Gary Doran

Advanced Stats Preview: Sun Bowl


Putting statistics together to compare Arizona State to NC State in the Sun Bowl may end up to be an effort in futility, with news coming late last month that Todd Graham had been let go shortly after securing the Territorial Cup.

The core question is: will the players play hard for Todd Graham in the 2017 Sun Bowl, his final game as coach of the Sun Devils, or will they lay an egg like as did the 2011 team under Dennis Erickson in the Las Vegas Bowl in a similar situation?  Statistics can’t really answer that question; however, since numbers do tell a story, here are the statistical matchups that may indicate strengths and weaknesses of both teams heading into the game on December 29.


Both teams ran just over 900 plays during the 2017 season, with ASU running about 80 more rushing plays and NC State 80 more passing plays. NC State out-gained the Devils overall by about 250 yards. The Devils gained slightly more yards on the ground, while NC State out-gained the Devils by 290 yards through the air.

On the Ground

Overall, NC State was more productive in their yards per carry compared to the Devils, even though ASU relied on its rushing game more than their bowl opponent.

Being 40 yards or more from the end zone, NC State was more productive carrying the ball per rush attempt, however within 40 yards, the teams were fairly even in yards per carry.

Almost every rushing touchdown for the Devils happened within the red zone, whereas NC State had about 25% of it rushing touchdowns happen outside the red zone.

ASU was more productive running the ball on second down, while the Wolfpack experienced its the best success on first down.

Passing the Ball

Overall, ASU was more productive in yards per pass attempt, yet the Wolfpack passed the ball more often than the Devils. In the first half of games, NC State was more productive in yards per attempt, (8.13 to 6.91), however in the second half, ASU far outperformed the Wolfpack, (9.09 to 5.90).

For the most part, the completion percentages were fairly even between the two teams, however, when the game was tied, ASU far exceeded NC State 86% to 63%. On the other hand, when either team was ahead or behind by more than a touchdown, NC State had the higher completion percentage 73% to 65%.

Over 80% of the pass completions for ASU was to a wide receiver, while for NC State, it was only 62%. The difference was in passes that NC State made to its running backs. Tight ends were seldom utilized by either team in their passing attack.

Although the total sacks as a percentage of pass attempts is much higher for ASU than for the Wolfpack, in conference play, both teams averaged around 2.4 sacks given up per game.

The roles were reversed in the passing game compared to the running game, where ASU was more productive on first down, (67% to 61%), while NC State was better on second down, (71% to 63%).


During the season, ASU faced 24 more plays that NC State; seven more in the air and 17 more on the ground. Overall, the Devils defense gave up an average of 70 more yards per game than the Wolfpack; roughly 44 yards more per game on the ground and 26 more through the air.

Against the Run

In almost every game situation, the NC State run defense statistically outperformed the ASU run defense. The exception is that by the last month of the season, ASU gave up fewer yards per carry than NCS, (3.95 to 4.46).

An average of one out of every three rushing touchdowns given up by ASU happened outside the red zone. In fact, eight of the rushing touchdowns surrendered by the ASU defense went for 40 yards or more.

The NC State rush defense only allowed one rushing touchdown in the first quarter of its games.

In the fourth quarter, NC State allowed only 2.69 yards per carry, whereas ASU surrendered an average of 3.96.

Against the Pass

As with the rush defense, NC State’s pass defense is better in most every category compared to ASU’s defense. In the first half of games, ASU did a better job of limiting the yards per pass attempt compared to the Wolfpack, however, in the second half, NC State drastically reduced that yardage per attempt so that it was a yard and a half per pass attempt better than ASU.

The real eye opener is ASU’s defense on third down with ten yards or more to gain. Almost two-thirds of the pass attempts were completed against the Devils in this situation favoring them. On third and ten-plus yards to go, the Devils averaged giving up almost ten yards per pass attempt. That is extremely poor, and there’s no way to sugarcoat.

ASU did not produce an interception in half their games this season. NC State only had two games without getting an interception.

In the second half of the season, ASU only gave up five touchdown passes, while NC State gave up ten.

Turnover Margin

Both teams sported a +5 turnover margin during the 2017 campaign, with neither team giving away the ball too often.


On paper, this does not appear to be a close match up, even though there is only one loss difference between the two teams. ASU is the real wild card in the game. It all depends on which ASU defense shows up; the one that played against Washington and Utah, or the one that showed up against too many other opponents during the 2017 season. How the ASU players coaches handle all the distractions they have faced since winning the Territorial Cup game will be the real key to the game.

About Gary Doran

Gary Doran

Gary graduated from ASU many years ago. After careers working in banking, finance and the financial administration of academic research funding, he is now interested in utilizing his passion for numbers towards two things he thoroughly loves; Arizona State University and college football. He is looking forward to finding the “stories” buried within the numbers on a football stat sheet. He has gone to ASU football games all the way back to the days of Frank Kush and the WAC. He has been married to an amazing ASU graduate for almost forty years, and they currently live in Ventura, CA. Although this may disqualify him from talking football, he and his wife enjoy the practice of yoga and dancing the Argentine Tango. Ole!

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