Friday, December 31, 2010
Blog debate: Can UConn hang with OU?
By David Ubben and Ted Miller
We've heard it ever since the bowl pairing was announced: Connecticut has no chance, and this might be the most lopsided matchup of the entire season. Oklahoma enters as the champion of the Big 12, a conference with five teams in the top 20.
|Landry Jones leads heavily favored Oklahoma against Jordan Todman and Connecticut.|
Connecticut, to its credit, won its final five games to get here, but needed a 52-yard field goal in its season finale to win the Big East, a conference with one team (West Virginia) in the BCS top 25.
Even Vegas agrees, pinning the Sooners as a 17-point favorite.
So the big question is simple: What reason do we have to believe that we're not in for a snoozer on Saturday night?
Ted Miller: David, let's start with karmic reasons! For one, when everyone thinks one thing, it's inevitably wrong. Second, Oklahoma has a history of flopping in BCS bowl games, losing to opponents great (USC, Florida) and small (West Virginia, Boise State). The Sooners have been hearing non-stop how much better they are than UConn all week. That's been in their heads during preparation. You wonder if they will show up with their A-game on Saturday, no matter how often they claim they are fully and completely motivated. Further, UConn has been hearing about how lousy they are, how they don't deserve to be here. Heck, some want to change BCS rules so an unranked team won't get into a BCS bowl game again! You should expect the Huskies, a well-coached team, to come out focused and angry. We always talk about how important motivation is in a bowl game. That's an area where the Huskies should have a decided edge.
|The last time Bob Stoops was at the Fiesta Bowl, he left with West Virginia interim coach Bill Stewart consoling him.|
Or do you think this is cracked and the Sooner are going to come out on fire?
David Ubben: Yeah, for as much as the Huskies have heard they don't belong here, Oklahoma has heard just as much about those famous flops on big bowl stages. Those didn't happen back in the 70s. Plenty of the guys on this team were there or played in the losses to West Virginia and Florida. They want to prove those days are behind them, and close a pretty good season by Oklahoma standards with a win. Also, unlike those teams, which had some of the best players in college football like Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Pat White, there's nothing about UConn that's particularly scary or gamebreaking. Jordan Todman is solid, but he's not a guy that's going to give Oklahoma nightmares like Noel Devine did.
And though teams like Boise State and West Virginia were short on program pedigree like the Huskies, they were also short on losses, where Connecticut has a healthy surplus. All five of those losses came to experienced teams and those five teams have the same number of losses combined (4) as the unranked Huskies have in just this season.
So, if Oklahoma is ready to play, are there any reasons for Sooners fans to be concerned?
Ted Miller: Well, I think we can all agree that if Oklahoma comes out and plays its best, it's going to win the game. It's simply more talented in nearly every area.
But this is college football, and talent doesn't always carry the day. UConn's recipe for success here isn't revolutionary. It needs to win the turnover battle, probably decisively. It needs to win third down on both sides of the ball. It needs to establish its running game and play keep-away from a potent Sooners offense. It needs to make at least a few plays downfield in the passing game to keep the Sooners defense reasonable honest when it tries to gang up on the line of scrimmage against running back Jordan Todman. And it needs to win the red zone, scoring TDs when it's there and keeping the Sooners out of the end zone when they are there.
What can't happen? UConn can't make mistakes. And it must maintain some pass-run balance to keep the Sooners honest.
So that's a fairly involved scenario for a UConn win. What do the Sooners need to do to prove the experts correct?
David Ubben: You're right, I think even Connecticut players would admit Oklahoma is the more complete team, but two of the greatest equalizers in football are turnovers and weather. Unfortunately, the three-point shot in college football (a.k.a. a field goal) isn't quite as effective as in basketball.
Since we'll be indoors, Oklahoma can count out that as a factor.
Turnovers, however, could be an issue. If Oklahoma loses this game, I'd be willing to guarantee that it lost the turnover battle. Landry Jones has been much, much more careful with the ball in 2010, but he caught a bit of the turnover bug against Oklahoma State. If Connecticut can do something similar and -- here's the important part -- capitalize off them with points, then we'll have a ball game.
|Connecticut may need to win the turnover battle to beat Oklahoma. Jerome Junior (15) was one of two Huskies with four interceptions this season.|
Don't expect the Sooners to put the ball on the ground, though. They've lost just five fumbles this year in 13 games, good for sixth nationally.
So, theories aside, let's get down to it. How does this play out?
I think UConn comes out with a sound plan and plays hard. I expect the game to be close at halftime, with the notion of a huge upset still alive. But the Huskies lack the firepower to keep up, touchdown for touchdown, with the Sooners. I expect the UConn defense will start to wear down due to the Sooners fast-paced offense, and that will create big-play opportunities in both the passing and running game for Oklahoma. Once the Sooners get up by double-digits, I don't see the Huskies being capable of loading up on the passing game to mount a comeback.
So let's say 42-24 Oklahoma.
What's your take?
Yeah, I'm taking Oklahoma 41-20. Oklahoma hasn't seen a back as good as Todman this year that also plays in a power system. The closest thing has been Cyrus Gray
at Texas A&M, who ran for 122 yards and the Aggies beat Oklahoma.
But unlike A&M, Connecticut doesn't have enough weapons elsewhere to keep up with an Oklahoma offense that it won't be able to stop barring turnovers. Remember, Connecticut is playing without nickel back Mike Lang, too. Oklahoma should be able to move the ball consistently, and while I think it might be close early, I tend to buy into your idea of them being worn down.
I think the Huskies can catch the Sooners on play action a couple times for big plays, but not enough to outscore them.