NCF Nation: 2011 Holiday Bowl three keys

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10:15
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Holiday Bowl: Three keys for Texas

December, 28, 2011
12/28/11
10:52
AM ET
Texas takes on Cal on Wednesday night in the Holiday Bowl. We previewed the game earlier, now it's time for a look at three keys for Texas to get the win.

1. Work hard in bowl practices. So yeah, this one's technically already happened, but we won't see the results until tonight. Texas' offense was young and banged up, but had a ton of room for improvement, mostly with the offensive line, receivers and running backs. The Longhorns didn't get to participate in the valuable workouts after last year's 5-7 season, so here's guessing they took those pretty seriously. Young offensive talent like Jaxon Shipley, Mike Davis, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron are loaded with potential, and the late-season minicamp can be a showcase for it to shift to production.

2. Shut down Keenan Allen. Texas is missing safety Christian Scott, but the Longhorns' corners are two of the best in the league. Carrington Byndom and true freshman Quandre Diggs are capable of shutting down Allen and letting the front seven go to work on rushing Zach Maynard and stuffing Isi Sofele, a 1,200-yard rusher. Texas' defense was the Big 12's best this season, and was by far the league's best at preventing big plays, despite facing high-powered offenses every week. Texas isn't going to let Cal run all over it, and if it quiets Allen, it wins.

3. Win the game by not losing it. Counterintuitive perhaps, but Texas did exactly this against Texas A&M and needs to do it again. Think Nebraska in 2009, to a lesser degree on both sides of the ball. It doesn't have an offense that can run with a lot of teams such as Cal and others across the Big 12. Texas' worst losses this year came to the Big 12's best offenses: Oklahoma State, Baylor and Oklahoma. Cal's not on that level, but Texas can't make mistakes like it made in those games to help Cal's offense. Texas' offense needs to stay conservative, take what the defense gives it and punt it as many times as necessary. Don't turn the ball over and don't allow big plays. Texas will get blown out if it does that.

Holiday Bowl: Three keys for California

December, 28, 2011
12/28/11
10:30
AM ET
Three keys for California against Texas in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl.

1. Maynard's mechanics: It's no coincidence that California played better when QB Zach Maynard rediscovered his accuracy. During the four-game stretch to end the season when the Bears won three and nearly upset rival Stanford, he completed 68 percent of his passes with five TDs and just one pick. The Bears won't be able to just run at this Texas defense, but the Longhorns also own one of the nation's best pass defenses. Maynard will need to be at his best, but -- most important -- he must protect the football.

2. Field position: Texas is good in the return game but bad at punting. Cal is bad in the return game but good at punting. In games in which the offenses are conservative and the defenses strong, field position is a major issue. Cal's chances go up if it's starting drives near midfield, while Texas finds itself starting on its 20. That hangs on big Bryan Anger punts either getting downed or forcing fair catches.

3. Isi and fronting the seven: It's hard to imagine Cal losing if it outrushes Texas, a team that is very limited passing the football. That means a solid Bears run defense will need to be at its best against a strong Texas rushing attack, and underrated Bears RB Isi Sofele needs to announce himself with authority. Sofele didn't get much attention this year, despite rushing for 1,270 yards, because the Pac-12 was loaded with elite running backs. He could make a statement that he merits attention in 2012 by hitting the 100-yard mark against a tough Longhorns defense.

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