NCF Nation: Holiday 2009 bowls

Instant analysis: Nebraska 33, Arizona 0

December, 30, 2009
Wow. That was a complete butt-kicking.

Nebraska simply outclassed Arizona in a 33-0 victory in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl, a game in which the Wildcats never even produced a whimper of life.

The Pac-10 falls to 2-3 in the bowl season, and one has to start wondering if all that "best conference" talk was just a bit loopy.

How the game was won: Nebraska showed up and punched Arizona in the mouth on both sides of the ball. Over and over and over and over. And over again. It's not an exaggeration to say that Arizona didn't have a single positive moment in the entire football game.

Turning point: This is a stretch because the real turning point was the opening kickoff. But Nebraska, leading 17-0 in the second quarter, had a third-and-8 on the Arizona 33-yard line. Cornhuskers backup quarterback Cody Green threw to his left sideline -- and directly to Arizona cornerback Devin Ross. If Ross had caught the ball, it's likely he would have scored a touchdown. He didn't. Nebraska subsequently kicked a 50-yard field goal and took a 20-0 lead. Like we said, it's a bit of a stretch.

Stat of the game: Six and 109. The first number is how many first downs Arizona collected on the night. The second is the Wildcats' total yardage. Just terrible.

Player of the game: Nebraska quarterback Zac Lee. Lee is the reason the Pac-10 blog -- darrrrhhhhh -- picked Arizona to win this game. (Yes, feel free to comment on that below). The feeling was that Arizona had a huge advantage at the position. But Wildcats quarterback Nick Foles chose the bowl game to post his worst performance of the year, while Lee completed 13 of 23 passes for 173 yards with a TD and no interceptions.

What it means: This was a massive humiliation for Arizona and coach Mike Stoops, suffered at the hands of hometown buddy Bo Pelini. Was the bowl result bad enough to erase all the positives from the 2009 season? Maybe not, but it may not feel that way for a few days around the program. Something went wrong for the Wildcats in their preparation. Perhaps Nebraska was just that much better, but it didn't look that way going in. You have to wonder if something was amiss within the team. Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops' impending departure for Florida State? Offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes' potential candidacy at Texas Tech? Or maybe it was something with the players. Stoops' next task is figuring out a way to make sure this defeat doesn't linger within his program.


Holiday Bowl preview

December, 29, 2009
Breaking down the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl between No. 20 Arizona (8-4) and No. 22 Nebraska (9-4).

WHO TO WATCH: Arizona quarterback Nick Foles doesn't have great mobility -- though his supposed lack of mobility is overplayed -- but the reason he wasn't sacked many times this year is his quick release in the Wildcats' short passing game that emphasizes spreading the field with four or five receivers, hitting screens and quick hitches and trying to beat one-on-one matchups. The key to slowing down one of the best defenses in the country -- the Cornhuskers rank second in the nation in scoring defense (11.23 ppg) and ninth in total defense (284.5 yards per game) -- is to distribute the ball before the pressure arrives. That's Foles' job and he's done it well most of the year. But can he do it against Nebraska?

WHAT TO WATCH: Can the Arizona offensive line handle the Nebraska defensive front? Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh is the best defensive tackle in the country -- he might be the best overall player in the country after rolling up 19.5 tackles for a loss and 12 sacks despite near-constant double teams. And the guy beside him, Jared Crick, isn't chopped liver, either. Few teams have had any success rushing against the Cornhuskers, particularly between the tackles. The interior of the Wildcats' offensive line -- center Colin Baxter and guards Conan Amituanai, Herman Hall and Vaughn Dotsy -- will face its biggest challenge of the year. Of course, the return of slashing running back Nic Grigsby from a shoulder injury means the Wildcats' running game may seek the perimeter and use cutbacks to keep the aggressive Cornhuskers at bay.

WHY TO WATCH: It's a showdown between ranked teams from BCS conferences, and both programs are trying to maintain upward momentum heading into the offseason. It's also fair to say both teams should be happy to be in the Holiday Bowl, even though both were close to bigger bowl games. The Cornhuskers were nipped by Texas in the last moments of the Big 12 title game, while Arizona was only a play or two away from the Rose Bowl. Further, Suh will be playing his last college before heading off to the NFL, where he could be the No. 1 overall pick this spring.

PREDICTION: Don't expect a lot of points. Nebraska's great defense should be able to slow Arizona's good offense, while the Wildcats' solid defense should be able to contain Nebraska's struggling offense. The key for Arizona is Foles' quick release and the defense stopping the run and putting pressure on Nebraska quarterback Zac Lee to make plays passing. And turnovers. Never forget those. The game hints at being tight throughout, but it seems that Arizona's balance on both sides of the ball should help it prevail 23-20.