Five Things We Learned In ASU’s Sun Bowl Thriller

EL PASO–Arizona State started fast then held on in the closing seconds to defeat Duke 36-31 in the 81st annual Hyundai Sun Bowl on a chilly, overcast day in west Texas. 47,809 in attendance saw a well-played game featuring two of the better offenses in the country.

Here are five things we learned in the win.

1. A Perfect 10…head coach Todd Graham has been preaching the importance of back-to-back double-digit win seasons. The victory improves the Sun Devils to 10-3, Duke falls to 9-4 in the loss. It also marked a milestone for Graham who won his 28th game at ASU which set a new record for most by a head coach in their first three seasons. The Devils registered back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time since 1973. “We’ve been able to accomplish an awful lot,” Graham proudly proclaimed after the win. “We’ve established a great foundation.” In nine career years as head coach, Graham has reached double-digit wins in five of those.

2. Taylor Made…it was only fitting for senior quarterback Taylor Kelly to end his Sun Devil career with a victory. Despite being sacked three times he finished 24-34 for 240 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner to freshman Demario Richard with under five minutes to play. Graham, who at times caught heat for his “loyalty” to TK during the season, joked he may one day be ASU’s offense coordinator when Mike Norvell gets a head coaching position in the near future. Kelly confirmed he would like to go into coaching after making a run at the NFL this summer. “He’s a giver in every way you can possibly be,” Graham explained. “Our players respect him so much…he’s the real deal.”

3. All Grown Up…much was made of Richard when he arrived last summer as a 17-year old freshman. Much more is now being made of the player he is and will be over the next three years. The Palmdale, California native showed a little bit of everything against the Blue Devils running for two scores (nine, one-yard) in the first half, then catching two touchdowns in the second. Look for his role to expand ever more in 2015 as he gets stronger with a full off-season of conditioning.

4. Strong Finale…just days after announcing he was forgoing his senior year Jaelen Strong notched another 100-yard receiving game (103) on seven receptions. The 6’3, 215-pounder showed his versatility breaking open deep multiple times, while also precision on sideline routes which frequently led to drive-extending first downs. Next for Strong is begin training for this spring’s draft.

5. These Stats Don’t Lie…in a game which matched Graham’s defense against David Cutcliffe’s offense the final score was a true indication of how closely the teams played. Duke rushed for 165 yards, ASU 152. The Blue Devils finished with 400 total yards, the Sun Devils 392. Each team came up with big, momentum-changing plays on special teams. The game was also well-played with the teams combining for just six penalties. The teams scored on nine of 10 trips inside the opponent’s red zone. The only stop came in the closing seconds when Kweishi Brown thwarted Duke’s potential go-ahead score with an interception in the end zone to seal the win.

A Valley native, Eric has had a passion for the Arizona sports scene since an early age. He has covered some of the biggest events including Super Bowls, national championships and the NBA and MLB playoffs in his near 20 years in local media.