Tag:Keys to the Game
Posted on: December 29, 2011 9:21 am
 

Keys to the game: Outback Bowl

Posted by Bryan Fischer

GEORGIA WILL WIN IF: The Bulldogs' defense continues to perform like it has all season. Though the bookends for the year didn't go as fans had hoped, the team still ran off 10 straight wins and likely saved head coach Mark Richt's job. The biggest reason behind the surge is the defense, which is third in the country in yards allowed and features stud linebacker Jarvis Jones and a secondary led by Brandon Boykin and Bacarri Rambo. The offense has done ok behind quarterback Aaron Murray and freshman running back Isaiah Crowell but they have a knack for turning the ball over at times and that could prove costly in a close game against a very good team like the one they'll face in the Outback Bowl.

MICHIGAN STATE WILL WIN IF: The Spartans have to remain balanced on offense and limit turnovers. This is the first time the team has won 10 games in back-to-back years and given the bad taste left in their mouths in the Big Ten championship game, figures to a game they come out prepared for and ready to win. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has elevated his game this season, throwing for over 3,000 yards and posting a 24-7 TD-INT ratio. If he can make some plays in the passing game to open things up for Le'Von Bell and Edwin Baker on the ground, MSU should have a great chance to win the game given how good their defense is.

X-FACTOR: These two teams met just three years ago at this bowl game so there is some familiarity between them. Both are also coming off championship game losses and while a trip to Tampa isn't bad, it's not exactly what either had in mind at the beginning of the season. The key to winning this game undoubtedly belongs to who can control the trenches. Michigan State appears to be the more physical team but Georgia's front seven is very good and their offensive line has done better than expected over the course of the season. The Spartans also have an impact player on the defensive line in first-team All-America Jerel Worthy, who should be a load to handle for the Bulldogs' offensive line. Both teams want to play sound football and control the clock so winning the battles along the line will be paramount.


Posted on: December 28, 2011 8:44 pm
 

Keys to the game: Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl

Posted by Bryan Fischer

UCLA WILL WIN IF: The defense has to step up and get some stops. The Bruins defense looked better in the Pac-12 Championship game than they did in the regular season finale but still gave up nearly half a hundred. The secondary is young but has come along late in the season and should be healthier than they were at the end of the year. Both lines need for a few players to step up and become solid contributors this game, especially along the disappointing defensive line that was among the country's worst at getting into the backfield. The offense should be solid but if UCLA wants to get back to .500 for the season, they're going to need the defense to play the best they have since the Colorado game in mid-November.

ILLINOIS WILL WIN IF: The Illini have a pretty solid defense that has surprised some folks this season so it's up to the offense to use the extra time off before the game to get things going again. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino has already left the team and that might be a good thing considering the team averaged just 11 points per game in their six game losing streak to end the season. Luckily their weakness (the offensive line) is matched up against the Bruins' weakness (the front seven - without middle linebacker Patrick Larimore) so it's likely quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase could have some time to make some plays. You can probably put All-American defensive end Whitney Mercilus down for a big game against the UCLA line he'll be facing.

X-FACTOR: Does anybody really want to be here? That seems to be the biggest question surrounding the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl given that two interim head coaches will be leading two teams that ended the year by falling flat on their faces. Illinois, sans Ron Zook, lost six straight games and you would figure that they want to get that taste out of their mouths. UCLA was thumped in their final two games to become the first team to make a bowl game at 6-7 and has several players who didn't make the trip up to the Bay Area due to a variety of reasons. Needless to say, motivation will be an issue in this one.

Posted on: December 27, 2011 3:04 pm
Edited on: December 27, 2011 3:05 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Sugar Bowl

Posted by Tom Fornelli

MICHIGAN WILL WIN IF: While both offenses in this game are pretty balanced, the Wolverines proved to be more potent on offense throughout the season, and generally did so against better defenses than the Hokies this year. Which should be good preparation for the Virginia Tech defense that Michigan will be facing in New Orleans. Statistically, the best defenses Michigan faced this season belonged to Michigan State, Illinois, Ohio State and Notre Dame. In those four games the Wolverines averaged 30 points per game. A good sign going into a game against a Virginia Tech defense that's allowing only 17.2 points per game this season, which is good enough for 8th in the country.

The true test for the Wolverines will be running the ball against a Hokie defense that allowed only 107.7 yards per game and 3.2 yards per carry on the season. Still, considering that Michigan's strength on offense is running the ball with both Fitzgerald Toussaint and Denard Robinson (the duo combined for 2,174 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2011) it wouldn't be in the Wolverines best interest to change things up now. Also, whie the Hokies were successful stopping the Georgia Tech run game this year, Georgia Tech doesn't present the passing threat that Michigan brings. No, Denard Robinson is not a great passing quarterback, as he completed only 56% of his passes this season, but he did throw for 2,056 yards and 18 touchdowns. What Robinson lacks in accuracy, he can make up for with the deep ball once Virginia Tech safeties begin creeping toward the line of scrimmage to stop the run. 

VIRGINIA TECH WILL WIN IF: The Virginia Tech offense is similar to that of Michigan, though it's a bit more proficient when it comes to moving the ball through the air thanks to Logan Thomas. That being said, Virginia Tech averaged only 28.5 points per game this season, which is pretty middle of the road, and nearly 6 points less per game than Michigan. So how will Virginia Tech make up for those 6 points against a defense that is just as sturdy as its own? It's a good question and one that's tough to answer because Michigan is the best defense the Hokies will face this season. 

Still, there is some reason to be optimistic about Virginia Tech's chances. The only defense that compares to Michigan that the Hokies faced this year would be that of Virginia's, and the Hokies posted 38 points and 410 yards of offense against their state rivals at the end of November. The best way for Virginia Tech to repeat that performance against Michigan may be to put the ball in the hands of running back David Wilson. Wilson finished the season with 1,627 yards rushing and averaged over 6 yards per carry. While Michigan's defense was solid as a whole, against the run it was rather mediocre. The Wolverines may have allowed only 129.1 yards per game on the ground, but they did so while giving up 4.07 yards per carry, which is only good enough to be 57th in the nation. So Virginia Tech would be well-served to use Wilson and the run game to set up Logan Thomas and the passing game.

X-FACTOR: While there are plenty of people upset by the fact Michigan and Virginia Tech are playing in this game rather than higher ranked teams like Boise State and Kansas State, the fact is, this matchup should be pretty interesting. These two teams are incredibly similar to one another, which could lead to a pretty exciting and close game. And anytime that's the case, you tend to look at the special teams, as a field goal could very well be what decides this contest. Unfortunately, that's another area where these two teams are essentially the same. 

At least, they were during the regular season. Since then, however, Virginia Tech kicker Cody Journell has been suspended indefinitely after being charged with breaking and entering. In a game like this that should be close, being without Journell could be the deciding factor and tilt things in Michigan's favor.
Posted on: December 27, 2011 1:49 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Armed Forces Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

BYU WILL WIN IF: Riley Nelson 
is who we think he is. The Cougar junior quarterback took over with his team down late (and down big) to in-state upstart Utah State Sept. 30, engineered a dramatic last-minute comeback, and never looked back. Over BYU's final eight games Nelson threw 16 touchdowns to just 5 interceptions, averaged a sterling 9.1 yards an attempt, and added an average 5 yards per his 75 rushing attempts for good measure. The catch is that he did this against the weaker two-thirds of the Cougar schedule; only two of those eight games came against competition outside the WAC or FCS, and one of those two -- vs. TCU -- was Nelson's worst outing of the season (51.7 completion percentage, 2 picks). The good news for BYU is that on paper, Tulsa's closer to the Idahos and Hawaiis of the world than TCU. The Golden Hurricane finished 118th in the FBS in pass defense, and though some of that was a schedule that handed them games against Landry Jones, Kellen Moore, Brandon Weeden and Case Keenum, much of it was also allowing 10 yards an attempt to North Texas and more than 9 to UCF. If Nelson is the quarterback he appeared to be over the closing stretch of the season, there's going to be plenty of opportunities for the Cougars to rack up major yards -- and points -- through the air.

TULSA WILL WIN IF: they can put a metric ton of points on the board. Who has the better defense in this matchup isn't really much of a question -- BYU's D ranks 16th, Tulsa's 89th -- but the Golden Hurricane have played a much tougher schedule and still boast the better offense at 454 yards per game and 6.18 per-play. Though the Hurricane defense has had its moments in 2011 (holding SMU to a single touchdown in a 38-7 laugher, most notably), the formula for Tulsa is the same as it's been ever since Gus Malzahn dropped in in 2007--ride the no-huddle offense to 35-45 points, and dare the opposing offense to execute well enough to do the same. And solid Cougar defense or not, with quarterback G.J. Kinne (2,859 yards, 8.0 YPA, 25-to-12 TD-to-INT ratio) and the tailback tag-team of Ja'Terian Douglas and Trey Watts (1,744 combined yards), the Hurricane have the horses to make it happen. This game isn't likely to become a slugfest, and if it somehow is, it's even less likely Tulsa wins it. But the Golden Hurricane proved over the course of whipping their first seven Conference USA opponents that a shootout tilts the odds heavily in their favor instead.

THE X-FACTOR: This doesn't shape up as the sort of game that would become a field goal kicking contest, but if it does, BYU's the team more likely to suffer for it. Sophomore Justin Sorenson hit just 14 of his 24 attempts this season while Tulsa boasts one of the nation's best placekickers in senior Kevin Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick was named first-team All-C-USA after connecting on 15 of his 17 attempts, and if the game hangs one kick, seems a much better bet to pull through than Sorenson.

Posted on: December 23, 2011 1:34 pm
Edited on: December 23, 2011 1:35 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Alamo Bowl

Posted by Tom Fornelli

BAYLOR WILL WIN IF: This may be a perfect matchup for Baylor. Not only is the game being played only a few hours away from the school's campus, but the Bears will also be facing a defense that hasn't shown much ability to stop anybody this season. Against the top three scoring offenses in the Pac-12 (Stanford, Oregon and USC) the Huskies allowed an average of 46.33 points a game. Which is music to the ears of a Baylor offense that finished the season averaging 43.5 points per game and has the Heisman Trophy winner handling the ball on every snap. This could be Robert Griffin's final game in a Baylor uniform, and he's going to want to end his college career with a bang. Washington will present him with a great chance to do so. Of course, as is usually the case in Baylor games, if the Bears want to win then the defense is going to have to make some stops.

We know the Bears will score points, but while Washington's offense isn't on the same level as Baylor, it can put points on the board too. So a Baylor defense that has given up 35.7 points per game this season is going to have to play a bit better than that if the Bears want to finish the season with 10 wins.

WASHINGTON WILL WIN IF: The Huskies are going to need to have their best defensive effort of the season to pull this one off, or at the very least, force enough turnovers to keep themselves in the game. Facing a passing attack like Baylor's is not good news for a Washington pass defense that has allowed opponents to complete 62% of their passes at 7.5 yards per attempt. Which means that the best way for Washington to slow RG3 will probably be to get pressure on him, which won't be easy given Griffin's mobility and the fact that the Huskies haven't had a great pass rush this season. Further complicating things is the fact that the Huskies defense has allowed over 4.5 yards per carry to opposing running backs this season as well, so even if Washington can keep Griffin in check, it'll still have to deal with a Terrence Ganaway and a Baylor offense that averages 215 rushing yards a game.

So the best bet for Washington in this one may be to get into a shootout and hope it has the ball last. Scoring points is something that Washington has shown it's capable of this season, with both Keith Price and Chris Polk proving to be hard to stop. The problem is that while the Huskies averaged 35.6 points per game in their first 8 contests, they averaged only 23.25 points a game over their last 4, so it's no surprise that Washington lost 3 of those games. The good news for Washington is that Baylor's defense has a unique ability to make your offense look a lot better than it is.

X-FACTOR: Chris Polk. We've already gone over Washington's run defense, but the truth is Baylor's is probably worse. The Bears allowed nearly 200 yards a game on the ground this season, and gave up 5.18 yards per carry. This is good news for Chris Polk, who rushed for 1,341 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. The best thing Washington can probably do for its defense to slow down Baylor would be to keep Robert Griffin and company off the field as much as possible. The best way to do this will be to utilize Polk and sustain long drives.
Posted on: December 19, 2011 6:52 pm
 

Independence Bowl Key Matchup



Posted by Chip Patterson


A look at the key matchup that could decide the Independence Bowl

James Franklin, QB, Missouri vs. North Carolina's defensive front

Ever since Missouri lost running back Henry Josey to a season-ending knee injury, most of the offensive success has been based around what sophomore quarterback James Franklin can create. De'Vion Moore has seen an increased workload at running back and Kendial Lawrence has added three strong performances since the Big 12's leading rusher saw his season ended by the "one in a million" injury.

The good news for Missouri is that Franklin has stepped up in Josey's absence, leading the Tigers to three straight wins to close the regular season. Because of Franklin's rushing ability, the Tigers' offense has not become one-dimensional after the loss of their leading rusher. However, North Carolina's defensive front presents one of Franklin's toughest challenges on the season.

The Tar Heels' front seven is anchored by Quinton Coples, Tydreke Powell, and linebacker Zach Brown. All three received All-ACC honors or mention, and all three are seniors who have earned the interest of NFL scouts. North Carolina ranks No. 2 in the ACC and 14th nationally in rushing defense, allowing just 106.2 yards per game. They were one of the only teams to hold both Miami's Lamar Miller and Virginia Tech's David Wilson under 100 yards rushing this season, and have only allowed nine rushing touchdowns on the year.

But despite the impressive statistics, the defense has suffered lapses at times this season and struggled to get off the field when they needed a big stop. There will likely several occasions in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport where Missouri needs to convert a third down and it will be Franklin against the Tar Heels. Containing the Tigers' star quarterback is the only way North Carolina can hope to give Gio Bernard, Bryn Renner and the Tar Heels' offense a chance to find a rhythm against Missouri's stout D.

Check out all the latest updates on Missouri and North Carolina right up until kickoff at the Independence Bowl Pregame

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Posted on: December 19, 2011 3:18 pm
Edited on: December 19, 2011 3:22 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Champs Sports Bowl

Posted by Tom Fornelli

NOTRE DAME WILL WIN IF: The Irish offense will face their toughest test of the year in the Florida State defense in this game. The Seminoles finished the year sixth in the nation in total defense and actually gave up less yards per carry (2.32) than any other defense in the country, including Alabama and LSU. Which isn't good news for a Notre Dame defense that will be without Jonas Gray (791 yards, 12 TDs) in this game. This means that if Notre Dame is going to find success on offense, it will likely come through the air. The Seminoles aren't bad in that area either, as they're 32nd in the nation in defensive pass efficiency. Of course, as has usually been the case with the Irish this season, the most important part of this game will be whether or not they can take care of the ball. Turnovers have killed the Irish throughout the season, and against a defense this good, Tommy Rees and the rest of the Irish offense cannot afford to give the ball away.

FLORIDA STATE WILL WIN IF: Assuming the Florida State defense can do a good job of keeping the Irish offense in check, then there's reason to believe the Seminoles can find enough success on offense to pick up a win here. The Florida State offense hasn't been prolific this season, but against a Notre Dame defense that is good but not great, the opportunities to put points on the board will be there. E.J. Manuel hasn't been great throwing the ball this season, but he's had some solid games and this could be a chance for another one. The Notre Dame defense may be allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete less than 60% of their passes in 2011, but it's also only picked off 8 passes while allowing 21 passing touchdowns on the year. And with Florida State's running game being a bit anemic this season and Notre Dame being pretty solid against the run, the passing game will be the way the Seminoles want to go.

X-FACTOR: Andrew Hendrix. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has already named Tommy Rees his starting quarterback for the bowl game, but that doesn't mean he's going to take all the snaps. Hendrix saw a lot of playing time over the final few weeks of the season, and considering that Kelly seems to feel that Hendrix is his quarterback of the future, I'd expect him to get quite a bit of playing time in this one as well. He brings a new dimension to the Notre Dame offense because unlike Rees, Hendrix can beat you with his legs. So it will be interesting to see how much Hendrix plays and how the Irish utilize him.

You can check out our extensive preview of the Champs Sports Bowl here
Posted on: December 17, 2011 5:07 pm
 

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Key Matchup



Posted by Adam Jacobi

A look at the key matchup that could decide the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

Robert Turbin, RB, Utah State vs. Noah Keller, LB, Ohio

If there's one thing to be gleaned from the seasons of Utah State and Ohio, who have combined for 16 games decided by seven points or less this season (half of which, incredibly, were decided in the final minute or overtime), it's that today's Famous Idaho Potato Bowl will probably be close, and a full 60-minute affair. If that's to be the case, then this game could easily come down to the heart and soul of the Aggie offense against the heart and soul of the Bobcat defense.

For Utah State, the Aggies' rushing attack (ranked sixth in the nation in yards per game) is led by senior tailback Robert Turbin, who has 1416 rushing yards and 23 total touchdowns to his name. Utah State will likely put the ball in Turbin's hands about 25 times in this game, and the only reason it might not be more is because Michael Smith and Kerwynn Williams are also talented ballcarriers -- to say nothing of quarterback Adam Kennedy, who has emerged as a dual threat in the Aggie offense here in the last half of the season. Still, Turbin is the start of the show, and when the Aggies need to keep a drive alive in the 4th quarter, Turbin's going to be the man with the ball.

Thus, Noah Keller, a second-team All-MAC linebacker and the three-time captain of the Ohio defense, is going to have his hands full in this game. Keller wasn't even supposed to be on this team's squad, but early in his senior season in 2010 -- a season that saw him on the Nagurski Watch list and a handful of preseason All-America teams -- Keller tore a ligament in his foot, ending his year in Week 3. He took a medical redshirt year, having played as a true freshman, and has come back to lead the Bobcats in tackling for the third time in his career. And while lingering foot and shoulder maladies have hampered his production this year, there's no doubt that he's ready for one last shot at giving Ohio a bowl victory, and going through Turbin to make it happen. It's not often that the best two players on each team are directly matched up with each other like this, so fans and viewers of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl are, well, in for a real treat.

For a look at the keys to the game for both schools, click here, and check out the rest of CBSSports.com's coverage at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Pregame.

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the regular season all the way through the bowl games, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. | Preview 
 
 
 
 
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