Fiesta Bowl 2014: Keys for Each Team in Boise State vs. Arizona

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistDecember 12, 2014

Nov 28, 2014; Tucson, AZ, USA; Arizona Wildcats linebacker Scooby Wright III (33) against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the 88th annual territorial cup at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats defeated the Sun Devils 42-35 to win the Pac-12 south title. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Although most of the attention during the college football season was directed toward the playoff race, two under-the-radar teams will get a chance to prove what they can do at the Fiesta Bowl.

Arizona earned one of the best wins of the year by defeating Oregon, but the next time the Wildcats had a turn in the spotlight, they were blown out in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Still, with plenty of young talent on the roster, fans better start taking note of this up-and-coming squad.

On the other hand, Boise State ended the year as the best non-Power Five conference team in the nation, but it took most of the year for the team to finally get the respect it deserved.

With a great offense and some serious star power, though, it will be hard not to notice the Broncos in this game.

One of these teams will be able to earn a marquee win to end the year and a lot of momentum heading into next season. However, only one can win, and it will be the one that best follows these keys to victory.

Arizona

Control the Clock

Nov 28, 2014; Tucson, AZ, USA; Arizona Wildcats running back Nick Wilson (28) runs for a 72 yard touchdown during the second half against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

When Arizona is playing well, it is moving the football on the ground behind Nick Wilson and controlling the pace of the game. Even before Wilson took over as the primary back, he and Terris Jones-Grigsby combined for 207 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the win over Oregon.

The Ducks were limited to just 26 minutes and 28 seconds of possession in their only loss of the season.

This was clearly not the case in the Pac-12 Championship Game, as Arizona had the ball for just over 21 minutes in a 51-13 loss. The team ran just 61 plays compared to 94 for Oregon.

Jerry Palm of CBS Sports joked about this problem during the game:

Arizona dealt with the same problem in the 17-7 loss to UCLA. Meanwhile, USC was able to steal a win against the Wildcats when Anu Solomon threw the ball 72 times.

The team is at its best when it runs the ball as much as possible. Wilson is coming off a terrible outing, but he had 396 rushing yards and six touchdowns in the two games prior.

If he is successful, the team will be able to score offensively and keep Boise State's No. 9 scoring offense off the field.

Slow Down the Run

Sep 20, 2014; Boise, ID, USA; Boise State Broncos running back Jay Ajayi (27) during the second half against the UL Lafayette Ragin Cajuns at Albertsons Stadium. Boise State defeats UL Lafayette 34-9. Mandatory Credit: Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Stopping the run will be almost impossible. Jay Ajayi is one of the most underrated players in college football, ranking fourth in the nation with 1,689 rushing yards and second with 25 touchdowns.

Boise State offensive coordinator Mike Sanford had a lot of praise for the junior running back:

Meanwhile, Arizona ranks just 72nd in the country against the run, a number that was clearly inflated by allowing 301 rushing yards to Oregon.

The good news is the Wildcats do have the ability to at least slow down the Broncos on the ground. Scooby Wright can cover most of the field on defensehe just needs the defensive line to hold its ground in the trenches.

If Boise State is limited in the running game, Arizona should be able to pull out a close win.

Boise State

Avoid Interceptions

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 13:   Grant Hedrick #9 of the Boise State Broncos looks for an open man against the Connecticut Huskies  in the first quarter at Rentschler Field on September 13, 2014 in East Hartford, Connecticut. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Each of Boise State's losses had a similar theme: bad turnovers.

Senior quarterback Grant Hedrick had five interceptions all of last season and five more this year in the 11 wins. On the other hand, he had a total of eight picks in losses to Ole Miss and Air Force.

Hedrick has been extremely accurate this season, as noted by Blue Turf of Rivals.com:

The problem is sometimes his decision-making leaves much to be desired. Against a more athletic team than he is used to facing, this could be an issue.

If he cannot hold on to the ball and gives Arizona more opportunities to score, Boise State will be in trouble.

Get off the Field on 3rd Downs

Arizona has a quality offense and is at its best when it can move the ball down the field and continue extended drives. Of course, this has not been the case in the losses this season.

In the team's three losses this season, the squad is just 20-of-57 on third downs for a mark of 35.1 percent. Over the course of a full year, this would rank 103rd in the country.

This plays right into Boise State's hands with the team currently ranking 22nd in the country in defensive stops on third down, according to NCAA.com.

There are few things worse for a defense than making good plays on first and second down, only to allow the opponent to keep the drive going with a third-down conversion. The Broncos have to do their best to get the opposing offense off the field to get the ball back to Hedrick and Ajayi as quickly as possible.

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