The end of another football season is almost here and leaves us with one more game: The Alamo Bowl. The matchup is an interesting one to say the least. I think it is safe to say that both teams wanted and expected a better finish to their respective seasons. While Oklahoma State finished with a historic ten wins, the opportunity was theirs to advance to the Big 12 championship game and possibly compete in their first BCS bowl. Unfortunately, the Cowboys came up short in their final home game in a heartbreaking loss to in-state rival, Oklahoma.
Arizona, on the other hand, saw their season end with four straight losses. None of those losses were tougher to handle than the last loss to Arizona State. What started as a very promising beginning for the Wildcats (beating Iowa early on and peaking in the top 10 of the national polls) ended on a much more sour note. Arizona had been battling injuries at key positions over the stretch of the season and what resulted was a very inconsisent team that had the potential to look either really good or pretty bad down the stretch.
So as said before, both teams come into this game with a bit of a sour taste in their mouths. The question becomes will they use that as fuel and motivation or will they dwell on the shortcomings and play without fire? We'll find out soon enough if boths team came to win and or if one team just came for the gifts. Click the jump for the keys to the game.
Both teams in this game have a number of strengths and weaknesses. To me, though, there are a couple that really stand out for each side. These strengths and weaknesses will be the keys to the game.
Oklahoma State Strengths
The Cowboys lead the nation in offense averaging over 530 yards a game. They feature the best combination of quarterback, wide receiver, and running back in the nation. Justin Blackmon was named the nation's best wide receiver and is a unanimous All-American. He led the nation in receiving TDs with 18 and in receiving with over 151 yards per game. In every game he played this season he has had at least 100 yards receiving and a touchdown. Joining him in the backfield is the Doak Walker Award finalist, Kendall Hunter. Kendall finished the season with over 1500 yards rushing, 16 touchdowns, and averaged 126 yards rushing per game. At quarterback, OSU is led by junior Brandon Weeden. Although Weeden was not on any awards lists, he statistically finished as the 2nd best quarterback in the nation averaging over 336 passing yards per game with 32 touchdowns for the year. This three headed monster is accompanied by a great supporting cast including an offensive line that has only allowed 10 sacks all year. If Oklahoma State is to win this game, their triplets at the skill positions will have to produce like they have all season long.
Oklahoma State Weaknesses
Simply put, the OSU defense is either young, thin, or inexperienced at all positions. Starting up front, the defensive line is thin and injury prone. Defensive tackles Shane Jarka and Chris Donaldson have been battling injuries all year long and have very little help or experience behind them on the depth chart. The defensive ends are in a little bit better shape healthwise but have not been able to produce as expected. OSU has amassed 24 sacks for the year but many of those have come from blitzing situations. Senior Orie Lemon is the heart of the defense at middle linebacker with 93 solo tackles for the year (3rd best in the nation). Unfortunately, once passed him the linebackers are inexperienced and/or young. The secondary is also young. While Andrew McGee is a senior, his fellow corners Brodrick Brown, Andrae May, and Justin Gilbert are all sophomores or younger. The bottom line is that OSU's defense ranks 91st in the country and has had a hard time getting off the field on 3rd down (ranked 97th in the nation). Arizona will have to expose OSU's youth and depth on defense in order to win this game.
While not quite as potent on offense, Arizona has shown they have the ability to march down the field with the best of them. The Wildcats currently rank 24th in the nation in total offense but are 9th in passing offense. Although he has battled injuries, quarterback Nick Foles makes this offense move. He averages over 290 passing yards per game and finished the regular season with 19 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions. In the backfield, the running backs have shared reps with junior Keola Antolin getting the bulk of the carries. Senior Nic Grigsby has had a nagging ankle injury all year long and his production has suffered because of it. With the two weeks off, he should be in better condition to make an impact in his final collegiate game. Arizona's other strength is on the other side of the ball at defensive line. The Wildcats are ranked 36th in the nation in total defense and most of that is due to the line's great play. Their pressure has allowed Arizona to gather 33 sacks on the year (15th best in the nation) and defensive end Ricky Elmore leads the way with 11 for the season. One of the ways to beat OSU is to put pressure on the quarterback and Arizona intends on doing just that.
While the defensive line is stout for Arizona, the secondary has proven to be a bit inconsistent. Even though the secondary gives up a decent average of only 206 passing yards per game (42nd in the nation) they too struggle to get off the field on third downs allowing opponents to convert over 42% of their attempts (80th in the country). If OSU has time to throw the ball, they will find opportunities to make the AU secondary pay. On the other side of the ball, the offensive line has also been porous at times during the season. The Wildcats have allowed 27 sacks on the season (79th in the nation) and 71 tackles for loss on the season (almost 6 tackles behind the line of scrimmage per game). If Nick Foles is to make a solid contribution to this game, he is going to need his offensive line to stand up and give a solid performance. If OSU can blitz their way around and through the Arizona O-line, the Wildcats will have a hard time moving the ball.
Overall, I think this game will be won in the trenches. Oklahoma State and Arizona match strength against strength (OSU offensive line versus AU defensive line) and weakness against weakness (OSU defensive line versus AU offensive line). The individual units that show up will go a long way to help their respective team earn a victory in what should be a very close and exciting game.