The 2020 Arizona Bowl is being played on December 31st at 2:00 PM ET. This year the Arizona Bowl will feature the Ball State Cardinals and the San Jose State Spartans. The bowl game started in 2015 and will be played in Tucson, Arizona at Arizona Stadium. It should also be noted that there will not be fans in attendance due to COVID-19 protocols.
2020 Arizona Bowl Preview
Both of these teams are the champion of their conference. Ball State took the Mid-American Conference with a win over Buffalo 38-28. Whereas San Jose State rode its undefeated season to a Mountain West Conference championship over Boise State 34-20. Neither of these teams has appeared in the Arizona Bowl. Further, it has been at least five years since either team has appeared in a bowl game at all. Ball State has not made a bowl game appearance since 2013 and has never won a bowl game before. San Jose State’s last bowl game appearance was in 2015.
Ball State Cardinals
The Cardinals are currently riding a six-game win streak into the Arizona Bowl. Their last loss of the 2020 season came in the first game of the season against Miami (OH) 31-38. Ball State flipped that score the following week against Eastern Michigan, winning 38-31. The Cardinals are averaging 30.4 points per game this season behind quarterback Drew Plitt. Plitt has a 65.8 completion percentage this season passing for 1,947 yards. He also has 16 passing touchdowns and only six interceptions. The senior signal-caller mainly utilizes Justin Hall and Yo’Heinz Tyler in the passing game. Hall leads the team in receptions with 49 and receiving yards with 665. He has also notched four receiving and one rushing touchdown this season. While Hall leads the team in receptions and receiving yards, Tyler leads the team in touchdowns with seven.
While the offense for Ball State catapulted itself into the top 25 scoring offenses in the nation, the defense was one of the best in the MAC at stopping the run. The names to watch are Brandon Martin, All-MAC Co-Defensive Player of the Year, Anthony Ekpe, and Bryce Cosby. Martin is a redshirt junior linebacker and leads the team in total tackles with 85. He also has six-and-a-half tackles for loss and one sack. Senior linebacker transfer, Ekpe, is very good at getting into an opponent’s backfield. The transfer from Rice leads the team in tackles for loss with seven and sacks with five. Finally, there is Cosby coming out of the secondary. Cosby is third in total tackles with 53. Further, the safety tallied four-and-a-half tackles for loss and one sack this season.
San Jose State Spartans
While the Cardinals have made their mark on offense this season, the Spartans have made it through the season undefeated behind a dominant defense. San Jose State is only allowing 17.9 points per game and is currently ranked as the 13th best scoring defense in the country. The Spartan defense held Boise State to only 37 rushing yards on 23 attempts in the Mountain West Championship. This dominant defense is led by defensive ends Viliami Fehoko and Cade Hall. Fehoko, only a redshirt sophomore, tallied 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks this season. In addition, Hall racked up 12 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in seven games this season. The junior beat both of his previous totals in 2018 and 2019 playing a full season in both of those years.
The San Jose State defense has been very consistent this season, but the offense has been lacking in the run game for the majority of this strange season. Tyler Nevens leads the team in rush yards with 478, on 59 attempts, and five rushing touchdowns. The senior has only had two 100-yard rushing games this season. He was held below 50 rushing yards in each of the other five games. Much like Ball State, the Spartans earn their points through the air. Two-time transfer, Nick Starkel, leads the Spartan offense. He has totaled 1,906 passing yards this season with 16 touchdowns and only four interceptions. His favorite targets are Bailey Gaither and Tre Walker. Gaither leads the offense with 41 receptions and 725 receiving yards. He has also tallied four touchdowns. Walker also has four touchdowns and he isn’t far behind Gaither with 38 receptions.
The 2020 Arizona Bowl has the potential to be an exciting one. Two teams that have a very good rushing defense and like to throw the football. Neither made their mark rushing this season. The issue then arises in Ball State’s passing defense. Crosby is very good in the secondary but makes his mark in the run defense. Look for two teams that will rely on the arm and accuracy of their quarterback. This has the potential to be high scoring and back-and-forth. San Jose State likely squeaks this one out.
Photo courtesy of The Arizona Bowl.