FSU, ASU meet in Sun Bowl sans offensive stars

Field Level Media

December 30, 2019 at 5:52 pm.

New Florida State coach Mike Norvell will not be calling plays when the Seminoles play Arizona State in the Sun Bowl, but his fingerprints are on both sides of a game that will be missing some of its biggest offensive threats Tuesday.

The Seminoles hired Norvell on Dec. 8 after four successful seasons at Memphis, his first head coaching gig. Norvell was Arizona State’s quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator and assistant head coach under Todd Graham the previous four seasons, all of which ended with a bowl bid.

Seminole players already have picked up on Norvell’s positive vibe.

“They feel the energy in Coach Norvell,” said interim head coach and former Florida State All-American defensive lineman Odell Haggins, who stepped in after coach Willie Taggart was fired following a 27-10 loss to Miami on Nov. 2. “He has a lot of energy and the kids like it. They like that energy.”

Haggins will lead the Seminoles (6-6) into the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, marking a return to the postseason after their run of 36 consecutive bowls was snapped in 2018. The Sun Devils (7-5) will play in their second bowl game in as many years under coach Herm Edwards, who replaced Graham.

True freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels will lead Arizona State, which will play without top running back Eno Benjamin and All-American wide receiver/kick returner Brandon Aiyuk. Both are skipping the game to prepare for the NFL draft.

The Sun Devils closed the regular season with an upset victory over Oregon — keeping the Ducks from any shot at a CFP appearance — and a victory over Arizona. They were 3-1 against ranked teams.

Daniels has completed 193 of 310 passes for 2,748 yards and 17 touchdowns against two interceptions, one being a half-ending Hail Mary toss at Utah. He has five 300-yard passing games, has rushed for 319 yards and has a streak of 129 consecutive pass attempts without an interception.

“He’s done some really good things,” Edwards said.

Frank Darby will supplant Aiyuk as the Sun Devils’ primary receiver, and freshman A.J. Carter could step in as the primary running threat against a Seminoles defense that has given up an average of 436.0 yards per game, including 152.5 rushing.

“They’re bigger bodies than we’re used to,” Arizona State center Cohl Cabral told the Arizona Republic about the Seminoles’ defensive front.

Florida State will rely on sophomore quarterback James Blackman, who has passed for 2,095 yards and 16 touchdowns with seven interceptions, now that Wisconsin transfer Alex Hornibrook has left the program. Jordan Travis is the second quarterback. NFL prospect wide receiver Tamorrion Terry has 51 receptions for 1,023 yards and was a second-team All-ACC selection.

“It feels great to be able to come out and have another game to practice for,” Blackman said. “For the seniors, give them something to fight for before they leave.”

The Seminoles will be without junior running back Cam Akers, who will skip the game to prepare for the NFL draft. Akers rushed for 1,144 yards and had 18 total touchdowns. Reserve running back Khalan Laborn is out because of injury, leaving FSU with virtually no experience at the position.

Arizona State promoted cornerbacks coach Tony White to defensive coordinator after Danny Gonzales left to become the head coach at New Mexico. ASU’s 3-3-5 defense is ranked 42nd nationally in scoring defense (23.1 points a game) and 21st in rushing yards allowed per game (116.8).

The Seminoles are 3-1 all-time vs. the Sun Devils and have won three straight in the series, the most recent being a 52-44 victory in Tempe, Ariz., in 1984, when Greg Allen rushed for 223 yards on 22 carries.