2008 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl Preview
#4 Oklahoma (10-2, 6-2 Big 12) vs. #9 West Virginia (10-2, 5-2 Big East)
January 2, 2008 @ 8:00 PM (EST) – FOX – Glendale, Arizona
Those who were a part of Oklahoma’s heartbreaking loss to Boise State in last year’s Fiesta Bowl are no doubt looking forward to next Wednesday.
The Sooners will have the chance to atone for last year’s loss, one of three straight losses in BCS bowl games for OU, when they take on Big East champion West Virginia in the 2008 edition of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Wednesday night.
The last time Oklahoma won a BCS bowl game was the 2003 Rose Bowl, when they defeated Washington State 34-14.
That win was followed by losses to LSU (2004 Sugar Bowl - national title game), Southern California (2005 Orange Bowl - national title game), and then last year’s 43-42 overtime loss to Boise St., the most heart-wrenching and closest of the three losses.
While Oklahoma will try to make up for their recent bowl history, West Virginia will try to put some losses behind them as well.
On December 1st, the Mountaineers were ranked #2 and a win away from having a chance to play for the national championship. But, they picked a bad time for their worst performance of the season, and suffered a shocking 13-9 upset loss at home to 4-7 Pittsburgh in the Backyard Brawl.
After one crushing defeat, the Mountaineers suffered another one, as head coach Rich Rodriguez bolted his alma mater to become Michigan’s next head coach.
However, it’s not about who’s not there but who still is, and for West Virginia, it all starts with their speedy junior duo of QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton. When those two guys are at their best, it means trouble for opponents.
The two have both run for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, while Slaton has been a 1,000 yard rusher in all three of his seasons in Morgantown. But, in the biggest game of their careers, things didn’t go as they would have liked. White dislocated his thumb against the Panthers and was limited to 50 yards passing and 41 yards rushing. As for Slaton, he was held to only 11 yards on nine carries and one catch for nine yards.
The going’s not going to be easy against a tough, active Oklahoma defense, which is allowing only 18.2 points per game and 324 yards per game, with only 91.9 of those coming on the ground.
While the Sooners’ defense is plenty good, so is their offense, even without likely NFL Rookie of the Year Adrian Peterson.
Freshman QB Sam Bradford completed 70.1% of his passes for 2,879 yards and 34 touchdowns, with only seven interceptions.
If Bradford doesn’t beat you, then OU’s backfield can, as Allen Patrick, DeMarco Murray, and Chris Brown combined for 2,252 rushing yards and 33 total touchdowns. It’ll be all Patrick and Brown on Wednesday though, as Murray is out with a dislocated kneecap that he suffered in a 34-27 loss to Texas Tech on November 17
Even without Murray, the Oklahoma offense has plenty of weapons, which is to be expected with an offense that averages more than 43 points per game. They may not need that many on Wednesday, and West Virginia’s defense will try to make sure they don’t get near that many either.
That defense doesn’t feature as many big names as Oklahoma’s does, but they’ve produced results thus far - 17.2 points allowed per game, 291.9 yards, 37 sacks, 33 forced turnovers. They stand to be the X-factor - they’ve put up results, but haven’t faced too many top-notch offenses. Whether or not they can assert themselves will help determine how much of a chance the Mountaineers have in this showdown.
You have to wonder how focused the Mountaineers will be after the downs that they’ve endured in the last month. If their heads aren’t in the right place, OU could run away with this one in a hurry and won‘t look back.
WVU got behind big in last year’s Gator Bowl before coming back to beat Georgia Tech 38-35, but climbing that same mountain might be too much to ask against such a talented Oklahoma team.
But, if the Mountaineers bring their ‘A’ game, and Slaton and White (and freshman Noel Devine - 519 yards, 4 TD) can keep the chains moving, then they can potentially wear down Oklahoma‘s defense and give WVU a chance to get the W.
Given that OU has allowed quite a few yards through the air, and will be missing starting defensive backs Reggie Smith (injury) and Lendy Holmes (academically ineligible), White should take the chance to throw it more, both to keep the defense guessing and to expose the one real chink in Oklahoma’s armor. Darius Reynaud has been White’s go-to guy (59 catches, 691 yards, 11 TD), so he’ll have to find ways to get open, and if he does, he’s got blazing speed. Slaton is the team’s second-leading receiver (25 catches, 348 yards, TD), so he’ll be an important part of the passing game.
However, you’ve got to favor the Sooners. Oklahoma’s offensive line should open up holes for Patrick and Brown, and give Bradford time to hit his receivers, and OU’s defense, even without Smith and Holmes, certainly has the talent to keep WVU’s potent offense from having a big night. But, don’t count the Mountaineers, who’ll be intent on giving Oklahoma more BCS heartbreak, and if given the slightest of openings, can zip through to do so.
Oklahoma 38 - West Virginia 27
by Eddie Griffin
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