Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sun Bowl: Pittsburgh vs. Oregon St.


December 31, 2008 * 2:00 * CBS
Sun Bowl * El Paso, Texas

The hope was this year’s Sun Bowl would feature two of the youngest and brightest running backs in the country. LeSean McCoy followed up his outstanding freshman season with an even better sophomore year by gaining more yards, scoring more touchdowns and leading Pittsburgh – at long last – to a bowl game. Unfortunately, Oregon St. freshman Jacquizz Rodgers, who became a household name after his 186-yard performance led the Beavers to an upset win over USC will not be available. A late season injury kept him out of the Civil War and might have cost his team a trip to the Rose Bowl.

When the Panthers Have the Ball

The Panther offense relies heavily on the success of their star running back McCoy. He was unanimously named first team All Big East, ranked 10th in the nation in rushing with 1,403 yards, and was the nation’s second leading scorer with 21 touchdowns. Oregon State's rush defense, ranked 46th in the country, will have trouble keeping McCoy, who has scored a touchdown in every game this season, from reaching the end zone. The problem with the Pittsburgh offense is their pass protection and the decision making of their quarterback, Bill Stull. The junior has had a solid season throwing for 2,304 yards and has improved his completion percentage. However, Stull throws far too many interceptions and takes unnecessary chances. Senior wide out Derek Kinder can be the go-to guy at times catching a team leading 35 balls, but he’s struggled against better competition. Keep an eye out for freshman Jonathan Baldwin and junior Oderick Turner, they haven't put up superb numbers but are deep threats. The big mismatch in this game is the Oregon State defensive line versus the Pittsburgh offensive line. The Panthers have had trouble protecting the quarterback all year and are ranked 81st in the nation in allowing sacks while the Beavers have put up the 10th most sacks in the nation. Their senior ends Slade Norris and Victor Butler are strong pass rushers. Norris leads the team with nine total sacks. Linebacker Keaton Kristick, who finished the season with 14.5 tackles for loss, may also play a significant role. He could be the key to containing the Pittsburgh rushing attack.

When the Beavers Have the Ball

It was obvious how important Rodgers is to the Oregon State offense when he was out in their loss to Oregon and only touched the ball four times in their near loss against Arizona. What makes the freshman so valuable is his ability to gain yards in bunches (averaging 4.8 yards per carry). The game could come down to the play of quarterback Lyle Moevao. The junior missed some action, including two games down the stretch, but looked healthy in his five-touchdown performance against Oregon. Moevao keeps his completion percentage fairly high and is always a threat to beat the defense deep. Senior receiver Sammie Stroughter – 64 catches for 952 yards – will be tough to stop. The all-conference wide out finished the season strong posting 116 yards at Arizona and 145 yards versus Oregon, turning in four games this season with 100-plus receiving yards. He is a deadly threat averaging 14.9 yards per catch. The Panthers have had trouble defending the big pass play and lost games against passing teams Cincinnati and Rutgers. The secondary wasn't able to handle the depth Rutgers had at receiver and may have trouble containing Stroughter and Shane Morales. The speedy James Rodgers, Quizz’s big brother, is also out for this contest. Freshman tailback Ryan McCants and senior wide out Chris Johnson could end up playing big roles. The key to the Pitt defense is Scott McKillop – if the linebacker can make OSU a passing team, the Panthers will have a fighting chance.

Final Analysis

With a more balanced offensive attack and a ferocious pass rush – not to mention Coach Mike Riley’s perfect 4-0 bowl record – the Beavers are the team beat in the 2008 Sun Bowl.

Oregon St. Beavers (8-4, 7-2)
Pass: Lyle Moevao – 2,341 yards, 19 TDs
Run: Jacquizz Rogers – 1,253 yards, 11 TDs
Catch: Sammie Stroughter – 952 yards, 7 TDs

Pittsburgh Panthers (9-3, 5-2)
Pass: Bill Stull – 2,304 yards, 9 TDs
Run: LeSean McCoy – 1,403 yards, 21 TDs
Catch: Derek Kinder – 410 yards, 3 TDs

The CFI Prediction: Oregon St. 23, Pittsburgh 20