team in rushing attempts with 105, good for 501 yards and a pair of scores.

Senior Jamison Crowder was easily the top receiving threat for Boone and the Blue Devils in 2014. Crowder lead the team in receptions (78), yards (942) and was tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns with six. He is an excellent route runner, often beating his cover to the ball, and is dangerous after the catch. Tied for the team lead in touchdown receptions was fellow senior Issac Blakeney, who also had 521 yards on 43 receptions.

Duke Defense and Special Teams

  • Scoring Defense: 20.6 PPG (21st nationally)
  • Passing Defense: 204 YPG (35th nationally)
  • Rushing Defense: 196.3 YPG (96th nationally)
  • Total Defense: 400.3 YPG (70th nationally)

The Duke defense was a solid unit this season behind their leader, senior linebacker David Helton. Helton’s 125 tackles in 2014 lead the Blue Devils and all ACC linebackers in the category, and he finished as a runner up for the Lott IMPACT trophy. The hard hitting linebacker also finished the season with 1.5 sacks. Leading the team in sacks however, was junior defensive back Jeremy Cash with 5.5. Cash emerged as the leader of the Duke secondary this season, also chipping in 103 tackles and two interceptions.

The Blue Devils secondary also saw marked improvement from sophomore DeVon Edwards. Edwards was second in interceptions (119) and sacks (3.5), while also recording an interception. The secondary unit featuring Cash and Edwards, along with Byron Fields and Breon Borders wreaks havoc on opposing quarterbacks, and is the difference maker on the Duke defense.

Edwards also was important on the Duke special teams, returning 24 kickoffs for 610 yards and a touchdown. Receiver Jamison Crowder also had a special teams touchdown, on a punt return. Crowder returned 21 punts, for an average of 10.10 yards. Junior kicker Ross Martin was solid for the Blue Devils, converting every extra point attempt, and missing only two field goals. Will Monday was called upon 56 times to punt, and did a solid job, finishing with a 43.4 average.

Arizona State Offense

  • Scoring offense: 37 PPG (19th nationally)
  • Passing offense: 276.3 YPG (30th nationally)
  • Rushing offense: 170.1 YPG (58th nationally)
  • Total offense: 446.5 YPG (34th nationally)

Arizona State features one of the highest scoring offenses in the Pac-12, finishing third in points per game, only behind Oregon and California. Senior Taylor Kelly will get the start for the Sun Devils, after splitting time with junior Mike Bercovici in 2014. Kelly had a poor completion rate of 57.8, but still threw for 1,874 yards and 20 touchdowns, while only being intercepted five times. The stat line on Bercovici is 1,445 yards with 12 touchdowns and four picks. Junior Jaelen Strong was both quarterbacks favorite target, finishing over the 1,000 yard receiving mark (1,062), on 75 receptions, with a team high 10 interceptions. As well as Strong played it felt like he actually had more to offer, and could have a break out game any week. Sophomore Cameron Smith improved vastly in 2014, finishing with six touchdowns and 596 receiving yards on 41 catches. 6’3″, 230 tight end Kody Kohl is also a player to watch, as he could be a short yardage threat for Kelly.

Junior running back D.J. Foster was the most important player on the Sun Devils offense. Foster is one of the nations best dual-threat running backs, finishing with 1,002 rushing yards and 646 receiving yards. He also finished with 12 total touchdowns, nine rushing and three receiving. Demario Richard finished his first season at Arizona State with 437 yards, and the quarterback Kelly finished with 232 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

Arizona State Defense and Special Teams

  • Scoring Defense: 27.7 PPG (77th nationally)
  • Passing Defense: 261.8 YPG (106th nationally)
  • Rushing Defense: 156.8 YPG (53rd nationally)
  • Total Defense: 418.5 YPG (87th nationally)

A pair of defensive backs, Damarious Randall and Jordan Simone finished as the top two Sun Devils players in tackles. The senior Randall finished with 101, while the junior Simone checked in at 90. Randall and Simone also finished one and two on the team in interceptions, with three and two a piece. Unfortunately for Arizona State, after the exploits of their top two defensive backs there is a big drop off on the secondary, explaining the team’s dismal finish in pass defense.

Up front senior lineman Marcus Hardison was the linchpin of the front seven. Hardison got to the opposing quarterback often, finishing with a team high 10 sacks. He also added 40 tackles and finished with 3.5 per game. Linebackers Antonio Longino and Salamo Fiso proved to be a dangerous duo for opposing running backs, helping to team to a respectable 53rd rank against the run. The junior Longino finished with 77 tackles, and Fiso, a sophomore, recorded 71 tackles and 3.5 sacks.

Senior Kyle Middlebrooks only had an opportunity to return 14 kickoffs, but did finish with a 23 yard average. Middlebrooks struggled to a 6.1 yard average on punt returns, however. Sophomore Zane Gonzalez had an up-and-down season in the kicking department. He was called upon for 24 field goal attempts, and converted 19 of them, while also missing a pair of extra points. Sophomore Matt Haack was used frequently on punting duty, and finished with a 43.3 yard average on 52 punts.

Outlook and Prediction

This should be a close contest between two talented 9-3 schools. A Duke upset isn’t out of the question, and their defense could cause issues for the Sun Devils offense. However, having a versatile player like D.J. Foster in their backfield should push Arizona State to the narrowest of victories.

Arizona State 34 Duke 33

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