NCF Nation: 2012 Fiesta Bowl keys

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Here's three keys for Stanford heading into the Fiesta Bowl.

  1. BALL SECURITY: Duh, right? It’s always a priority. But given the opponent and considering the acts of thievery the Cowboys have displayed on defense, it has to be priority No. 1 for Stanford and bears repeating again and again. Ball security, ball security, ball security. Running back Stepfan Taylor has just two fumbles this year and five of Andrew Luck’s nine interceptions have been – well – let’s just say fluky. The Cardinal’s methodical style of play typically doesn’t lend itself to turnovers and mistakes, but that doesn’t mean they can relax around a Cowboys’ squad that has 42 takeaways this season.
  2. ORDER UP THE USUAL: By this point in the year, the Cardinal are who they are. They give up plays in the secondary, but rarely points. They stuff the run and create tremendous pressure. No use trying to install new coverages or suddenly trying to be a lockdown press team. Stanford is already conceding the fact that it is going to give up yards in the passing game. What happens after the initial catch, however, is key. If the Cardinal can wrap up and limit the yards after catch and after contact, they’ll be fine. They run an NFL style 3-4 defense up front that is designed to confuse the defense, yet the calls are simple enough that Stanford can disguise its pressure without confusing themselves. It’s worked 11 out of 12 times this year. No need to change now.
  3. TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS: There were some questions about how Luck would respond last year in the Orange Bowl after finishing second in the Heisman voting. How’d that work out, Virginia Tech? If anyone is expecting a letdown after another runner-up finish, they’ll be sorely mistaken. The Cardinal have ridden Luck’s confidence all season and Stanford has been very matter-of-fact and businesslike all week. Some players have even talked about being a little chippy that all of the talk is how Oklahoma State got hosed out of the national championship game, but the Cardinal weren’t even in the conversation (their words, not mine). Still, they appear to have a focused swagger that was lacking in the final weeks of the season. There is no reason to believe they won’t back it up on the field.
PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- Oklahoma State and Stanford will kick off the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl at 8:30 p.m. ET tonight on ESPN. That means its time to take a look at three keys for the Cowboys to knock off the Cardinal.

1. String together first downs, avoid three-and-outs. Stanford's going to win the time of possession battle in this game. Period. But Oklahoma State's offense will decide how big the deficit is by the game's end. The Cowboys don't look likely to win the battle up front against Stanford's offensive line, but they'll have a much better shot if the defense isn't run down by tons of time on the field. The offense can't afford, at any point in this game, to give up a 6-8 minute drive, then go three-and-out and put the Cardinal offense right back on the field. That's the surest way to lose this game. The Cowboys have to consistently move the ball, even if it doesn't always result in points.

2. Don't outsmart yourself on defense. Andrew Luck? He's pretty smart. Oklahoma State's not going to fool him. It can't trip over itself to try and do so. It can't make it too easy, but Oklahoma State's defense can't get too fancy and get away from basic stuff that's helped them be successful this season. OSU has to disguise blitzes and coverages to some degree, but changing too much this late will ultimately prove counterproductive.

3. Stretch the field, and dare Luck to do the same. Oklahoma State's offense has been less vertical this season than in 2011, but the Cowboys have a speed advantage at the skill positions in this game, and a deep pool of guys who can run with the best. Justin Blackmon and Isaiah Anderson are tough to cover downfield, but Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown have good speed, as do safeties Daytawion Lowe and Markelle Martin. Luck has the arm to get it there, but he can't run routes for his receivers. Overplay short stuff, and make Luck make throws he hasn't made all that often this season.