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Preview: The Fiesta Bowl
Preview: The Fiesta Bowl
Monday night's Fiesta Bowl matching the #3 Texas Longhorns against the #10 Ohio State Buckeyes has everything any BCS Bowl committee could hope for...storied programs, marquee coaches, All-American players, and compelling storylines all over the place. The Buckeyes return once again to the desert, carrying the tattered Big Ten banner and a two game BCS losing streak into battle against a Texas team with their own point to prove. Buckeye Dan previews tonight's big game.
Texas (11-1) vs. Ohio State (10-2)
Monday, January 5
University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale , AZ
Kickoff - 8:00 p.m.
Monday night's Fiesta Bowl matching the #3 Texas Longhorns against the #10 Ohio State Buckeyes has everything any BCS Bowl committee could hope for...storied programs, marquee coaches, All-American players, and compelling storylines all over the place. The Buckeyes return once again to the desert, carrying the tattered Big Ten banner and a two game BCS losing streak into battle against a Texas team with their own point to prove.
Both teams and their coaches have powerful motivations to win this game...but for altogether different reasons. The warm and fuzzy bowl game spirit is clearly alive and well in Glendale, as the mutual respect and admiration between Jim Tressel and Mack Brown and their teams is on full display. But both teams have a large measure of pride at stake in this one, and while 2008 has held disappointment for both Texas and Ohio State, one of them can salvage the season and make their statement to the college football world.
What's at Stake?
The Longhorns have a legitimate gripe about getting jobbed by their own conference, which elected to send to the Big 12 Championship game an Oklahoma team that had the same record as Texas, but lost to the Longhorns by 10 points. That snub, on top of one dropped interception against Texas Tech, prevented the Longhorns from a shot at the BCS championship game.
A big win in Glendale would be a nationally-televised statement by Mack Brown's team that the Big 12 made a mistake, and by extension, that the BCS system should go ahead and remove the "C".
Ohio State will be trying to change the now well-entrenched national perception that they are pretenders to the college football elite, by winning a game in January for the first time in three years. Jim Tressel's Buckeyes will be playing in their 7th BCS game, and sport a 4-2 record in those games, but their consecutive lopsided losses in BCS finals have contributed mightily to the Big Ten's fading prestige. The Fiesta Bowl is an opportunity for Ohio State to climb back into relevance as a national power, and regain some respect for a conference that continues to take its lumps this bowl season.
Tressel has made no secret of his fondness for the current class of Buckeye seniors, a group that could set a record for most victories by any single class of OSU players with a victory on Monday. A win for James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins, Brian Robiskie and Marcus Freeman among others would be a fitting sendoff for a classy group of Buckeyes.
Not incidentally,Texas still has a faint hope of being voted No. 1 in the final AP poll, if they can win big, and both BCS finalists are unimpressive in the championship game.
(Hey, USC still claims they "won it" in 2003)
That slim possibility should put to rest any notion that the Longhorns will be simply going through the motions, or that they have nothing to play for.
On top of all that, this contest represents the 'rubber game' in the series between OSU and Texas, after the teams split
two memorable games
. All signs seem to point toward another highly entertaining football game this time around. Certainly the geniuses of the BCS hope so. This game had
be good. The BCS needs the help.
This desert duel is the kind of match-up the BCS folks had in mind for all five games in their annual post-season bowlfest. The way it looks now, a great game between two traditional powers might be the only way to save an otherwise lackluster BCS slate. (I type these words as USC is euthanizing Penn State halfway through the Rose Bowl, and the Alabama-Utah and Cincinnati-VT match-ups continue to excite no one outside those four programs)
It's not unusual for Texas and Ohio State to feature some big name players and future NFL talents on their rosters, but this game manages to pit many of them head-to-head in match-ups that should be intriguing for fans (and NFL scouts) to watch.
Texas quarterback Colt McCoy was a touted but untested freshman making his second career start when the Longhorns and Buckeyes squared off in 2006, and one of his big mistakes in the 24-7 loss to OSU was an interception he threw to OSU linebacker James Laurinaitis on the first Texas possession of the second half. The ensuing field goal pushed the Buckeye lead to 17-7, and the game never got any closer.
McCoy will again be facing Laurinaitis, along with his fellow first team
, cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, on the Buckeye defensive unit, but this time he'll be doing it as a three-year starter, and a 2nd team All-American himself. Laurinaitis is usually charged with containing the opponent's top rushing threat, and in the case of the Longhorns, that's McCoy (576 yds, 10 TD's) The game could well turn on the job the Buckeyes' middle linebacker does controlling the rushing (and scrambling) of Colt McCoy.
When McCoy goes to the air, he'll be contending with arguably the best cornerback in the country in Jenkins, who in turn will have his hands full with another All-American, Longhorn wide receiver Jordan Shipley. McCoy is on a record-setting pace for completion percentage by a college quarterback (77.6%), and he'll be competing against the best pass defense in the Big Ten, and the sixth best in the nation (164.3 passing yds. per game allowed)
Strength Against Strength
When Ohio State and their freshman quarterback have the ball, they clearly would rather run than pass....just like Woody would have wanted it. And QB Terrelle Pryor's season rushing totals (553 yds, 4.5 avg) are almost identical to McCoy's (576 yds, 4.5 avg). The difference is that McCoy's total leads his team, while Pryor has Chris Wells (1091 yds, 5.7 avg) as his running mate. So Ohio State would appear to have a clear edge in the running game. But again, one team's strength in this game comes up against the star power on the other side of the ball.
Texas comes into the Fiesta Bowl as the No. 2 ranked defense in the nation against the run, giving up just 73.6 yards per game. That stat might be skewed by the fact that they compete in the pass-happy Big 12, but there's no denying that the strength of the Longhorn defense is up front on the line, with tackles Roy Miller and Aaron Lewis and All-American defensive end Brian Orakpo.
The Longhorns need only watch the Penn State-OSU game film to learn that a focus on stopping the Buckeye running game is the key to neutralizing the OSU attack. The smart money says Pryor will have to throw the ball effectively if the Buckeyes have a chance to win. So whether it's in the rushing or passing phase of the offense, the match-up of the Big Ten Freshman of the Year against Orakpo and the rest of the Longhorns front four will be key to the outcome.
Pryor's Development is the Key
In a game with two very solid defenses, and dynamic offensive players on both sides, it's reasonable to give the edge to the team with the greater experience at the quarterback position. And Colt McCoy brings a lot more than just time under center to this football game. His poise and maturity, along with an uncanny field presence and record-breaking passing accuracy, are big reasons why Texas is the heavy favorite. A 10-point win over BCS finalist Oklahoma would be another.
The Bucks, on the other hand, have lost both of their games against Top 10 opponents in 2008, although they did finish strong behind the senior leadership of Laurinaitis and Jenkins. The OSU defense is ranked eighth nationally overall, and the consistency on that side of the ball has allowed them to get to the BCS despite the slow start and the inexperience at quarterback.
In fact, I think it's fair to say that the Buckeyes may have the superior defense in this game, while also allowing that the edge on offense would have to go to McCoy and his more balanced Longhorns. The Texas secondary is their Achilles' heel, with two freshmen starting at safety, and a ranking of 109th nationally in passing yards allowed. On the basis of what we have seen all season though, the Buckeyes seem ill-equipped to exploit that weakness. Pryor has attempted an average of just 15 passes in his nine starts, and the OSU passing attack has reminded no one of Air Coryell.
But in a game with proven performers and known quantities, (and forgive me for paraphrasing Dick Cheney here) as fans, we know what we don't know. And what we don't know is what we can expect in this game from Terrelle Pryor, who come January, as the old adage goes, is not a freshman any more.
Tressel and QB coach Joe Daniels have had an extra six weeks to tutor Pryor in the mechanics and finer points of quarterbacking, and their track record in that regard is impressive. Observers of the OSU bowl practices have noted the emergence of young receivers Taurian Washington and DeVier Posey to complement Hartline and Robiskie as receiving threats for the Buckeyes. The OSU coaches must be aware that only by hitting the Longhorns with a more balanced attack than they showed in the first 12 games can OSU pull off the upset.
In short, the immense talents of Terrelle Pryor must be unleashed by the OSU coaches in order to beat Texas. They have to allow him to call his own option in the 'read option' rushing attack, and get him to the edge with the ball in his hands. They must let him throw the ball down the field against a suspect Longhorn secondary. They must show that they have spent the last six weeks productively, developing the quarterbacking mechanics and the confidence of their young signal caller.
I think Terrelle Pryor is the 'X' Factor is this Fiesta Bowl. If his coach cuts him loose, it could be a great night for the Buckeyes, and an huge victory for the Ohio State program and the Big Ten Conference.
OSU Game Notes (pdf)
Jan 04, 2009 7:00 PM
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