Arizona Wildcats keys to victory: Make Oklahoma State pass 100 timesby Javier Morales on Dec. 29, 2010, under Sports
With teams that like to throw first and run second in Wednesday’s Alamo Bowl, expect a long game at the Alamodome.
If Oklahoma State balances the run with the pass expect a longer day for Arizona. Chances are, given the performance of both teams this season, the Cowboys have a much better chance to establish a running game.
That can spell trouble because Arizona was cruising to a 7-1 record before Stanford, USC and Oregon ran for a combined 811 rushing yards against the Wildcats. The UA’s other nine opponents ran for only 829, an average of 92.1 rushing yards per game.
Oklahoma State, led by senior running back Kendall Hunter, has rushed for 2,195 yards overall with 25 rushing touchdowns. Hunter accounts for 1,516 of those yards on 216 carries and he has scored 16 touchdowns. By contrast, Arizona has rushed for only 1,622 yards with 20 touchdowns.
Keola Antolin leads the Wildcats with 667 yards on 142 carries. Hunter had 700 yards rushing by the fifth game of the season.
The bottom line: Oklahoma State will likely get its rushing yardage. The key will be limiting big plays (for example, third-down conversions or a demoralizing long touchdown run).
Arizona could have been more of a threat to No. 1 Oregon in Eugene had it not been for Josh Huff‘s 85-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Stanford wore down the Cats by converting 9 of 14 third-down plays. The Cardinal’s offensive line shoved aside Arizona’s defensive front as Stepfan Taylor rushed for four touchdowns. The UA allowed only two rushing touchdowns — both against Oregon State in another loss — in its six games before facing Stanford.
USC’s Marc Tyler and his offensive line is arguably the most physically gift and imposing unit the UA faced this year. The Trojans’ line was too much for Arizona to handle. That was exposed especially in the second half. Tyler had 10 of his 31 carries in the fourth quarter when USC went for the knockout punch.
ASU beat Arizona because the Wildcats self-destructed with two blocked extra-point tries by Alex Zendejas, and at least five dropped potential interceptions. ASU’s defense also limited the Cats to five successful third-down conversions in 17 attempts.
The Sun Devils were also afforded 92 offensive plays in the double-overtime game. Any team given 92 tries to advance the ball has a good chance of winning.
In summary, much has been reported about the potency of both offenses in the Alamo Bowl — and they will combine for more than 900 yards — but Arizona can not win this game on just the arm of Nick Foles and receiving ability of Juron Criner. The Wildcats must:
- Not let Oklahoma State’s running game beat them. If Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden passes 100 times for 600 yards, fine, just as long as Hunter and the Cowboys’ stable of running backs do not run roughshod over the UA defense. In a 51-41 loss to Nebraska on Oct. 23, Hunter gained 201 yards on 26 carries. How did the Cowboys not win with this happening? Didn’t they control the line of scrimmage? Not exactly. The Cowboys were 3-of-13 in third-down conversions and the usually dynamic Justin Blackmon was limited to a season-low five receptions (albeit for 157 yards). Hunter did not break a long gain (longest was 26 yards) and he did not prolong drives with key third-down runs. That is extremely important.
- Take an early lead and preserve it. If Oklahoma State is ahead 14-0 in the first quarter, you might be better off leaving the house for the evening and taking in a movie. The worst way for an aggressive defensive front seven to approach a highly potent offense is to be on its heels. Arizona co-offensive coordinator Bill Bedenbaugh, Foles and Nic Grigsby spoke more than once at a press conference this week about the importance of establishing a run game to make the safeties play down more to the line, opening up the possibility for a deep pass. The team who takes an early two-possession lead is in more of a position to do this. If Oklahoma State has to play catch-up, similar to what the Dallas Cowboys had to do against the Arizona Cardinals on Christmas Day, Weeden might be forced to throw plenty of times — OK, maybe not 100 times — and that puts the UA in its best position for a win.
- Grigsby, Antolin and Greg Nwoko must collectively have their best game of the year. The UA’s running game is a sore spot of this team and a significant reason why the Wildcats lost five games. Arizona ranks No. 39 in rushing defense and Oklahoma State is No. 41, neither entirely impressive. Chances are, the team that rushes for more yards (and controls the line of scrimmage) will win the game.
- Be much, much better on special teams. Show of hands: Who will be nervous when Alex Zendejas lines up for potentially his first extra-point attempt? Everybody? Ironically, people will feel more secure if Zendejas lined up for a 40-yard field goal than a chip-shot extra-point. Senior punter Keenyn Crier, kickoff specialist John Bonano and long-snapper Chase Gorham (a true freshman) must also improve their performance to give Arizona a better chance. Psychologically, if a special-teams breakdown occurs early that can be detrimental to this team.
Notice that I didn’t write that Foles must throw for 400 yards and Criner must post 150 yards receiving. That’s a given. They’ll get their yards, just like Weeden and Blackmon will. The supporting cast, in this case Arizona’s defense and special-teams unit, will be the difference in the Wildcats improving their bowl record to 7-8-1 over a 89-year span.
I say the Wildcats get it done because they are the hungrier team with a four-game losing streak and a 33-0 embarrassing loss to Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl last year.