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January 4, 2009

SCS.comThe 38th edition of the Fiesta Bowl features a Big Twelve and Big Ten match-up as the Ohio State Buckeyes meet the Texas Longhorns. This will be the third match-up in four years between these two powerhouse programs with both teams earning a win on the road, Texas in 2005 and Ohio State in 2006. What makes this match-up even more enticing is the fact that these two programs rank in the top five all-time in wins, with Texas currently tied for second with Notre Dame and Ohio State sitting in fifth place overall. Looking ahead to this season’s match-up, Texas wants to make a statement that they deserved a slot in the national championship game while Ohio State is looking to rebound with an impressive performance after two consecutive blow-out losses in national championship games. In addition, the Buckeyes will look to continue their success against current Big Twelve teams in the post-season as they have won all five games that have been contested while Texas focuses on achieving the same success as in their last BCS game, a 41-38 win over USC to claim the national championship. Time to take an in-depth preview at how these two college football powerhouses match-up in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl.

FIESTA BOWL – Texas vs Ohio State
January 5 - 7:00 PM CST FOX TV – Glendale, AZ

The matchup...

The Buckeyes head to Arizona after completing a 10-2 regular season which included a 7-1 record in the Big Ten, good for Ohio State to lay claim to a fourth consecutive conference championship. Ohio State’s only two losses on the season were against the two top-ten teams who will go head-to-head in the Rose Bowl in Penn State and Southern Cal. The Buckeyes will be playing in a fourth straight BCS game and the sixth during the Jim Tressel era in Columbus. This will also be Ohio State’s seventh appearance in a BCS game, which is tied with USC and Oklahoma for the most ever in the eleven year history of the system. In their previous six BCS games, Ohio State has won four, including all three of their visits to the Fiesta Bowl, with wins over Notre Dame, Kansas State, and Miami of Florida.
Texas completed an 11-1 regular season including a 7-1 record in the Big Twelve, with their only loss suffered at the hands of Texas Tech on a touchdown pass in the final ten seconds of the game. The loss to Tech cost Texas a berth in the Big Twelve championship game as Oklahoma edged out the Longhorns in the BCS standings, which the Sooners took full advantage of by defeating Missouri and earning a slot in the national title game. Texas heads to their eleventh straight bowl game and third BCS bowl in five years after recording an eighth consecutive ten-win season, which leads the nation. The Longhorns have won six of their past seven bowl games, including four straight and will make their first appearance at the Fiesta Bowl since a 38-15 loss to Penn State. As previously mentioned, this is not only the third meeting in four years for these teams, but the third meeting all time in these programs history.

When Texas has the ball...

The leader of the Longhorn offense is their quarterback Colt McCoy, who had a tremendous season, ranking sixth in the nation in total offense at 335 yards per game. McCoy threw for 3,445 yards and 32 touchdowns on the season and also contributed another 576 yards and ten touchdowns on the ground. What is even more impressive for Colt is how he minimized mistakes by only throwing seven interceptions in his 375 pass attempts and completed an NCAA record 77.6 percent of his passes, helping him to finish third in the nation in pass efficiency. When Texas throws the ball, McCoy has a tremendous duo to rely on in Jordan Shipley, who recorded 79 receptions for 982 yards and eleven touchdowns, and Quan Cosby, who totaled 952 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. In a great match-up of strength versus strength, the Ohio State pass defense is exceptional, highlighted by their All-American cornerback Malcolm Jenkins. The Buckeyes rank sixth in the nation is passing yardage allowed per game at 164, and this group will be the best that Texas has faced all season.
When the quarterback is the leading rusher for a team, that is usually a sign of major trouble for an offense. But, the Longhorns made it work this season to the tune of a 44 point per game scoring average. After McCoy, there is a tightly bunched group of backs who will all see action, with the number one option being Vondrell McGee, who ran for only 376 yards and four touchdowns on the season. Keep an eye out for freshman runner Chris Johnson, who rumbled for 336 yards on the season and twelve touchdowns, but he ended the season with an impressive 102 yard effort in the big win over rival Texas A&M. Much like the Ohio State pass defense, the Buckeye rush defense is also quite impressive as the Bucks yield only 115 yards per game on the ground. The star for OSU in shutting down the run is the Big Ten defensive player of the year James Laurinaitis, who averages 10.8 tackles per game to lead the conference.

When Ohio State has the ball...

The Buckeye game plan is very simple, pound away on the ground for as long as possible behind the combination of running back Chris Wells and quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Ohio State will look to maintain ball control and manage the clock with a ground game that churned out 192 yards per game. Even while missing three games due to injury, Chris Wells managed to run for 1,091 yards and eight touchdowns, while averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Behind Wells in rushing yardage is Pryor who assumed the starting quarterback role early in the season and took advantage of the opportunity to run for 553 yards and 6 touchdowns as a true freshman. What sets up to be a great match-up is awaiting the Buckeye ground game is a tough Longhorn rush defense that gave up only 74 yards per game on the ground. The best performance of the season for the Texas rush defense was in their huge win over Oklahoma as the Longhorns limited a powerful Sooner rushing game to only 48 yards in the 45-35 Texas win.
When Ohio State does decide to take their offense to the air, the number one target is receiver Brian Robiskie, who led the team with 37 receptions and eight touchdowns. Right behind Robiskie is another veteran in Brian Hartline, who displayed big play potential with 479 receiving yards on only 21 receptions. On the season, Pryor threw for 1,245 yards and 12 touchdowns versus four interceptions and he attempted more than 19 passes on only one occasion, the 13-6 loss to Penn State. Expect Pryor to throw the ball more than he has during the season to take advantage of a porous Texas pass defense which ranks 109th in the nation and gives up 266 yards per game. The Longhorns have also struggled in intercepting the opposing quarterbacks as Texas recorded only six interceptions on the season to rank 113th in the nation in that category. One area that Texas has not struggled in is getting to the quarterback as the Longhorns rank as the best in the nation in sacks, recording 44 this year.

Star watch...

There are plenty of stars to keep an eye on in this game led by Heisman finalist Colt McCoy. The Longhorn quarterback set the Texas single season passing record for yardage and he is only the second player in Texas history to record over 4,000 yards of total offense in a season. On defense for Texas, the top player is defensive end Brian Orakpo, who won the Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s top defensive player. Orakpo ranked sixth in the nation in sacks after recording 10.5 on the season in addition to his 18 tackles for loss despite missing two and a half games due to injury. For Ohio State, their number one option is Chris Wells, who ranks fourth all time in Buckeye history in rushing yardage with 3,276 and has recorded a stellar 5.8 yard per carry average during his time in Columbus. On defense for the Bucks, James Laurinaitis is always fun to watch as the three-time all Big-Ten and consensus two-time All-American linebacker led Ohio State in tackles for a third consecutive season.

Deciding factor...

The key question in this game is will Ohio State be able to keep the ball on the ground with Wells and Pryor and to simply grind out yardage in time consuming drives. The Buckeye passing game has not been a major factor this season and although the Longhorns have struggled in defending the pass, it could be a long evening for Ohio State if the running game is not leading the offense. If Ohio State is able to grind out yardage and keep Colt McCoy on the sideline, the edge will belong to the Buckeyes as the game will play right into their strength. For Texas, the game rides on the throwing arm and legs of Colt McCoy, who has been the key to the Texas offense all season long. Texas will focus on spreading out the Ohio State defense and to open lanes for the tremendous receiving duo of Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby to work downfield. The Longhorns will score if given the opportunity, it will be up to the Ohio State offense to shorten the game and to maintain ball control to keep their defense rested and ready against the powerful Texas attack.
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