Boise State vs. Oregon State: 5 Key Matchups in Hawaii Bowl

K Becks@@KBecks_ATCCorrespondent IIDecember 20, 2013

Boise State vs. Oregon State: 5 Key Matchups in Hawaii Bowl

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    Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

    On December 24 at approximately 8 p.m. ET, the Boise State Broncos (8-4, 6-2 MWC) will take on the Oregon State Beavers (6-6, 4-5 Pac-12) in the 2013 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu, Hawaii.

    The Christmas Eve bowl game is a very difficult one to predict for prognosticators due to the effect the Honolulu atmosphere can have on teams that are not used to playing there.

    For Boise State, things will be even tougher than the last time the Broncos traveled to Aloha Stadium to play in this bowl game. Former head coach Chris Petersen, who left the program for the University of Washington after eight seasons, will not be with the team in Hawaii.

    Instead, current linebackers coach Bob Gregory will serve as interim head coach.

    The last time these two teams squared off, in 2010, Boise State easily handled the Beavers 37-24 on the blue turf.

    A lot can happen in the time leading up to the game, but chances are this round will be much closer.

    In the following slides, we’ll take a look at some of the more interesting matchups in this game. Winning these matchups could be the keys to holding up the hardware at the end of the night.

Sean Mannion vs. Demarcus Lawrence

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    Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

    One could make the strong argument that Sean Mannion vs. The Entire Boise State Defense would also be an appropriate matchup to lead off with. But we’ll get to other components of the defense later.

    For now, let’s focus on the battle between the nation’s No. 2 passer and No. 9 sack leader.

    Mannion, who has thrown for over 4,400 yards this season, is an extreme threat to the Broncos, who have had a lot of trouble against solid quarterback competition this season. But Lawrence, who has exploded the second half of the year with 7.5 of his 10.5 sacks coming in the last six games of the season, can do a lot to negate Mannion’s abilities.

    No team in the Pac-12 has allowed more sack yardage than Oregon State, and Mannion is by no account a running quarterback.

    Making Mannion throw before he wants to is exactly what Boise State needs to do in order to get the Beavers out of a rhythm offensively. Over 80 percent of Oregon State’s offense comes from the passing game, and based on the Broncos’ numbers in the secondary this season, head coach Mike Riley will be looking to take advantage of any weak spots.

    As the usual linebackers coach, expect Coach Gregory to dial up a lot of pressure against the Beavers in this game. Sitting back in coverage hasn’t worked for Boise State so far this season, and it won’t work against a passing offense like Oregon State’s, either.

    If Boise State is clicking defensively, Lawrence should be in the running for the game’s MVP award.

Brandin Cooks vs. Donte Deayon

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    Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

    Demarcus Lawrence may have the most important matchup on the defense for Boise State, but sophomore cornerback Donte Deayon could have the most difficult assignment.

    Deayon, who leads the team with five interceptions on the year and is arguably the Broncos’ best cover corner, will more than likely have the task of covering 2013 Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks.

    Cooks, who leads the nation in total receiving yards and receiving yards per game, is Mannion’s favorite target and averages 10 receptions per game. His speed and route-running skills make him one of the most coveted prospects in next year’s draft if he decides to forgo his senior year at Oregon State.

    However, despite all of Cooks’ accomplishments, there is reason to suggest that Deayon could be up to the challenge of at least slowing down the speedy wide receiver’s production in a bowl game that is often defined by amazing offensive performances.

    At 5’9”, 151 pounds, Deayon is normally at a disadvantage when covering taller, more physical receivers.

    But Cooks is 5’10”, 186 pounds.

    Deayon will need to pay special attention to the deep routes that Cooks will run, as it is very possible that the Beavers will try to open things up early against Boise State.

    He has the physical tools to contain Cooks, and the Broncos will need him to do so in order to win.

Jay Ajayi vs. Oregon State Defensive Line

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    Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

    The running game is one area where Boise State can hurt the Beavers, and it will need to take full advantage of that to stay competitive in this game.

    Jay Ajayi has by far been the most valuable player and biggest surprise on Boise State’s offense in 2013, with his 1,328 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns making him one of the top 20 backs in the nation.

    Six times this season the 220-pound wrecking ball has gone over the century mark in rushing yards, and the Hawaii Bowl presents a golden opportunity for him to make it seven on the year.

    Oregon State’s rush defense ranks next to last in the Pac-12, and Ajayi has already proven himself capable against Pac-12 competition, rushing for 93 yards on 23 carries against Washington.

    The Beavers will probably know what is coming, and this will make Ajayi’s job a bit more difficult on Christmas Eve. But since the Broncos might not be able to keep up with Oregon State’s high-powered offensive attack anyway, ball possession could be the key to victory.

    In that case, expect Ajayi to get a lot of carries, which will make ball security a priority as well.

    Thanks to the 2007 Hawaii Bowl, Boise State knows just how devastating a solid ground game can be. If the Broncos are to win this game, it’ll probably be a result of Jay Ajayi going off against Oregon State’s defense.

Joe Southwick and Grant Hedrick vs. Jabral Johnson

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    James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

    According to Chadd Cripe of the Idaho Statesman, Coach Gregory stated that packages for both Joe Southwick and Grant Hedrick were being put together for the Hawaii Bowl.

    That being said, Oregon State outside linebacker Jabral Johnson will be coming after both of them.

    Johnson, who was not a starter at the beginning of the season for the Beavers but has since become the team’s second leading tackler, will be responsible for keeping tabs on whichever quarterback Boise State has in the game.

    Although Johnson only has one sack on the season, it can be anticipated that he will break quickly on both quarterbacks. Hedrick is more likely to run than Southwick, and Southwick’s ankle injury earlier in the season may make him less mobile, prompting Johnson to make the decision to come after him.

    In addition, Johnson will have to find a way to contain Jay Ajayi in the running game.

    This isn’t Boise State’s most important matchup in the game, but it could be the X-factor for the Beavers. If Johnson can disrupt the play of Boise State’s quarterbacks, it could be difficult for the Broncos to fool Oregon State with a one-dimensional rushing attack.

    Keeping Johnson off balance will be key for the Broncos play-callers. If he cannot anticipate where the ball is going, it will be more difficult for him to be involved in tackles.

Bob Gregory vs. Mike Riley

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    Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

    A famous quote from the movie Forrest Gump is probably the best way to approach the Hawaii Bowl every year.

    “Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

    Thus is true of the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, amidst the beautiful setting of palm trees and beaches in Hawaii’s most populous city.

    While a bowl game can serve as an extra two weeks of practice and a chance to send hard-working seniors off as winners, often it is also viewed as a vacation by players. Never is that more true than for the teams that accept a bid to the Hawaii Bowl.

    Unfortunately, fans are never quite certain what kind of team will come to play at Aloha Stadium. Some teams, most notably the Hawaii and SMU squads coached by June Jones, appear focused and ready. In fact, Jones’ teams are 6-1 in Hawaii Bowls.

    Other teams come out looking flat and uninterested, as if there had been a bit too much partying on the beach and colorful drinks with small umbrellas.

    So it will be important for Coach Gregory and Coach Riley to keep their teams focused and inspired leading up to the game. This matchup is as much pregame as it is in-game.

    Regardless of the talent on the field, how much the players actually care will mean a lot in determining a winner in this game.