2011 Maaco Bowl Las Vegas Game Preview
By coredevil,
December 21, 2011 11:44 AM

By Juan Roque for

In what has been one of the most turbulent six week periods ever for Arizona State football, the focus can finally be on something other than Dennis Erickson’s job, the lost Pac-12 Championship and who the new coach is going to be.  After a disappointing end to the 2011 season which began with such promise and possibility, the Sun Devils find themselves trekking 335 miles northwest to face the Boise State Broncos in the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas  XX.  For Arizona State, this is the consolation prize of a 6-6 season that ended with four straight losses and cost Dennis Erickson his job after five seasons.  For the Broncos, this is evidence that despite being a one loss top ten team, it still isn’t enough to earn a BCS at-large berth due to their membership in a non-Automatic Qualifier Conference.  There is no doubt that both of these teams did not plan on meeting in this particular game when the season began.  However, do not expect either team to simply lay down for the other one either.  In the end, this is still a football game and regardless of how the teams got to Las Vegas, the fact of the matter is that they are there and will square off in Sam Boyd Stadium in front of an ESPN national audience.  That alone should be motivation enough for each team to show up and be ready to play a great game.  Bowl games are about celebrating the season of the teams taking the field, and while there may not be much to celebrate on the surface, it’s college football post season play and will always cause the teams to elevate their performance.


For Arizona State they enter this game with many distractions and team issues.  The biggest being the loss of Dennis Erickson’s job after the team’s final game against Cal where they were beaten yet again to end the season losing four out of five games.  Once the end of Erickson’s tenure was announced, ASU went into their new search for a coach which lasted 17 grueling days and concluded with the hiring of new ASU Head Coach Todd Graham.  During that time, the team was still coached by Erickson, and had been in Tempe preparing for their matchup with Boise State.   Unfortunately, the drama would not end once the new coach was hired.  This past weekend, three players were excluded from participation in the Maaco Bowl: sophomore defensive end Junior Onyeali, junior receiver/running back Jamal Miles and RS freshman lineman Tyler Sulka.  Sophomore defensive end Junior Onyeali was suspended due to a verbal altercation with Dennis Erickson during a recent practice, Miles missed a Sunday practice session and Sulka was academically disqualified.  So on top of everything else, ASU is minus three players for the bowl game.


In regards to Boise State,  they are the polar opposite of ASU heading into the Maaco Bowl.  The Broncos are one of the most consistent and successful football programs in the country where an 11-1 record is considered a disappointing season.  Despite playing in the Western Athletic Conference, the Broncos crashed the BCS party twice and won both games.  In the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, BSU upset a heavily favored Oklahoma team in overtime 43-42.  The game was won on what would become a legendary “Statue of Liberty” play called by head coach Chris Peterson.  In 2010, the Broncos returned to the Fiesta Bowl and beat TCU 17-10.  The past two seasons due to having one loss in the regular season, the Broncos have been relegated to the Maaco Bowl.  But make no mistake, this is definitely a BCS caliber team.  Chris Peterson has done a phenomenal job as the Broncos head coach and boasts a mind boggling .923 winning percentage, is 72-6 in six seasons with the Broncos and is 3-2 in Bowl games.  Recently, Boise State made a move that will ensure they do not receive the proverbial BCS snub for having one loss by joining the Big East Conference.  That will open up an exciting time for Bronco football fans as they will no longer be considered a mid-major but a legitimate Football Bowl Subdivision institution.  The Broncos have made their mark on college football by playing a fearless brand of offense and a stifling stingy brand of defense.  They will be ready to play at a high level in the Maaco Bowl as they tend to play their best when the entire country is watching, just ask the Sooners and the Virginia Tech Hokies.


Meet the Bronco Offense


High powered, efficient, impressive and lethal are just some of the adjectives that can describe the Broncos on offense.  In 2011, they have been nothing short of amazing scoring an average of  43.2 points per game.  They run the ball effectively with 172.8 yards per game rushing and also air it out with authority averaging 310.3 yards per game passing.  On third down, they are strong converting 85 of 165 attempts for a 52% conversion rate.  Three and outs are not the norm for BSU as they are not afraid to roll the dice on fourth down where they were 14 of 23 for a 61% success rate.  On the offensive line, they were dominant and protected well only giving up 8 sacks total during the regular season.  Red Zone production was excellent as they had an 82% score rate with 72% of those being touchdowns.  The most amazing stats this offense boasts are they outscored opponents 519 to 219 during the regular season and turned the ball over 14 times total.


The player who makes this offense go is senior All-American quarterback Kellen Moore.  Moore holds the NCAA record for victories with a mind boggling 49-3 record as a starter.  During the season, he was mentioned as a possible Heisman Candidate after being a finalist in 2010, and will end his career as the Broncos best ever signal caller to date.  In 2011, Moore dominated defenses by completing 300 of 405 passes for 3,507 yards, 41 touchdowns and seven interceptions.  His passer rating of 176.8 and his completion percentage of 74.1% are almost unheard of at the college level, until now.


Moore will have two great weapons in the passing game in senior receiver Tyler Shoemaker and freshman Matt Miller.  Shoemaker is Moore’s favorite target with 59 catches for 959 yards, 15 touchdowns and a whopping 16.3 per catch average.  Miller emerged in his first year in Boise with 58 catches for 647 yards, eight touchdowns and an 11.2 yard per catch average.  For his efforts Miller was named Freshman All-American.


Senior running back Doug Martin is a bruiser with the shiftiness to make people miss and the speed to break huge runs every time he carries the football.  Martin was stellar in 2011 and although he is not a big guy at 5’9″ and 208 pounds he rushed for 1,216 yards on 232 attempts with a 4.9 yard per carry average.  Martin also got to end zone at least once a game and scored 15 touchdowns total.  He is the workhorse for this offense as the Broncos like to use the run game to set up their big play passing attack.


On the offensive line, the Broncos are big and athletic with three senior starters.  The premier member of this group is senior left tackle Nate Porter.  The 6’6” 295 pound Consensus All-American player is the anchor to the line and plays with ferocity to go with his athleticism.  He is the best Boise State tackle since Ryan Clady who is a starter for the Denver Broncos.  Porter will no doubt be a high draft pick and may even sneak into the early first round depending on how he plays in the All Star games.


How ASU Matches Up


With the absence of Vonaze Burfict and Junior Onyeali in the starting lineups, the defense is not going to be affected one way or the other.  This is not necessarily a good thing.  Onyeali will not be playing due to suspension and Burfict may not start or even play after his behavior during ASU’s last game against Cal.  Davon Coleman will start for Onyeali and Oliver Aaron will start for Burfict, and they will have the unenviable task of trying to stop the Broncos potent run and pass attack.  For ASU to have any chance at this team they need to play with discipline, they need to force punts by the Broncos and they must create turnovers for their offense.  The problem here is they haven’t been disciplined lately nor been able to do any of those things since the Colorado game earlier in the season.  One aspect that may elevate the team is pride.  The last time ESPN televised an ASU game Cal embarrassed them at home.  This has to be eating away at them as they prepare for yet another nationally televised ESPN game.  Hopefully the Sun Devils will rise to the occasion and play the kind of defense that got them to 6-2 earlier this season.  If they show up and play emotionless, flat and sloppy like they did during their four game losing streak, you can count on a rout by the Broncos.  However, if they show up and play as a team, limit their penalties and find ways to pressure Moore into making bad decisions it will help the secondary stop the Bronco receivers and will give the Sun Devils a chance at an upset.


Key Matchup: Kellen Moore vs. ASU Secondary


Meet the Bronco Defense


While their offense receives most of the publicity and acclaim, make no mistake the Broncos also play great on defense.  Boasting one of the most dominating units in college football, Boise State has shut down opponents frequently making them tough to beat.  Ranked number sixteen in the FBS, Boise State has stifled their opposition allowing 18.2 points per game, 120 yards rushing per game and 196 yards passing per game.  They are opportunistic and relentless in recording 20 quarterback sacks, intercepting 14 passes and recovering ten fumbles.  Overall, the Broncos allowed only 30 touchdowns all season for a 2.5 per game average.


The emotional leader of the Boise State defense is senior Mike Linebacker Byron Hout.  Hout plays with a relentless fire and never takes plays off.  On the season he has 65 tackles, four for loss, four pass breakups, four passes defended, two forced fumbles and has blocked a kick.  He will not allow himself to stay blocked and finds a way to get to the ball carrier.  While he is not the most athletic guy on the field, he will play above his talent level and tends to play his best in big games.


On the defensive line the Broncos feature two of the best edge players in the FBS.  Senior defensive end Shae McClellin is a monster who, like Hout, plays above his talent level.  In 2011, McClellin has 46 tackles, 9.5 for loss, 6 sacks, two interceptions, two passes defended, a forced fumble and a blocked kick.  Opposite McClellin is a talented and athletic player in Tyrone Crawford.  Crawford is a pure pass rush specialist with the bulk to hold his own in the run game.  Crawford has 42 tackles, 13.5 for loss, 6.5 sacks, three forced fumbles with two recovered in 2011.  These two are the strength of their defense and draw a lot of attention by offensive linemen and backs which free up others to make plays.


In the secondary, Boise State has a player that is a safety but looks more like a linebacker in senior safety Cedric Febis.  Febis has “pro” written all over him due to the fact that he plays with intelligence and aggression at the same time.  When he gets an opportunity to make a play he delivers.  During the regular season, he made 46 tackles, three for loss, intercepted one pass, broke up another and defended two others.  Joining him is one of the better cornerbacks in the west in senior George Iloka.  Iloka is big at 6’3” 213 pounds and has great speed that allows him to keep pace with bigger receivers.  On the season Iloka has made 57 tackles and broken up a pass, defended another and forced a fumble.  Don’t allow the zero interceptions to fool you, as quarterbacks rarely throw his direction.


How ASU Matches Up


Noel Mazzone will be calling his last game for ASU, and given his hand in the emergence and improvement of ASU quarterback Brock Osweiler during the season, expect to see a wide open game plan with some new wrinkles and plays designed to attack the Bronco defense.  Mazzone has been hired as the new UCLA offensive coordinator so one could assume he wants a great showing to impress his new boss Jim Mora Jr. who most certainly will be watching.  But Brock cannot do it all alone.  It’s vital that the offensive line show up to play 60 minutes against that dominant defense of Boise State.  Tackle play will be the difference between ASU moving the football or Brock Osweiler running for his life.  The Sun Devils were better in 2011, but still were subject to bone headed mistakes up front.  This is one of those games where they cannot allow that to happen and will need to step up to the challenge.  The Broncos are vulnerable in the middle so ASU will depend on center Garth Gerhart along with guards Andrew Sampson and Adam Tello to open holes for Cameron Marshall.  Not having Jamal Miles will hurt but that means Kyle Middlebrooks will need to step in and make it happen when his number is called.  Receivers will need to play one of their best games if they are to get open and alleviate some of the pressure off of Osweiler.  Boise State will bring the heat and how ASU responds will be crucial if they are to have a chance to compete.


Key Matchup: Dan Knapp & Evan Finkenberg vs. Shae McClellin and Tyrone Crawford




The Maaco Bowl Las Vegas is not where ASU fans envisioned the team would be at this stage of the season.  After the big meltdown at the end of the year and the subsequent firing of Dennis Erickson, fans are ready to move forward and forget the abysmal 2011 season.  This final test at the Maaco Bowl is the last chapter in what has been a less than stellar tenure for one of the most successful coaches in the history of college football.  The big question that looms on Thursday night is how ASU going to perform on the field.  Will they rally around their fallen coach and play with fire and passion?  Will they show their new incoming coach that they are capable of performing at a high level against top caliber competition?  ASU fans hope that the answer to both of these questions is “yes.”  Boise State is the real deal and anything less than a 100% honest effort will result in yet another embarrassing loss to a program already fighting their way back to respectability.  A win in the Maaco Bowl would provide some much needed momentum moving forward into the 2012 season with the new coaching staff, returning players, recruits and the fans of Sun Devil Nation.

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