Texas Preview

The supposed sting from being edged out of a BCS bowl game has subsided with a valuable opportunity awaiting the Sun Devils in San Diego. The 30th annual Pacific Life Holiday Bowl pits Arizona State against football-powerhouse Texas. It's a chance for the Sun Devils to cap off a successful season with a signature win and use that as a springboard into recruiting and beyond in 2008.

But beware of the Texas Longhorns. Eager to right the ship after being upset by rival Texas A&M, the Longhorns are also looking at this game as an equally-inspiring segue into the 2008 season with high hopes.

TEXAS LONGHORNS
2007 Record: 9-3, 5-3 Big 12
Head Coach: Mack Brown

OFFENSE

*Projected Starters

WR Nate Jones, Sr.
RT Adam Ulatoski, So.
RG Cedric Dockery, Jr.
C Buck Burnette, RS-Fr.
LG Charlie Tanner, So.
LT Chris Hall, So.
TE Jermichael Finley, So.
QB Colt McCoy, So.
TB Jamaal Charles, Jr.
WR Quan Cosby, Jr.
WR Jordan Shipley, Jr.

Consistency questions have followed quarterback Colt McCoy a bit this season as he's thrown 18 interceptions. McCoy was intercepted only seven times last year in his freshman campaign. Nonetheless, the sophomore has still led a Texas offense that averages 36 points per game. McCoy has passed for 3,129 yards and 21 touchdowns this season.

The receiving corps was dealt a blow with the loss of preseason All-American Limas Sweed but the group has pressed on. Nate Jones leads all pass-catchers with 748 yards on 64 receptions. Jones and Quan Cosby each have five touchdowns. Jermichael Finley and Jordan Shipley round out the group with a combined 64 catches and seven scores.

Featured Matchup: Jamaal Charles vs. Arizona State Linebackers

The sophomore ball-carrier is easily among the best running backs the Sun Devils will have faced all season. Charles has notched 1,458 yards on 231 carries this season. He's also scored 16 times on the ground for the Longhorns. Charles has also doubled as a track star and features the type of speed to create big plays at anytime. Charles ran for 216 yards in the fourth quarter of the Longhorns' October victory over Nebraska, making him just six yards shy of Corey Dillon's NCAA record for yards in a single quarter.

DEFENSE

*Projected Starters

DE Brian Orakpo, Jr.
NT Derek Lokey, Sr.
DT Frank Okam, Sr.
DE Lamarr Houston, So.
SAM Robert Killebrew, Sr.
MIKE Rashad Bobino, Jr.
WILL Scott Derry, Sr.
FS Marcus Griffin, Sr.
SS Ishie Oduegwu, So.
CB Ryan Palmer, Jr.
CB Brandon Foster, Sr.

The Longhorns enter the Holiday Bowl with the nation's 10th ranked rush defense, surrendering just over 99 yards per game on the ground. The front seven is led by middle linebacker Rashad Bobino. The junior has 67 tackles and one interception. Bobino is flanked by Robert Killebrew and Scott Derry, who have combined for 121 stops. Sophomore Roddrick Muckelroy is the top reserve. Frank Okam, a senior defensive tackle, leads the pass rush up front with five sacks. Defensive end Lamarr Houston has also added 4.5 sacks.

Featured Matchup: Texas Secondary vs. Rudy Carpenter

As solid as the run defense has been, the Longhorns' pass defense was lacking this season. The Texas secondary ranks 109th in the nation in pass defense, surrendering an average of 275.5 yards per game. Free safety Marcus Griffin leads the team in tackles with 97 stops. He and senior cornerback Brandon Foster top the secondary with three interceptions a piece. Ryan Palmer, a junior, is second on the team in tackles with 72 stops. He and Foster have combined for 23 pass break ups. Senior safety Erick Jackson should also see significant time.

SPECIAL TEAMS

P Justin Moore, Sr.
PK Ryan Bailey, Jr.

KR Quan Cosby, Jr.
PR Quan Cosby, Jr.

12 of Justin Moore's 28 punts have been placed inside the 20-yard line this season. Moore averages a solid 42 yards per punt. Ryan Bailey, the Longhorns' top scorer, is 17 of 21 on field goal attempts. Bailey's longest conversion this season came from 52 yards out. Most notably, the junior is 7 of 9 on attempts of 40-49 yards.

All-purpose man Quan Cosby doubles as a returner on kickoffs and punts for the Longhorns. Cosby averages 8.7 yards per punt return while turning in a 24.8 yard clip on kickoff returns. The junior had a 91-yard score on a kickoff return earlier this season.

KEYS TO VICTORY FOR TEXAS

Pressure Carpenter: ASU has given up 51 sacks this season. Sun Devil quarterback Rudy Carpenter is especially dangerous when he's allowed to develop a rhythm with his receivers. The Texas defense has notched 25 sacks in the regular season and will likely challenge the pass protection at times.

Involve Finley: Tight ends have had some success against the Sun Devil defense this season and Jermichael Finley has the potential to do similar damage this Thursday. Finley averages 13.1 yards per reception and could be crucial on converting third downs. With Cosby, Jones, and Charles occupying the defense, Finley is likely to be an X-factor for the Longhorns.

Play to your strengths: Defensive coordinators Duane Akina and Larry Mac Duff have recently talked about simplifying things on defense so their players don't have to think out there as much. Getting back to the basics may be a good idea with the athleticism the Longhorns can match up with. Stopping the run and running the ball are two things Texas does well and if they do can both, they stand a good chance at winning despite some ugly yardage numbers given up by the secondary.

KEYS TO VICTORY FOR ARIZONA STATE

Control the Clock: It would behoove the Sun Devils if they can establish a ground game that can eat some clock time. Time of possession was a big factor in Texas A&M's upset of the Longhorns last month as the Aggies had the ball for 40:06 minutes. However, a dinged-up Keegan Herring and Dimitri Nance will have their work cut out for them against a solid run defense for Texas.

Stop the Run: One of this year's defensive pillars has been stopping the run and this game isn't approached any differently. Texas running back Jamaal Charles presents a big challenge for the front seven from Tempe. Middle linebacker Morris Wooten won't be available for the Sun Devils so sophomore Mike Nixon will get the start.

Better Red-Zone Efficiency: It's been a sore spot for the Devils as of late. Settling for field goals in lieu of touchdowns is a recipe for defeat against a team averaging 36 points per contest. Even though Thomas Weber is extremely reliable field goal kicker, ASU needs to cash in on a higher percentage inside the red zone with touchdowns. Texas gave up a touchdown in 51% of opponent's trips in the red-zone this season.

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