Arizona Offense-Nebraska Defense: Holiday Bowl Preview

Tom PhillipsCorrespondent IDecember 17, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 05:  Quarterback Nick Foles #8 of the Arizona Wildcats throws a pass against the USC Trojans on December 5, 2009 at the Los Angeles Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. Arizona won 21-17.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Outside of the BCS bowls, the Nebraska-Arizona matchup might be one of the more intriguing ones in the country.

Arizona's spread offense versus Nebraska's vaunted defense.

Arizona has come a long way from where they were three years ago, and some would argue even three games into this season. Arizona started slow before naming Nick Foles their starting quarterback four games into the season. Foles not only impressed 'Cats' fans, but also national football analysts.

Foles, through his first three starts, averaged almost 50 passes a game and had a completion percentage over 70 percent. Foles cooled as the season went on but still put up big numbers for Arizona, throwing for 2,438 yards, 19 touchdowns, and only completed 66 percent of his passes.

Arizona's running game was grounded as their top two running backs, Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin, battled injuries all year. Redshirt freshman Greg Nwoko and Nick Booth both impressed for the 'Cats when pressed into action.

No player on the team rushed for more than 600 yards on the season, but the Wildcats still managed to have their top three rushers run for over 1,200 yards despite all the injuries. Grigsby and Antolin are both expected to be healthy and able to play for the Holiday Bowl.

The receivers for Arizona felt like they were a dime a dozen. It seemed like each week Arizona decided that it was a different receiver's week to step up and make the big plays. No player on the 'Cats had more than 50 catches, but five receivers had at least 30 and could end up with four receivers grabbing 40 passes this season.

The one who made the biggest impact and biggest plays was Juron Criner. Criner was tied for first in receiving touchdowns in the Pac-10 with nine touchdowns, including the game-winner over USC.

Nebraska's defense this season was nothing short of spectacular. In fact, they are scary good. They are 11th in the nation against the run, only allowing 96 yards a game, and are ninth in the nation in yards allowed a game, only giving up 285.

The even scarier stat: second in the nation in scoring defense, only giving up 11.2 points a game.

So who leads this Nebraska defense? Only a player who came in fourth in the Heisman trophy award voting, Ndamukong Suh.

The senior defensive tackle lead the Cornhuskers in tackles with 83, had 23 tackles for loss, and was tied for third in the nation with 12 sacks. He absolutely dominates the line of scrimmage and his opposition and demands a double team on every play.

His biggest game came on the biggest stage of the season so far: the Big 12 Championship game. He put constant pressure on Colt McCoy and the Longhorn backfield, racking up 12 tackles, seven for a loss and four-and-a-half sacks.

The passing defense is no slouch, either. They rank 25th in the nation, allowing 189 yards per game through the air.

Cornerback Prince Amukamara and safety Matt O'Hanlon both had five interceptions while backup cornerback Dejon Gomes picked off four passes. Needless to say, the Huskers have some ballhawks in the cornfields.

Whichever team wins this battle will likely win the Holiday Bowl.


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