Don’t miss the fourth quarter. Both Texas and Arizona State have comeback victories on their resume. If either team gets too comfortable with a lead late in the game the momentum is going to swing the other way in a hurry. This should be the best game of the early bowl season.
The Longhorns’ receiving corps is a good one when it’s healthy, which is the key word here. Unfortunately, top wide out Limas Sweed was declared out for the season in October with a wrist injury. Sweed’s size at 6’5 and 220 lbs gave Texas a presence on the outside that is a match-up nightmare for opposing defensive backs. A player with his size has yet to step up and make plays for the Longhorns. It hasn’t helped that promising receiver Billy Pittman has seen his season withered away by a suspension and injury as well. Pittman was an essential part of the 2005 national championship team but has been largely invisible this year. The leaders for UT have been senior Nate Jones and a pair of juniors in Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley. None of them have next level speed or size but run good routes and have good hands.
You can attribute quarterback Colt McCoy’s regression this year to all the problems on the outside. While he did throw for more yards this year, McCoy threw 11 more interceptions and saw his completion percentage drop from 68 to 64. He has been getting more assertive in the running game, an important part of the Longhorn offense, rushing for 400 yards this season, second on the team. Backup John Chiles has played sparingly this year but is an excellent change of pace with his athleticism.
Texas has an immensely talented defense. The front four boasts a number of players who will be playing Sunday football in the near future. Behind them there are question marks at linebacker and defensive back because of the numbers given up in the passing game but there is depth at both spots with youngsters trying to unseat upper classmen. Those youngsters will soon be some of the best players in the Big 12, like Rod Muckelroy and Sergio Kindle at linebacker and Deon Beasley at cornerback. Longhorns would like to forget this season defensively though. Giving up an ungodly amount of passing yards might be because of the strong front four, it’s still unacceptable for a Texas team that was vying for a conference and national championship at the onset of the season. It could be their demise against Arizona State.
When Dennis Erickson took the ASU head-coaching job many expected him to win soon, if not right away. That’s exactly what he did, taking them within an eyelash of a BCS bowl game. Having a veteran quarterback in Rudy Carpenter gave the team the stability it needed in the midst of a coaching change. Carpenter’s toughness spurs on the rest of the team as he plays much bigger than his 6’2 200 lbs frame would indicate. He threw for 3,000 yards this year with 23 TD’s to only eight interceptions. He was sacked 50 times, something the ferocious front four of Texas will take advantage of. Carpenter has some solid options at wide receiver but nothing too special. The leading receiver is Chris McGaha but he doesn’t have a single score on the year. Second leading pass catcher Michael Jones has the size at 6’4 to be a weapon near the goal line and has been just that, hauling in a team best 8 TD’s. UT is lacking in size at corner and Jones will be the beneficiary inside the red zone.
ASU lost tailback Ryan Torain for the season in late October only to see Keegan Herring and Dimitri Nance pick up the slack. Herring finished with 816 yards, Nance with 452, both kept defenses honest for Carpenter and the passing game but neither has the size of Torain who is 215 lbs. Draws and screens to Herring and Nance will be crucial in keeping Carpenter from getting knocked around. If the QB can’t stay in the pocket UT should force plenty of three and outs.
The Sun Devil defense has been the major surprise of the season, ranking in the top 30 nationally in scoring defense, run defense and total defense. However, the one game against a similar offense to Texas was a 12-point loss to Oregon. The Ducks racked up 200 yards on the ground, if Texas has the same success on the ground they’ll come away with the win.
Texas had a somewhat disappointing season. Consecutive losses to Kansas State and Oklahoma knocked the horns out of national title contention early and losing to the Aggies thanksgiving weekend put an end to Big 12 title hopes. There were no wins of any real consequence on the schedule. Arizona State, on the other hand, picked up the pieces from a 7-6 2006 record to win 10 games for the first time since 1996. They beat four teams bound for bowls and lost to two buzz saws in a healthy Dennis Dixon at Oregon and a healthy USC.
There should be plenty of points scored in this one. Given the way these teams have played all season, it should come right down to the wire. Texas will outclass the Sun Devils talent-wise and if they keep their foot on the gas will be able to finish off the game without flaming out.