By ANDREW GARDA - PAC-10 INSIDER
December 30, 2008 * 8:00 * ESPN
Qualcomm Stadium * San Diego, California
This is an intriguing match-up between the second place Ducks from a mediocre Pac-10 conference, and the Cowboys, who finished fourth in the powerful Big 12 South. Oregon is looking to win back-to-back bowls after dropping four straight prior to last season’s win over USF, while Coach Mike Gundy of Oklahoma St. is looking to improve his bowl record to a perfect 3-0.
When the Ducks Have the Ball
Oregon has an incredibly prolific scoring offense, one which ranks seventh in the nation in overall scoring and fourth in the country in rushing. That rushing attack — led by a pair of studs in Jeremiah Johnson and LaGarrette Blount — is the engine that makes the offensive machine run by. Johnson, a senior, just completed his first 1,000-yard season while the junior Blount stands just 72 yards below that mark. Both have more than a dozen touchdowns to their name. They will face an equally talented run defense in the Cowboys. Oklahoma State can be stout, ranked 27th in the nation against the run. It’s the unstoppable force versus the immovable object. If the object starts winning, the Ducks will turn to sophomore quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. While Masoli doesn’t stack the yards up, he’s effective when he needs to be. While he was rarely called on to throw for more than 150 yards in a game, the last two games have required Masoli to show more and he responded, throwing for a total of 572 yards and five touchdowns. The Cowboys have a solid defensive squad but have given up more than 50 points twice in losses during the last three games. Both were to high-scoring offenses (Texas Tech and Oklahoma) and while the Ducks aren’t quite in that category, they can score and the Cowboys have shown that they can be scored on.
When the Pokes Have the Ball
As with the Ducks, the Cowboys are used to scoring at will, ranking eighth in the nation with 41.58 points per game and seventh in rushing with 256 yards per game. Sophomore Kendall Hunter has been their bell cow with 1,518 yards and 14 touchdowns to his credit this season, which put him atop the Big 12 in rushing. The Ducks could be up to the task of slowing him down as they rank 24th against the run. They will be tested though and Hunter has the talent to break a long run on occasion. When they aren’t running the ball, the Cowboys will turn to junior quarterback Zac Robinson. Robinson, like Masoli, can be called upon to throw the ball and be successful. He’s more consistent than Masoli and also capable of doing damage on the ground when called upon. Robinson’s most potent weapon is wide receiver Dez Bryant, a 6-2 210 beast who has totaled 200-plus yards twice this season. Robinson and Bryant give the Cowboys a slightly more dynamic overall offense than the Ducks. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew is a force both as a pass catcher and a blocker.
Oklahoma State has scored over 50 points in a game five times this season, all wins. Oregon averages just 28 points allowed though, and will do everything they can to stifle the Cowboy offense. The Ducks will be eager to show that the Beavers and the Trojans aren’t the only Pac-10 teams that can play defense.
Oklahoma St. Cowboys (9-3, 5-3)
Pass: Zac Robinson – 2,735 yards, 24 TDs
Run: Kendall Hunter – 1,518 yards, 14 TDs
Catch: Dez Bryant – 1,313 yards, 18 TDs
Oregon Ducks (9-3, 7-2)
Pass: Jeremiah Masoli – 1,486 yards, 12 TDs
Run: Jeremiah Johnson – 1,082 yards, 12 TDs
Catch: Terence Scott – 626 yards, 5 TDs
The CFI Prediction: Oregon 41, Oklahoma St. 36
Photo Credit: College Press Box (Oklahoma St. University)