Offense: The Cowboys weren't actually quite as dominant as the scoreboard (or their reputation) would suggest in the first half, punting four times and getting 14 of their 17 points via a 61-yard thunderbolt to Justin Blackmon and a short-field score following a muffed punt. After three quarters, they still hadn't even cracked 260 total yards, and their final total of 313 fell well below their nation-leading 537-yard average.
But with the Poke defense playing the way it was (and the Arizona offense helping OSU out the way it was), the most important thing for the Cowboy attack was simply to take advantage of its opportunities and not make mistakes, and that they did. Both red zone opportunities were converted into touchdowns, Brandon Weeden (who punctuated a pedestrian-looking stat line with several NFL-quality throws) didn't throw an interception, the Poke ballcarriers never fumbled, and Lou Groza Award finalist Dan Bailey went 3-of-3 with makes from 40, 50, and 44 yards. Combine that with the usual smattering of brilliance from Blackmon -- who finished his sophomore season with 100 yards and at least one touchdown receiving in all 12 games he played, not to mention two more highlight-reel scores in this one -- and it was more than enough to cruise past the bumbling Wildcats. GRADE: A-
Defense: The book on the Cowboy defense was that it could slow down most running games, but would really struggle against a competent passing game, and between quarterback Nick Foles and All-American receiver Juron Criner that's what Arizona appeared to have.
But that wasn't the way the game played out at all. In the secondary, the much-maligned Poke defensive backs picked off Foles three times, held him to a mediocre 5.6 yards per attempt (that still flatters his performance), and scored as many touchdowns from his passes -- thanks to a Markelle Martin pick-six -- as Arizona did. Criner grabbed nine receptions, but none for longer than 12 yards. Meanwhile, up front, Foles was sacked five times and hurried twice that many times at least. The end result was that a pass defense that appeared to be the most vulnerable part of the Cowboy team was its most vital part in San Antonio.
That's not to say the Cowboys didn't allow their fair share of yards; over a span of six drives in the second and third quarters, Arizona racked up 194 yards and crossed midfield five times. But thanks to the stiffening OSU defense, they scored fewer points on those drives (three) than the Cowboys did (six, thanks to Martin). As defensive performances go, it was just this side of dominating. GRADE: A-
Coaching: The Cowboy staff of head man Mike Gundy, now ex-offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, and defensive coordinator Bill Young have a collective reputation for aggressiveness, and they more than lived up to it Wednesday night. Holgorsen tested the 'Cat defense deep and with various misdirection plays, Young dialed up a number of successful blitzes, and Gundy's willingness to go for a 4th-and-2 near midfield up big in the fourth quarter paid off with an Arizona penalty and, eventually, the icing touchdown. The Oklahoma State staff showed by far the more aggressive coaching philosophy, and were rewarded with a far, far more aggressive performance from their team. GRADE: A-
Offense: Give the Wildcats some credit: with 369 yards and all the aforementioned forays into OSU territory, it's not like they didn't at least give themselves opportunities. But don't give them much -- or any, if you like -- since they squandered virtually all of them via a variety of mistakes. There was Foles, ruining Arizona's first threatening drive with a one-hopper to an open receiver on 4th-and-5 and throwing all three of his interceptions across midfield. There was the timidity in the running game, with the three Wildcat backs averaging just 3.5 yards on their 28 carries. There were the drops from the receivers, with even Criner joining in. There were the seven penalties, the five sacks, the four total turnovers. There was embattled kicker Alex Zendejas missing from 47 and 34 yards.
In short, there were far more shots aimed at the Wildcats' own feet than at their opponents in the Alamo Dome. When one final consolation touchdown with under five minutes to play -- on Foles' best pass of the night, a long arcing bomb to Richard Morrison -- was called back for a hold along the offensive line, you couldn't have asked for a better single-play summation of the Wildcat offense's night. That kind of sloppiness was simply never going to fly opposite a unit as explosive as Oklahoma State's. GRADE: D+
Defense: Frankly, given the quality of the opposition they were facing, you can't hang the outcome on the Arizona defense. With Weeden playing as well as he was and Blackmon being Blackmon (to say nothing of the likes of Kendall Hunter), to hold the Cowboys to 313 yards and three offensive touchdowns -- one of those coming on a turnover-aided short field -- is quite the accomplishment. A forced turnover somewhere would have been nice, but these Wildcats (active cornerback Joseph Perkins in particular) have nothing to hang their heads about. GRADE: B+
Coaching: Already down 23-7 with less than 10 minutes to play in the third quarter, Mike Stoops faced a decision: go for it on a 4th-and-5 from the Oklahoma State 30, knowing that his team would need all the points they could get given the potency of the OSU offense and the deficit his team faced, or try a 47-yard field goal with a kicker whose confidence had to have been badly shaken from the botched extra points that cost the Wildcats their rivalry game with Arizona State. That Stoops chose the "safe" route of kicking the highly-unlikely field goal (whcih badly missed, of course) tells you all you need to know about the halfhearted, play-not-to-lose, roll-over-and-get-crushed attitude Arizona approached this game with. For all his sideline bluster, Stoops didn't show the kind of actual fieriness and conviction his team needed. (And hey, that's not even mentioning leaving two timeouts on the board at the end of the first half while Stoops raged about a pass interference call.) GRADE: D
FINAL GRADE: Like so many other bowls this season, the game was firmly in one team's grasp by the end of the first half and entirely out of reach by the time the fourth quarter rolled around. Yawn. Again. At least Weeden-to-Blackmon was worth a look. Grade: C-
Bowl Grades: Alamo Bowl
Posted on: December 30, 2010 1:55 am