Cactus Bowl - Phoenix, AZ
West Virginia vs. Arizona State
Saturday, January 2, 7:15 pm PT - ESPN
CRIS Opener: Arizona State -1 O/U 66.5
CRIS Current: West Virginia -1.5 O/U 64
Recommendation: Arizona State
West Virginia is not exempt from the list of teams having to deal with starting personnel losses as All-Big XII first-team junior CB Daryl Worley and freshman WR Jovon Durante are out of this contest due to academics. Each has played in all 12 games this season and their absence figures to be felt. Worley (6 INTs, 12 pass break ups) is the Mountaineers best cover man which will test the coverage depth of their secondary. ASU quarterback Mike Bercovici (26 TD, 9 INT) has spread the ball around to a six player arsenal this season including running backs who have all caught between 24-54 passes. ASU can attack on all levels from horizontal to deep vertical which will make this difficult for West Virginia’s pass defense. Pressure from their defensive line against the Arizona State front that allowed 39 sacks this year will be crucial for WVA. The Sun Devils are extremely balanced with their ground game averaging 185.3 rypg and their propensity to use bubble screens and backs out of the backfield are designed to slow pass rushes down. This sets up as a tough matchup for the Mountaineers defense.
While the loss of Worley hurts the West Virginia defense, the loss of Durante’s 24 receptions and five touchdowns disarm the offense somewhat too. Head coach Dana Holgorsen’s pass catching unit was not nearly as productive as past editions and a dismal Arziona State pass defense (allow 321.7 pypg) can now put more focus on WVU’s most explosive threat Shelton Gibson (22.5 yds per catch). The inefficiency of first year starting QB junior Skyler Howard is as much to blame for the team’s switch to a run first mentality. That philosophy does play into the strength of Arizona State’s defense and their ultra-aggressive blitzing style could be problematic for Howard as well. West Virginia did not have a 300 yard passing day in Big XII play which emphasizes how important success in the run game is to their offense. The offensive line must open holes for stud RB’s Wendell Smallwood and Rushel Shell or this could be a long night for West Virginia.
There has been some question as to how motivated Arizona State will be for this game. Off of an underachieving 6-6 season where the reward is a bus ride to Phoenix, that concern is valid. Not sure however if this is any more rewarding to West Virginia but each coach wants this game to result in a positive springboard toward the 2016 Spring practice sessions. If this game comes down to turnovers, West Virginia is by far the more opportunistic team forcing 31 this season as opposed to ASU’s 19. West Virginia has also been a bit better in special teams returns and coverage this year. Power Ratings make this a very competitive game showing Arizona State -1.5 with a slight home field edge built in. Bettors thus far see West Virginia as the right side grabbing the +1 opener and now making WVA the -1 favorite. I’ll stick to the fundamentals and the key personnel losses here with a play on Arizona State.