SAN DIEGO — Walking through downtown in the Gaslamp District last night, it became obvious that Qualcomm Stadium will be a sea of red in the soldout Holiday Bowl this evening. Arizona and Nebraska share the color and it made me have to look twice to make sure I was surrounded by Husker or Wildcat faithful.
Through an informal count, clouded I must admit by a few beers, I noticed more Arizona fans than Nebraska, so the Cats may have more support at the stadium.
One thing is for sure, one person overheard will not be anywhere near Qualcomm. A San Diego resident (most likely) said on his cell phone by the curb, “Yeah, there’s a bowl game here with two teams I don’t like.” Maybe “don’t like” was a harsh choice of words. More like “don’t care about” would be better. But that guy is in the minority around here …
Anthony Gimino, Steve Rivera and I had a good laugh about his comment among our lively conversations about what UA basketball coach Sean Miller should do the remainder of the season. I said he should just stick to a seven-man rotation and not feel obligated to play some players who have not produced. But that’s a topic for another upcoming blog.
We ran into former Tucson television broadcaster Steve Quis, who currently works for an independent station in San Diego that broadcasts San Diego Padres games and other sporting events in this area. He sadly won’t be employed for much longer because the station recently hired 75-year-old Dick Enberg to handle play-by-play duties. Quis mentioned Enberg’s hire had a domino effect on the staff, and he was one of the broadcasters let go. I asked him what were his plans now, and Quis said he may leave the broadcasting business altogether. That’s disappointing news for a guy with so much potential who is one of the all-time good guys to come through Tucson as a broadcaster. Dick “Oh my …” Enberg should graciously retire or do personal projects and let youngsters like Quis get their opportunity. …
You say you want some “Facts You May Not Know”? Here’s an offering:
- The Mike Leach firestorm at Texas Tech has implications on Arizona and the Holiday Bowl in general. Former Red Raiders offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes, who fills the same capacity with the Cats, will undoubtedly become the top candidate to replace Leach. Dykes established a successful spread offense at Texas Tech that produced Heisman hopeful Michael Crabtree, and his father Spike Dykes is legendary in Lubbock.
It so happens that Craig James, the father of the Texas Tech player embroiled in the controversy involving Leach’s treatment of players, will be announcing tonight’s game for ESPN. How long will it take for play-by-play guy Chris Fowler to ask James, “So what do you think about the coaching situation at Texas Tech?” It’s a topic that should be discussed in the booth by James if ESPN is to be considered a legitimate news outlet. …
- It’s amusing that Nebraska fans and some media have expressed that the Holiday Bowl is not as important to them as it is to Arizona. In the grand scheme of things, this bowl appearance should be ho-hum for the Huskers, but it’s time that these people live in the now and not in the Tom Osborne era. Wonder if we’ll have to say that about Arizona basketball and the Lute Olson era in the years to come. Hope not. But, again, that’s a topic for another blog.
This is Nebraska’s 46th bowl appearance compared to the 15th for Arizona. The Huskers boast five national championships. Arizona does not even have a Pac-10 title. However, the last time Nebraska played for a national title was in the 2001 season (the Huskers’ last title was in 1995, won in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl over Florida).
Back to the point: Since Arizona beat Nebraska in the 1998 Holiday Bowl, the Huskers have played in only two BCS bowls — the last in 2002 when the Miami Hurricanes beat them 37-14 in the Rose Bowl. Yes, this bowl probably means more to Arizona given the history of the two programs, but in terms of recent success (the last five years or so), Nebraska does not have much clout over the Wildcats. Something tells me, however, that the Cornhuskers will play like they want to be here. …
- Doesn’t Nebraska seem like the Arizona teams of the 1980s under Larry Smith?: A defense strong enough to carry the team, in spite of an ineffective offense? These are some the gaudy numbers of the Cornhuskers’ defense anchored by Ndamukong (En-dom-uh-ken) Suh and fellow tackle Jared Crick, a sophomore who has 9.5 sacks, including a school-record five at Baylor this season:
- The Blackshirts, as the defense is called, has allowed only seven passing touchdowns this season. That mark trails only Tennessee (5). By the way, Arizona has 20 touchdown tosses.
- The Cornhuskers’ pass-efficiency defense of 90.54 points ranks third nationally behind two unbeaten teams: Alabama and TCU.
- Overall, Nebraska ranks in the top 25 in all five major defensive statistical categories: 11.2 points per game allowed (second in the nation); 284.5 yards per game allowed (ninth); 90.5 pass-efficiency (third), 3.23 sacks per game (third), 95.5 yards rushing per game allowed (11th); and 189 yards passing per game (25th).
In a game in which ball-control and field position will be critical, it might be won or lost on special teams. An important element in that regard will be the ability of either team to force a team to punt in a three-downs-and-out scenario. Arizona’s defense ranks up there with Nebraska’s in that regard. The Cornhuskers are ninth in the nation with 4.8 per game while Arizona is 10th at 4.5.
Another stat that must be a concern to Nebraska coach Bo Pelini and the vaunted Nebraska defense in terms of ball control: The Wildcats rank 12th nationally in time of possession (32:18 per game). Those short passes (bubble screens, slants, etc.) mixed in with some play-action and draw plays can drive a defense mad. Who will be more frustrated in the end: Arizona’s offense against a stout defense? Or Nebraska’s defense against an opportunistic UA offense?