It's game day at the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

January, 5, 2009
1/05/09
6:09
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- University of Phoenix Stadium is just as cavernous as it looks on TV, and it will serve as an appropriate setting as two college football giants clash tonight in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (FOX, 8 p.m.).

Media members received a police escort from our resort to the stadium, which was pretty cool until we hit traffic in downtown Phoenix and the cops didn't help much. It was pretty funny to see the reactions from fans, who thought the buses carried Ohio State and Texas players rather than out-of-shape reporters. Sorry to disappoint.

I didn't get much of a chance to walk around, but the parking lots around the stadium are already buzzing with fans of both teams. The highlight was seeing a massive one-piece Jim Cordle jersey worn by four young women, presumably Cordle's friends or family members. If Cordle and his fellow linemen look that big on the field tonight, Texas could be in trouble.

No. 3 Texas enters its second Fiesta Bowl at 11-1, looking to restate its case as a national title contender after getting snubbed from the championship game last month. The Longhorns were a play away from reaching Miami and should be keyed up for this one. No. 10 Ohio State also has plenty to prove after flopping in the last two BCS title games. The Buckeyes are no strangers to Arizona, having won the Fiesta Bowl in 2003, 2004 and 2006. Their last trip inside this stadium ended in defeat, however, as they fell to Florida in the 2007 championship game.

On the health front, Texas has no reported injuries. Ohio State likely will be without third-string running back Brandon Saine, and reserve offensive tackle J.B. Shugarts won't play much if at all. Buckeyes starting wide receiver Brian Hartline might miss a series or two after reportedly committing a team rules violation last week.

Tonight's officiating crew is from the Big East Conference.

Here are three keys for each team heading into tonight's matchup.

TEXAS

  • Get Colt McCoy on the move to establish an early offensive rhythm. Ohio State's defensive line has improved in the second half of the season, but the Buckeyes haven't seen a quarterback as dangerous as McCoy. If he performs anything like he did during the regular season, Texas shouldn't have trouble putting up points.
  • Clog the middle and force Terrelle Pryor to win the game. The pre-game talk has centered on Longhorns All-American defensive end Brian Orakpo, but defensive tackle Roy Miller could be a more important player tonight. Ohio State wants to establish the power run game with Chris "Beanie" Wells. It's up to Miller and his linemates to slow him down.
  • Guard against the big play. Ohio State has been too reliant on big plays this season, but Pryor and his receivers are capable of stretching the field at any time. Texas' secondary is vulnerable, but if the Longhorns keep the wide receivers in front of them, they should be OK.

OHIO STATE

  • Establish Wells and the run game right away. Wells needs to have a huge night for Ohio State to keep pace with Texas. Though the junior thrives in big games, Texas defends the run well and Ohio State's offensive line has underperformed for most of the season. If Wells can wear down the Texas defensive front, Pryor will have opportunities to get creative.
  • Don't be afraid to test the Texas secondary. If there's a weakness for the Longhorns, it's the back four, and while the Buckeyes want to run the ball, they can't shy away from passing on first down. There's been some buzz about using Pryor and fellow quarterback Todd Boeckman on the field together. Sounds like a good idea for an offense that gets stale at times.
  • Defensive stars have to make plays. Linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins will graduate as two of the most decorated Ohio State defenders in team history. As they take the field for their final collegiate game, both men must be major factors in trying to disrupt McCoy and the Longhorns offense.

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