2009 Holiday Bowl - Arizona vs. Nebraska
Arizona QB Nick Foles & Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh
Arizona QB Nick Foles & Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh
Posted Dec 23, 2009

The 2009 Holiday Bowl Preview - Arizona vs. Nebraska

2009 Holiday Bowl

Arizona (8-4) vs. Nebraska (9-4)

San Diego, CA, Dec. 30, 8 pm, ESPN

Scroll Down For Bowl Histories & Best Moments

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Team Pages and 2009 Season

- 2008 CFN Holiday Bowl Preview
- 2007 CFN Holiday Bowl Preview
- 2006 CFN Holiday Bowl Preview
National Rankings
A   N
40th Total Offense 102nd
21st Total Defense 9th
41st Scoring Offense 80th
46th Scoring Defense 2nd
47th Rushing Offense 68th
22nd Run Defense 11th
39th Passing Offense 101st
42nd Passing Defense 25th
59th Turnover Margin 45th
Position Ratings
relative to each other
A 5 highest
1 lowest
4 Quarterbacks 2
3 RBs 3.5
3.5 Receivers 2
4 O Line 3.5
4.5 D Line 5
4 Linebackers 4
4.5 Secondary 4
4.5 Spec Teams 4
3.5 Coaching 4
Holiday Bowl History
2008 Oregon 42, Oklahoma St 31
2007 Texas 52, Arizona State 34
2006 California 45, Texas A&M 10
2005 Oklahoma 17, Oregon 14
2004 Texas Tech 45, California 31
2003 Washington State 28, Texas 20
2002 Kansas St 34, Arizona State 27
2001 Texas 47, Washington 43
2000 Oregon 35, Texas 30
1999 Kansas State 24, Washington 20
1998 Arizona 23, Nebraska 20
1997 Colorado St. 35, Missouri 24
1996 Colorado 33, Washington 21
1995 Kansas St. 54, Colorado St. 21
1994 Michigan 24, Colorado St. 14
1993 Ohio State 28, BYU 21
1992 Hawaii 27, Illinois 17
1991 BYU 13, Iowa 13
1990 Texas A&M 65, BYU 14
1989 Penn State 50, BYU 39
1988 Oklahoma St 62, Wyoming 14
1987 Iowa 20, Wyoming 19
1986 Iowa 39, San Diego State 38
1985 Arkansas 18, Arizona State 17
1984 BYU 24, Michigan 17
1983 BYU 21, Missouri 17
1982 Ohio State 47, BYU 17
1981 BYU 38, Washington State 36
1980 BYU 46, SMU 45
1979 Indiana 38, BYU 37
1978 Navy 23, BYU 16
2008 Maryland 42, Georgia Tech 35
It's been an interesting decade (plus a wee bit more) since these two faced off in the 1998 Holiday Bowl.

Arizona's 23-20 win over the Huskers to cap off a 12-1 season was supposed to be a springboard for a program that had never been to a Rose Bowl and appeared ready to become a major player in the Pac 10. Instead, the Cats went nine years in a row without a winning season before going 8-5 last year with a Las Vegas Bowl win over BYU.

The 1998 Huskers were a year removed from a second straight national championship, and they followed up the loss by being Nebraska again with 33 wins over the next three years before falling into the Bill Callahan abyss. It's not like the Huskers were bad, but they weren't special like they were for the so many years. And then came Bo Pelini, and now this game might be the moment when Nebraska makes its case that it's on the way to being among the elite again.

The key for Nebraska will be to find production on both sides of the ball at the same time. The offense was strong under Callahan, but the defense was a disaster. The defense has turned into a national title-caliber rock under Pelini, but the offense has sputtered. This year, had the Huskers had any semblance of an offense, it would've beaten Texas, Virginia Tech, and Iowa State and would've been off to the Fiesta Bowl. But the defense has been able to carry the team to the edge of a strong ten-win season.

Considering the offense ranked 102nd in the nation in yards and scored 142 points against the three Sun Belt teams on the slate and 177 in the other ten games, the defense has been nothing short of phenomenal. Led by Heisman finalist, Ndamukong Suh, and with an aggressive back seven that doesn't allow much of anything through the air, the Blackshirts need to step up yet again after coming within a few feet and a millisecond from ruining the Texas national title dreams.

But Arizona has a defense of its own.

The Wildcats finished 21st in the nation in total defense while the team found the resolve and toughness to come up with close win after close win to get to the program's best bowl game since 1998. After a decent 6-2 start, playtime appeared to be over with at Cal, Oregon, at Arizona State and at USC to close out the year. The Cats pushed the Bears in a tough loss, lost a double-overtime thriller to the Ducks, got by the Sun Devils thanks to a muffed punt return, and stunned USC to earn the No. 2 spot in the Pac 10 pecking order. Seven Wildcat games were decided by eight points or fewer, and now it's time to see if the Pac 10's most balanced team can close out strong.

The Holiday used to be the best bowl game of the non-BCS season with six straight thrillers from 1998 to 2003, and then the game became average with only one of the last five decided by fewer than 11 points. With the Big 12 getting far better bowl slots then the Pac 10, this is the West Coast league's must-win bowl game. A win for Arizona would make it three Pac 10 wins in four years, while a Nebraska win would get the Big Red hype machine started for 2010.

Players to Watch
: In case you had other plans on the night of the Big 12 Championship, or if you were busy watching the ACC Championship, or if you haven't paid much attention to the Big 12 or Nebraska football over the last few seasons, Ndamukong Suh is the rare defensive tackle who can make a game exciting. Unlike other star players on the inside who are anchors or do things that don't show up on the stat sheet, Suh makes things happen like a linebacker from the middle of the line. Extremely athletic, he can drop into pass coverage or get into the backfield with equal ease, and now that the spotlight is on after the brilliant performance against Texas, and a fourth place finish in the Heisman race, the Arizona offensive line must come up with a few ideas to keep No. 93 from destroying the Wildcat backfield.

Hoping to not be under pressure all game long is Nick Foles, one of the Pac 10's best and most unappreciated quarterbacks this year. The 6-5, 235-pound transfer from Michigan State had to work his way into the starting lineup, but once there he was able to show off his live arm starting in the fourth game of the season. After getting a little bit of duty early on, he shocked Oregon State with 254 yards and three touchdowns and the gig was his finishing the year with 19 touchdown passes and eight interceptions. Five of those picks came in two games, Washington and UCLA, and they weren't necessarily his fault. Against the heavy Husker pass rush, Foles' decision-making ability will have to be flawless.

On the other side, Nebraska's Zac Lee is absolutely, positively the starter … sort of. The junior was red-hot in the second half in the key win over Missouri, throwing three touchdown passes, and he threw just three scoring passes in the remaining seven games he played in. He's not bad on short to midrange passes, but he hasn't been allowed to be much of a quarterback considering the make-up of the team. His job is to keep the chains moving, not to turn the ball over, and let the defense take care of everything else, but he threw three picks against Iowa State and three against Nebraska. That's why ...

Nebraska will win if ... it doesn't turn the ball over. Not surprisingly, the two games that Lee threw three picks in turned out to be the team's two losses over the final seven games. The Huskers destroyed the Iowa State offense but lost because the offense gave the ball away eight times including five fumbles. The three interceptions against Texas were a killer, the two interceptions against Virginia Tech didn't help, and the two turnovers against Texas Tech made it a blowout. The formula is simple. Keep the game close, let the defense win the field position battle, take advantage of the opportunities when they're there, and rely on Alex Henery to kick lots and lots of field goals. Getting Roy Helu and the running game involved early is a must, too.

Arizona will win if ... it wins the field position battle. The Nebraska special teams are strong thanks to Henery and return man Niles Paul , but the Cats might have an advantage here highlighted by kickoff returner Travis Cobb and a nice punt return game. It's not like the Husker offense is going to crank out many, if any, drives of 70-plus yards on a defense that allows just 112 rushing yards per game and will get to Lee on a regular basis. The same formula for Nebraska should work for Arizona, but with far more offensive pop and just as aggressive a defense, this is a more complete team. The Cats don't give it away too often, and as long as they keep the field tilted to Nebraska's side and don't lose the turnover margin be too much, if at all, they should be able to pull out the tight game.

What will happen: If you're expecting a shootout, look elsewhere. With two strong defenses with excellent pass rushes, this will be a chess match of field position and with a few chances needing to be taken on both sides. Nebraska will open things up a bit, it'll have to, but that will lead to a few key turnovers, Foles will outplay Lee, and Arizona will have its biggest win in the Mike Stoops era.

CFN Prediction: Arizona 19 … Nebraska 16 ... Line: Arizona -2

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Best Wildcat Bowl Moment: Although the Wildcats have yet to appear in the Rose Bowl, they were pretty formidable between 1986 and 1998, winning five games in eight tries. The pinnacle was the 1994 Fiesta Bowl spanking of No. 10 Miami. Arizona created four turnovers and got 142 yards on the ground from Chuck Levy, pitching the only shutout in Fiesta Bowl history.

Best Husker Bowl Moment: Nebraska's massive bowl resume includes an unheard of 30 New Year's Day appearances. You can go in so many directions with this question, such as pasting No. 2 Alabama in the 1972 Orange Bowl, pounding Notre Dame 40-6 in the 1973 Orange Bowl in Bob Devaney's final game, breaking a seven-game bowl slide, or winning the national title with a win over Miami in the 1995 Orange Bowl. However, no game stands out more than the 62-24 demolition of Florida in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl. In a match up of No. 1 vs. No. 2, the Huskers rushed for a bowl-record 524 yards, putting forth one of the most dominant big game performances the sport has ever witnessed.

Arizona Bowl History (6-7-1)
2008 Las Vegas Arizona 31, BYU 21
1998 Holiday Arizona 23, Nebraska 20
1997 Insight.com Arizona 20, New Mexico 14
1994 Freedom Utah 16, Arizona 13
1993 Fiesta Arizona 29, Miami 0
1992 John Hancock Baylor 20, Arizona 15
1990 Aloha Syracuse 28, Arizona 0
1989 Copper Arizona 17, NC State 10
1986 Aloha Arizona 30, North Carolina 21
1985 Sun Arizona 13, Georgia 13
1979 Fiesta Pittsburgh 16, Arizona 10
1968 Sun Auburn 34, Arizona 10
1948 Salad Drake 14, Arizona 13
1921 San Diego East-West Christmas Classic Centre 38, Arizona 0
Nebraska Bowl History (23-22)
2008 Gator Nebraska 26, Clemson 21
2006 Cotton Auburn 17, Nebraska 14
2005 Alamo Nebraska 32, Michigan 28
2003 Alamo Nebraska 17, Michigan St 3
2002 Indep. Mississippi 27, Nebraska 23
2001 Rose Miami 37, Nebraska 14
2000 Alamo Nebraska 62, Northwestern 17
1999 Fiesta Nebraska 31, Tennessee 21
1998 Holiday Arizona 23, Nebraska 20
1997 Orange Nebraska 42, Tennessee 17
1996 Orange Nebraska 41, Virginia Tech 21
1995 Fiesta Nebraska 62, Florida 24
1994 Orange Nebraska 24, Miami 17
1993 Orange Florida State 18, Nebraska 16
1992 Orange Florida State 27, Nebraska 14
1991 Orange Miami 22, Nebraska 0
1990 Citrus Georgia Tech 45, Nebraska 21
1989 Fiesta Florida State 45, Nebraska 21
1988 Orange Miami 23, Nebraska 3
1987 Fiesta Florida State 31, Nebraska 28
1986 Sugar Nebraska 30, LSU 15
1985 Fiesta Michigan 27, Nebraska 23
1984 Sugar Nebraska 28, Louisiana State 10
1983 Orange Miami 31, Nebraska 30
1982 Orange Nebraska 21, LSU 20
1981 Orange Clemson 22, Nebraska 15
1980 Sun Nebraska 31, Miss State 17
1979 Cotton Houston 17, Nebraska 14
1978 Orange Oklahoma 31, Nebraska 24
1977 Liberty Nebraska 21, North Carolina 17
1976 Blue
Nebraska 27, Texas Tech 2
1975 Fiesta Arizona St 17, Nebraska 14
1974 Sugar Nebraska 13, Florida 10
1973 Cotton Nebraska 19, Texas 3
1972 Orange Nebraska 40, Notre Dame 6
1971 Orange Nebraska 38, Alabama 6
1970 Orange Nebraska 17, LSU 12
1969 Sun Nebraska 45, Georgia 6
1966 Sugar Alabama 34, Nebraska 7
1965 Orange Alabama 39, Nebraska 28
1964 Cotton Arkansas 10, Nebraska 7
1963 Orange Nebraska 13, Auburn 7
1962 Gotham Nebraska 36, Miami 34
1954 Orange Duke 34, Nebraska 7
1940 Rose Stanford 21, Nebraska 13