Primetime College Football: Pacific Life Holiday Bowl
In a rematch of the 1998 Holiday Bowl, Arizona Wildcats clash with the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the 32nd edition of this event at Qualcomm Stadium.
The Wildcats have enjoyed a terrific campaign, although it had the potential to be even better. Arizona showed its resiliency and finished the regular season with two straight wins, including a 21-17 triumph at USC. This is Arizona’s 15th all-time bowl appearance and its second in a row under head coach Mike Stoops. The Wildcats are 6-7-1 all-time in such games following a 31-21 win over BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl last season.
For the Huskers, they were just moments away from shocking the nation and playing in a BCS Bowl. Instead, Nebraska faltered in the final moments and watched Texas boot a 46-yard field goal on the last play of a 13-12 loss in the Big 12 title game. Despite the setback, the Huskers gained a lot of credibility for that effort, if their 9-4 record wasn’t enough already. Nebraska will be making its 46th all-time appearance in a bowl game, owning a 23-22 mark in such bouts. Last season, the Huskers participated in the Gator Bowl and they defeated Clemson, 26-21, in that game.
Nick Foles took over the starting job at quarterback earlier in the season and that move paid immediate dividends for the Wildcats. The sophomore gunslinger played like a veteran and completed 66.0 percent of his pass attempts, with 19 touchdowns against just eight picks. It didn’t hurt that Foles was well protected either, as Arizona gave up just nine sacks. Juron Criner, a 6-4 wideout, uses his size well and was one of Foles’ main targets with 43 receptions, 580 yards and nine touchdowns on the season. Mike Stoops Wildcats are by no means a one-dimensional team, as the ground game is churning out 168.3 ypg behind a 5.0 yard per carry average. Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin have combined for 1,127 yards and nine scores on the ground and they can rip off chunks of yards at time. Grigsby however, is listed as questionable for this game with a shoulder injury.
Arizona’s defense has been good for the most part this season and ranks 21st nationally in yards allowed, surrendering 315.8 ypg. The unit has given up two touchdowns or fewer in four out its last five games and is permitting just 23.2 ppg for the season. The Wildcats have done a better job versus the run (112.1 ypg) than the pass (203.9 ypg), and they have fared well in generating 34 sacks. The unit though, has only forced 19 turnovers, with 12 of them coming on interceptions. Trevin Wade tops the rosters in interceptions with five and he has also made 66 stops. Earl Mitchell and Ricky Elmore are two players to keep an eye out for up front, as they have combined for 17 sacks and 24 tackles for loss.
Offensively, Bo Pelini Cornhuskers have struggled this season, averaging a measly 317.2 total ypg. The team had issues down the stretch as well, as the offense was held below 270 yards in four of the squad’s final five outings. Tailback Roy Helu Jr. is the most important player to the offense. Helu Jr. rushed for 1,139 yards and 10 touchdowns during the regular season and figures to see a bulk of the work in this game. The ground game has had to be good this season, as quarterback Zac Lee has struggled with consistency. Lee threw for just 13 touchdowns against 10 interceptions, while completing 58.8 percent of his tosses. Niles Paul is the main threat in the passing game and he leads the team with 36 catches and 673 receiving yards.
On the defensive side of the ball is where the Huskers have stood out, ranking second nationally in scoring defense (11.2 ppg) and ninth in total defense (284.5 ypg). Texas had been averaging 451.6 ypg and 43.0 ppg.The Huskers have been dominant against the run, yielding 95.5 ypg, and every bit as good against the pass, surrendering 189.1 ypg. The defense can also make the big play, racking up 19 interceptions to go with a whopping 42 sacks.
Highlighting the defense is Ndamukong Suh, a 6-4 defensive tackle that finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy race and took home several awards. A unanimous First-Team All-American, Suh was a force all season and he led the team with 82 tackles, 23 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. He made an even bigger name for himself in the Big 12 title game, when he racked up 12 tackles and 4.5 sacks despite facing double teams all game long.
This is the third time these two schools are meeting on the gridiron and the first since Arizona scored a 23-20 win over Nebraska in the 1998 Holiday Bowl. The teams played to a 14-14 tie in the first meeting, which took place in 1961.
PICK: University of Nebraska Cornhuskers