Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Holiday Bowl preview
By ESPN.com staff
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.