Saturday, January 1, 2011
UConn has a puncher's chance vs. Sooners
By Ted Miller
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Oklahoma is a more talented team than Connecticut. It's favored by 17 points, the widest spread in a BCS bowl game. So if the Sooners play well, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl figures to be a long evening for the Huskies.
But, as we all know, the most talented team doesn't always win. We've seen in the past with Oklahoma, which is riding a five-game BCS bowl game losing streak, that the Sooners sometimes don't bring their A-game to the bowl season.
You'll likely know if Connecticut has a shot after the first quarter. First of all, it will be interesting to see if the long break and this big stage -- the Huskies have never played a game on anything resembling a BCS bowl game -- causes them to play sloppy or tight out of the gate. It would be bad if they did. There is no way they can fall behind early and play catchup against the high-octane Sooners. UConn is one of the nation's worst passing teams. It's not build to come back from a big deficit.
And, of course, just starting well doesn't mean the final count will be tight.
What UConn needs to do to pull the upset is fairly simple.
- It must win the turnover battle.
- It must win third down on both sides of the ball.
- It must produce enough of a passing threat that the Sooners can't gang up at the line of scrimmage to stop Huskies All-American running back Jordan Todman.
Turnovers are obvious, eh? The biggest difference in the Huskies turnaround from a 3-4 start has been the turnover battle. Connecticut had 12 giveaways and 12 takeaways for a zero turnover margin in the first seven games. During the five-game winning streak that won them the Big East championship, the Huskies are +12 with 17 takeaways to five giveaways.
Third down is also interesting. UConn isn't terribly good on third down, particularly on offense. Oklahoma is, particularly on defense. The Sooners, in fact, have forced 63 shutdown drives this season, second most in the FBS. (A "shutdown drive," as defined by ESPN.com Stats & Information, is a forced three and out or a forced turnover in three plays or fewer). Connecticut’s offense has been the victim of a shutdown drive 58 times this season, tied for seventh most.
The Huskies can't afford three-and-outs. They need to hold onto the ball not only in order to score -- they're a power running team, after all -- but also to give their defense some rest time on the bench away from the Sooners fast-paced offense.
But understand this: the Oklahoma defense is hardly impregnable. It ranks 63rd in the nation in run defense and 112th in the red zone. Further, it can suffer mind cramps, see 42 runs surrendered of 15-plus yards this year, which is tied for fifth most in the FBS. And the five other teams that have given up at least that many long runs combined for 15 wins.
Both teams are well aware of the general fan and media feeling for this game: mismatch. That could serve to motivate the Huskies and lull the Sooners into a false sense of security.
"UConn, they have a chip on their shoulder. No one is expecting them to win this game," Sooners All-American receiver Ryan Broyles said. "They will come out fighting. We have to beat them."
That latter part is true. UConn is a well-coached team. It likely will take its best shot at the Sooners. If they Sooners match that best shot, they likely will win the game.
But if they don't ...