Pacific Life Holiday Bowl: Nebraska (9-4) vs. Arizona (8-4)

December, 29, 2009
12/29/09
3:28
PM ET
Points should be at a premium in an old-school defensive battle between childhood friends: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini and Arizona coach Mike Stoops.

Both teams play intense defense. The No. 20 Wildcats have a little better offense and that might be enough to push them past the No. 22 Cornhuskers, who have been limited to a touchdown or less in three losses this season.

The Cornhuskers claimed the Big 12 North title after they inserted quarterback Zac Lee into the lineup and played a conservative ball-control attack that accentuated their strengths on defense and on special teams.

WHO TO WATCH: Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska

Is there really any player to focus on in this game other than Suh, who emerged to finish fourth in the Heisman balloting? Suh became one of the most decorated players in college football history, earning unanimous All-American honors, along with the Outland, Lombardi, Bednarik and Nagurski awards. Suh led the Cornhuskers in tackles (82), tackles for losses (23), sacks (12) and blocked kicks (3). Most incredibly, he ranked second on the Nebraska team in pass deflections (10) as he staked his claim to become the greatest defensive player in school history. It will be interesting to see if the last month on the banquet circuit robbed him of any of his edge that made him so dominant this season.

WHAT TO WATCH: Can the Cornhuskers play any offense?

Lee struggled through a miserable Big 12 championship game, producing only five first downs. It was the third time the Cornhuskers lost a game scoring a touchdown or less this season. Pelini has promised a back-to-the basics approach on offense since bowl practice begins, which means a lot of Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead. And Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has promised that Cody Green will get playing time against the Wildcats as a start to the quarterback competition in the spring.

WHY TO WATCH: Defense, defense, defense

Both teams have outstanding defenses that have overshadowed all parts of their programs this season. And as good as the Blackshirts have played this season, Arizona might be just as good. The Wildcats are No. 21 nationally in defense and rank 12th in sacks. The Cornhuskers are more aggressive, as they like to come after rival quarterbacks with their linebackers with the blitz, sometimes on up to 30 percent of their snaps. They’ll try to rattle Nick Foles and force him into mistakes. The Wildcats prefer to sit in a Cover 2 scheme and make quarterbacks beat them with long scoring drives. That might be asking a lot of Nebraska and its sputtering offensive attack.

PREDICTION: Don’t look for much scoring in this game as a key play in special teams or a long run or pass might have critical ramifications. Foles has better touch than either of the Nebraska quarterbacks and that should be enough to give Arizona a slight edge. The Cornhuskers can’t win this game by kicking field goals, and because of that I’m going with the Wildcats. Arizona 17, Nebraska 12.

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