It's the Fiesta Bowl

  • December 02, 2007 08:57 PM
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By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
December 2, 2007

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Big East champion West Virginia will face Big 12 champion Oklahoma in the 2008 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 2 at the University of Phoenix Stadium.

  Quarterback Patrick White dislocated the thumb on his non-throwing hand in the second quarter of Saturday's game against Pitt.
AP photo

The Mountaineers (10-2) capture the Big East Conference BCS bid despite finishing tied with Connecticut in the league standings because WVU beat Connecticut in head-to-head play. The Mountaineers lost 13-9 to Pitt on Saturday in Morgantown in their quest to make the BCS national championship game.

“We’re honored to be playing in the Fiesta Bowl but I would be lying if I said we weren’t disappointed because it’s only been 24 hours since we lost our last game,” said West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez. “At the same time, to be invited to the Fiesta Bowl against a great opponent and a tremendous coaching staff is quite an honor. I’m sure our guys will look forward to it.”

Oklahoma (11-2) beat Missouri, 38-17, in Saturday night’s Big 12 championship game to reach the Fiesta Bowl. Oklahoma is returning to the Fiesta Bowl for the second straight year after suffering a 43-42 overtime loss to Boise State in the 2007 game.

“It’s exciting for us coming off the Big 12 championship and No. 1 Missouri last week and now playing No. 2 West Virginia coming into this week,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “Being at the Fiesta Bowl last year we understand what a fantastic job they do at the Fiesta Bowl. It is first class in every way.”

The No. 3-rated Sooners have lost just twice this season at 6-6 Colorado and at 8-4 Texas Tech. Oklahoma has a high-scoring offense that is averaging 43.4 points per game. Quarterback Sam Bradford has passed for 2,879 yards and 34 touchdowns while completing a remarkable 70.1 percent of his pass attempts.

Wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias leads Oklahoma with 60 catches for 854 yards and four touchdowns. Malcolm Kelly is also a big pass-catching threat, snaring 49 passes for 821 yards and nine touchdowns. Jermaine Greshman leads the team with 11 touchdown receptions to go with 34 catches.

Allen Patrick has rushed for a team-best 927 yards to go with eight touchdowns, while DeMarco Murray shows a team-best 11 rushing TDs to go along with 764 yards. Oklahoma is one of the most balanced offenses in the country averaging 191.8 yards per game on the ground and 259.5 yards per game through the air.

“I know they have got a lot of great athletes at every position. Since Bob has been there they’ve done a great job of recruiting and a great job of coaching them up,” Rodriguez said. “We actually visited there a few years ago and talked some football and we’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for them – not only for their players but how they’ve built their program.”

Junior linebacker Curtis Lofton is the team leader with 142 tackles – nearly 60 more than the next closest Oklahoma defender. Lofton has 9 ½ tackles for losses, three interceptions and a sack. Auston English has a team-best 9 ½ sacks and 13 tackles for losses.

Oklahoma is making its fourth trip to the Fiesta Bowl.

West Virginia is making its first trip to the Fiesta Bowl since playing Notre Dame for the national championship in 1989.

The Mountaineers are making their second BCS bowl trip in three years, having defeated Georgia, 38-35, in the 2005 Sugar Bowl.

“Hopefully we will represent the Big East Conference and West Virginia University well,” said Rodriguez.

Quarterback Patrick White leads the Mountaineer offense with 1,185 yards rushing and 1,548 yards passing. The junior is averaging 6.7 yards per rush and is completing 68 percent of his passing attempts. White dislocated thumb on his non-throwing hand in the second quarter of the Pitt game but returned in the fourth quarter. Rodriguez doesn’t foresee any lingering problems for White after a few days rest.

“It’s still a little sore today but there was no ligament damage or anything so he should be fine in a few days,” Rodriguez said.

Junior running back Steve Slaton has also run for more than 1,000 yards this season, but is more than 700 yards off his 2006 season rushing performance. Slaton has a team-best 17 rushing touchdowns.

Junior wide receiver Darius Reynaud shows 59 receptions for 691 yards and 11 touchdowns. The next closest receiver is junior Dorrell Jalloh with 24 catches for 272 yards and a touchdown.

“They do a fabulous job. They’ve got excellent skill players. They run the triple option and you’ve got to be really disciplined to play it,” said Stoops. “They’ve got people that can make big plays if you miss them and they are very disciplined in how they run it.

“We’ve been fairly used to seeing it,” Stoops said. “Sometimes we’ve been great at it and other times we’ve struggled with it. We’ve got to make sure we get really prepared for it.”

Junior linebacker Reed Williams leads West Virginia with 98 stops, followed by 86 from junior linebacker Mortty Ivy. Johnny Dingle has a team-best 8 sacks and 18 tackles for losses. West Virginia’s defense is giving up just 291.9 yards per game.

“Kids are more resilient than coaches. We give them a 24-hour period, win or lose, to turn it around and we don’t have a game for a few weeks,” said Rodriguez. “At the same time once they hear and get to know about the bowl they will get excited about the caliber of opponent we’re playing and they will have to get it turned around quickly and I think they will.”

A Big East team last played in the Fiesta Bowl in 2005 when Pitt lost 35-7 to Utah. The Panthers were awarded the BCS trip after finishing in a three-way tie with West Virginia and Boston College for the conference title.

West Virginia last played Oklahoma in 1982 in the season opener in Norman when the Mountaineers pulled off a 41-27 upset. Oklahoma had won the prior two meetings in 1978 and 1958 by scores of 52-10 and 47-14.

Four days before the football game, the Oklahoma men’s basketball team will be playing West Virginia at the Charleston Civic Center on Dec. 29.