SportsPac12: 2019 Sun Bowl Preview
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2019 Sun Bowl Preview

Devils take on Seminoles without Benjamin & Aiyuk

—Sun Bowl Preview—

FSU's Tamorrion Terry and ASU's Jaylen Daniels figure to play key roles in the Sun bowl. |  Tallahassee Democrat

By Nicholas Bartlett, SportsPac12


invisible words
Arizona State (7-5, 4-5) vs. Florida State (6-6, 4-4)
Tuesday, December 31, 2019
11:00 a.m. PT, CBS
Sun Bowl, El Paso, TX

Straight-Up Pick: Arizona State in a comfortable win
Against the Spread: Arizona State (-4.5)


he storyline for this game has been shaped more by who won't be playing than by who actually steps foot on the field come Tuesday. That starts with Florida State being led by an interim head coach, after the dismissal of Willie Taggart. Arizona State has made changes to its offensive staff as well, highlighted by the dismissal of former coordinator Rob Likens. Additionally, some of the best players from each team have decided to skip the bowl to prepare for the NFL draft. The shakeups have resulted in most bookie services recommending bettors avoid this contest altogether. 

But for the rest of us, the uncertainty could make for an interesting and entertaining game, with fresh faces providing surprising performances, and a handful of mistakes supplying some unexpected twists and turns. Buckle up for this one. It could be a wild ride.

What the Sun Devils Must Do to Win

Above all, Arizona State must compensate for the loss of running back Eno Benjamin and wideout Brandon Aiyuk. Their choice to sit out the bowl to prep for the draft leaves ASU with a lot of offense to replace. Benjamin rushed for 1,083 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, while Aiyuk pulled down 65 catches for 1,192 yards and eight scores.  In their place, A.J. Carter, who has carried the ball just 15 times for 38 yards, could become the primary running threat, while Frank Darby looks to pick up the slack at receiver. The absence of Benjamin hurts the most, with the Sun Devils going 0-5 over the last 10 games when rushing for fewer than 130 yards. Consequently, ASU must rely heavily on star quarterback Jayden Daniels to deliver the goods. 

ASU's Jayden Daniels pass vs. Arizona. | Christian Petersen/Getty Images

On defense, Arizona State's biggest challenge may be shoring up a secondary that ranks 114th in the nation, and has allowed 200 yards or more passing in all but four of its games. Despite that vulnerability, ASU's 3-3-5 defense ranks 42nd nationally in points allowed, at 23.1 per game, and 21st in rushing defense, allowing  just 116.8 yards per game on the ground. To keep Florida State from exploiting the Sun Devils through the air, the Devils must get productive games from Jermayne Lole, who leads the team with five sacks, as well as from Jalen Jones, who recorded three interceptions and a forced fumble this season.

What the Seminoles Must Do to Win

Like ASU, the Seminoles will be without their sensational running back, Cam Akers, who rushed for 1,144 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. In his place, Khalan Laborn, who ran for just 297 yards and four touchdowns, figures to get most of the carries. But the real key to FSU's offense this year has been, and continues to be, quarterback James Blackman. He's thrown for 2,095 yards and 16 touchdowns, and with the exception of Boise State and Wake Forest, Florida State has won every game in which he has played well. When he's off, well, that's where Akers' absence is sure to be felt. Blackman's favorite target, NFL prospect Tamorrion Terry has pulled in 51 balls for 1,023 yards and eight touchdowns, and likely must have a big game for FSU to win. 

FSU's Tamorrion Terry carries the ball vs Alabama St. | Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

On defense, Florida State's best chance of neutralizing the talents of Daniels may be to exploit ASU's porous offensive line, which ranks among the nation's worst in sacks allowed. Unfortunately, of the 29 sacks the Seminoles have recorded this year, 19 came over the course of three games. If Daniels has time to throw, he'll likely slice up FSU's secondary, which has fared even worse than Arizona State's. The Seminoles allowed 270 or more passing yards in eight games, and was unable to pull down an interception in six. The 436 total yards allowed per game by FSU's defense should provide amble opportunity for the ASU offense.

What Happens on the Field

Given the missing players and coaching changes on both sides of this matchup, speculation seems fruitless, if not futile. Best guess? It will come down to quarterback play in the absence of a pair of star running backs. Daniels seems better positioned to put his team on his shoulders than Blackman. Darby will have an exceptional game, and ASU's offensive line will hold its own against FSU's ineffective defensive front. Turnovers and mistakes will ultimately decide the game, with Herm Edwards' team proving the more disciplined of the two. ASU wins by two scores or more. 

NotesFSU leads the all-time series, winning the last matchup 52-44 in 1984. The Sun Devils have lost their last three bowl games and seven of its last nine, but the Pac 12 is 5-1 in the last six Sun Bowls against the ACC. ASU is 14-16-1 all-time in bowl games. FSU played in 36 straight bowls before last season, and lead the nation in postseason appearances over the past 40 years. The Sun Devils have held their opponent to 155 or fewer rushing yards in 11 of 12 games this season. The Seminoles are 32-for-37 in red zone opportunities this season, scoring 26 touchdowns and six field goals.  Senior ASU receiver Kyle Williams's streak of 40 consecutive games with a reception is the fourth longest streak in ASU history.

arizona stateKEY STATS AND INFOflorida state
Pac-12 SouthConferenceACC - Atlantic
N/RCFP Committee RankingN/R
25.2Points per Game29.1
23.1Points Allowed28.5
379.6Yards per Game403.2
253.3Passing Yards per Game269.4
126.3Rushing Yards per Game133.8
117.0Rushing Yards Allowed per Game152.5
270.1Passing Yards Allowed per Game283.5
387.1Yards Allowed per Game436.0
Jayden Daniels
2,748 yards (17 TDS, 2 INTS)
Passing Yardage and TD LeadersJames Blackman
1,286 yards (13 TDs, 5 INTs)
Eno Benjamin
1,083 yards, 10 TDs
Rushing LeadersCam Akers
1,144 yards, 14 TDs
Brandon Aiyuk
1,192 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving LeadersTamorrion Terry
1,023 yards, 8 TDs
Evan Fields
77 total tackles
Defensive LeadersHamsah Nasirildeen
101 total tackles

Nicholas Bartlett (@WordsByBartlett) covers Pac-12 football and basketball as a Senior Writer for Bartlett also co-hosts and co-produces "The Dane & Nick Show," a SportsPac12 Radio Podcast.

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