Fiesta Bowl 2010: 10 Things You Need To Know About Oklahoma vs. UConn
This year's Fiesta Bowl figures to be one of the more laughable matchups in BCS history. The game features the Big 12 champion Oklahoma Sooners against the Big East champion Connecticut Huskies. Many are predicting this game to be one of the biggest blowouts in the bowl season and the Sooners are opening up as 17 point favorites.
However, there are lots of things that have to be taken into account when it comes to big games such as this and since UConn is playing in their first ever BCS bowl game, nothing can be discounted or taken for granted. Here are 10 things you need to know about the 2011 edition of the Tostios Fiesta Bowl.
1. First, A Bit Of History
The Fiesta Bowl began in 1971, but was primarily just another bowl game that was used to get a bowl bid for the Western Athletic Conference champion. In 1975, the bowl hosted its first top five matchup when Nebraska played Arizona State. In 1978, Arizona and Arizona State joined the Pac-10 and the WAC ties ended.
1987 was a breakthrough year for the Fiesta Bowl as the game pitted Penn State and Miami in a de facto national championship game. The game was played on January 2, the day after the four major bowl games (Cotton, Rose, Sugar, and Orange). By the end of the 1980's, many considered the Fiesta Bowl to be one of the major bowl games in college football.
The 1990s brought about the Bowl Coalition and the Bowl Championship Series. The Fiesta Bowl was part of both of them and hosted the first BCS National Championship game which pitted Tennessee against Florida State. With the new format of the BCS, the Fiesta Bowl itself does not host the national championship, but continues to offer compelling matchups every year, including last year's which was the first BCS game between non-AQ teams in Boise State and TCU.
2. How They Got Here: Oklahoma
The Oklahoma Sooners come into this game with an 11-2 record on the season. The Sooners won the Big 12 South title and then defeated the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Big 12 championship game to advance to Glendale.
The Sooners came into the season looking to improve on last year's 8-5 debacle and were thinking a different appearance in Glendale for a national championship game appearance. The Sooners started the year well, running out to a 6-0 record, but fell on the road against Missouri. A win against Colorado was followed by a loss on the road to Texas A&M. The loss to the Aggies knocked Oklahoma out of any shot for a national championship.
Instead of folding, the Sooners ripped off four straight wins to capture their seventh Big 12 title in 15 years of the conference's existence. Now the Sooners turn their attention to the major monkey on the back of the program: five straight losses in BCS bowl games, including two straight in the Fiesta Bowl.
3. How They Got Here: Connecticut
UConn came in to the 2010 season with expectations of a Big East championship and BCS bowl berth, but two months into the season, it appeared their season was all but over. The Huskies sat at 3-4 overall, 0-2 in conference play, and had two embarrassing losses on the road to Michigan and Temple. The Huskies were coming off a humiliating 26-0 loss on the road at Louisville and were staring down the barrel at a Friday night matchup with conference leader Pittsburgh. Then things began to happen.
The Huskies rattled of five straight wins to claim the Big East conference crown and earned the first BCS bowl berth in school history. This comes from a program that only joined the highest rank of college football in 2000.
It certainly wasn't an easy road for UConn, but they roll into Glendale playing some terrific football. They will be looking to keep the momentum going against a similarly hot team in Oklahoma.
4. Oklahoma on Offense
The Oklahoma offense is one of the best and most efficient offenses in the country. The Sooners rank 13th in the country in total offense at 478 yards a game and 17th in points per game at a shade over 36 points per contest.
The strength of the Oklahoma offense is the passing game, led by sophomore quarterback Landry Jones and junior wide receiver Ryan Broyles. On the season, Jones has thrown for 4,289 yards with 35 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions. Broyles has easily been his top target for the second year in a row. Broyles shattered practically every OU receiving record this season, recording 118 catches for 1,452 yards and 13 touchdowns.
While Jones and Broyles are the key cogs, senior DeMarco Murray completes the trifecta for this offense. Murray rushed for over 1,000 yards on the season and also caught 69 passes for 595 yards and had 19 total touchdowns. Murray become Oklahoma's all time leader in career touchdowns this season as well.
Aside from the big three, Oklahoma has many weapons, both in the backfield and at receiver. Senior Mossis Madu backs up Murray at running back and although freshman sensation Roy Finch will miss the game with a stress fracture in his left foot, fellow freshman Brennan Clay will help pick up the slack. At receiver, freshmen Kenny Stills and Trey Franks have been outstanding, along with senior Cameron Kenney and tight end James Hanna.
5. Connecticut on Offense
For Connecticut, the offense runs through running back Jordan Todman, literally. Todman has carried this team all season and that doesn't figure to change for this game. Todman has rushed for 1,574 yards and 14 touchdowns on the year with a very impressive five yards per carry average. Todman is a workhorse, with 302 carries on the year.
Quarterback Zach Frazer is not a game changer, but does a good job of managing the game for the Huskies and making plays when UConn needs a big play in the passing game. On the season, Frazer has thrown for 1,202 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions. Nothing impressive, but the offense runs through Todman and simply needs Frazer to be a competent game manager.
Frazer has some capable targets to throw the ball to, his favorite being Michael Smith with 42 catches for 595 yards. Kashif Moore is also a big receiver for the Huskies with 32 catches on the year, four of them for touchdowns.
6. Oklahoma On Defense
Statistically speaking, the Oklahoma defense hasn't been anywhere close to the dominant unit that roamed the field in 2009, but over the past four games, this unit has been outstanding.
The Sooners are led by a veteran group in senior defensive end Jeremy Beal (8.5 sacks, 18 TFL), junior linebacker Travis Lewis (99 tackles, three INTS), and senior safety Quinton Carter (92 tackles, four INTS). Each is the best player of his respective unit and front to back establish a very difficult wall to get through on each level.
The Sooners are loaded with talent on this side of the ball and have many players that have all contributed significantly this season. Freshman Tony Jefferson has been outstanding in the Sooners' secondary and was rewarded with the Big 12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year award as voted by the coaches. Linebacker Austin Box and defensive end Pryce Macon have also played huge roles on the defensive side of the ball over the second half of the year.
7. Connecticut On Defense
The Connecticut defense isn't outstanding, but it is a very solid unit, ranking 57th or better in every defensive statistical category. The best is their scoring defense, which ranks 23rd in the nation, and their pass efficiency defense, which ranks 16th.
The Huskies are led by a pair of linebackers, Lawrence Wilson and Sio Moore, who have 115 and 104 tackles on the season respectively. No one else on the team has more than 60. These two players also have a combined 20.5 tackles for loss and five sacks on the year. They've also forced a couple of turnovers and Wilson's lone interception, a 55-yard return for a touchdown against South Florida, proved to be a huge difference in that game.
Overall, the Huskies have picked off 19 passes on the season and taken four of them to the house. They're a ball hawking group that is always looking for the big play down the field. The secondary is led by sophomore Blidi Breh-Wilson who leads the team with four interceptions and 153 return yards. He has two of the pick sixes on the defense.
Up front for the Huskies is sophomore defensive end Jesse Joseph who leads the team with 8.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss.
8. Key Matchup For Oklahoma: Landry Jones Vs. UConn Secondary
Landry Jones has proven himself time and time again this season in big games. He also failed to impress in the Sooners' two road losses, but in the past month, he has been outstanding, particularly in the final two games against Oklahoma State on the road and Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game.
With Connecticut having a very good secondary and one that really puts pressure on the ball and the receivers, Jones will once again have to be on the mark with his passes. The Sooners receivers should be able to out-athlete the UConn secondary, but Jones still can't just be putting up passes and letting the receivers go get it. That's always a recipe for disaster no matter who you are playing.
Jones has completed 65% of his passes this season and will need to be efficient once again in order to ensure that the Sooners come out on top in this game. Jones has shown poise the past month of the season and simply needs to continue what he has been doing in order to finish well.
9. Key Matchup For Connecticut: UConn Offensive Line Vs. OU Front Seven
The Connecticut Huskies live and die on the legs and back of Jordan Todman. There is no other way to look at their offense. If Todman is not making plays, then the offensive is going to be disastrous. This game isn't riding on the legs of Todman, but rather the ability of the Husky offensive line to create holes for him and allow him to make those plays with his legs.
The Sooners boast one of the most athletic defensive front sevens in all of college football. While the defensive line has had its ups and downs, particularly at the defensive tackle position where depth has been a concern all year, it's a very solid unit. The linebackers are even better and fly to the ball with great efficiency and intensity.
For Connecticut to win this game, they have to, at the very least, make sure that Todman runs wild. That responsibility falls to the offensive line to open up running lanes and make good blocks downfield that allow Todman to get to the second level of the Sooner defense. UConn will probably need more than a good running game to beat Oklahoma, but if they don't even get that, they won't have a prayer.
Everyone, minus a couple of UConn fans, having been viewing this game as possibly the worst blowout in BCS bowl history and to be honest, there is really no reason to expect otherwise. Trust me, everyone is happy for UConn for getting here. It's a great story with this only being the 11th season at the FBS level, but the happy-go-lucky feelings will stop once the game begins on New Years Day night.
No matter what way you slice it, Oklahoma has an advantage in every aspect of the game. Yes, UConn has a very effective running game and a pretty good defense, but they've been playing in the Big East all year. Not exactly the level of competition that Oklahoma has been playing all year in the Big 12.
That's not to say UConn doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell in this game. They do. That's why they play the game. A month to prepare for a single game really does give the advantage to the underdog, or at least helps them out in their preparations.
However, in the end, Oklahoma is too big, too fast, too athletic, and too good for the Huskies to contend with.
Sooners roll, 45-14.