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Breaking down the Las Vegas Bowl: Arizona State vs. Fresno State

Quarterbacks

Arizona State’s Manny Wilkins averages 276 yards passing and rushing with 27 combined touchdowns. Fresno State’s Marcus McMaryion is at 285.1 yards and 32 touchdowns. Neither makes many mistakes, with Wilkins having thrown four interceptions and McMaryion three. McMaryion has a better completion percentage at 69.8 compared to 63 for Wilkins.

Advantage: Fresno State

Running backs

Eno Benjamin leads the Sun Devils with 1,524 yards and 15 touchdowns rushing. He also helps in the passing game, having caught 33 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns. The Bulldogs don’t have a dominant back, but instead use several to average 146.2 yards.

Advantage: Arizona State

Receivers

N’Keal Harry’s decision to not play and save himself for the NFL draft is a tremendous blow to the Sun Devils. He caught 73 passes for 1,088 yards and nine touchdowns. Fresno State’s KeeSean Johnson decided to play, and he has 93 receptions for 1,307 yards and eight touchdowns.

Advantage: Fresno State

Offensive line

The Bulldogs have given up only 12 sacks, and they average 4.1 yards per carry. Christian Cronk made first-team All-Mountain West, and Micah St. Andrew was second team. Arizona State’s Cohl Cabral was second-team All-Pac-12 Conference. The Sun Devils gave up slightly more sacks (15), but were quite better at run blocking (4.8).

Advantage: Arizona State

Defensive line

An argument could have been made for Fresno State’s Mykal Walker for Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year. He has 13½ tackles for loss, including 4½ sacks, and his three linemates have 11 tackles for loss and six sacks. The Sun Devils use five linemen as co-starters for three spots, and they have combined for 21½ tackles for loss and five sacks.

Advantage: Fresno State

Linebackers

Jeff Allison was named top MW defender after leading the Bulldogs with 121 tackles, with 5½ for loss. Teammates George Helmuth and James Bailey combine for 150 tackles, with 16½ for loss and seven sacks. Arizona State’s Merlin Robertson was named Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year after making 77 tackles that included 8½ for loss and five sacks, but isn’t expected to play because of a personal situation.

Advantage: Fresno State

Secondary

The Bulldogs have 62 pass breakups and 17 interceptions, with Tank Kelly and Jaron Bryant having combined for 29 breakups and four picks. Arizona State has 45 breakups and 10 interceptions, and gives up 238.7 yards passing per game compared to 194.1 for Fresno State.

Advantage: Fresno State

Special teams

Fresno State’s Blake Cusick averages 42.1 yards per punt, but just as important, has allowed only 11 to be returned for an average of just 2.3 yards. That’s an enormous weapon when paired with the Bulldogs’ defense. Brandon Ruiz has made 16 of 20 field goals for the Sun Devils.

Advantage: Fresno State

Intangibles

The motivation of the Pac-12 team in this game is always in question, and with two key Sun Devils not playing, it is again. But with a first-year coach and the combination of seniors who want to go out the right way and the returning players who want to build on this season’s promise, those who will play should be fired up and as underdogs have a point to prove.

Advantage: Arizona State

Handicapper’s take: Bruce Marshall (goldsheet.com):

Fresno State 28, Arizona State 19 — Unfortunately for coach Herm Edwards and Arizona State, they’ll be fighting in their bowl with effectively one hand tied behind their backs without the beastly, do-everything Harry, expected to be a first-round pick in next April’s NFL draft. Harry’s absence is a definite negative for the Sun Devil cause, removing the best big-play target from the arsenal of Wilkins. Harry’s absence is further magnified against a gnarly Fresno State defense that again ranks as one of the nation’s best, allowing a mere 13.7 points per game (second nationally). Scoring 35 points per game, Fresno State has enough offense with McMaryion (25 touchdown passes and three interceptions) pulling the strings to gradually pull away.

Mark Anderson Las Vegas Review-Journal

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