OU will take on the high-flying Arizona Wildcats who enter the game with a record of 9-3 and are probably the hottest offense in college football right now. In the first of this week’s two previews, we’ll lay out the challenges that Arizona’s offense presents to Oklahoma’s defense.
The Alamo Bowl: Previewing the Arizona Offense vs. Oklahoma
Arizona’s Offensive Playmakers
Arizona finished with their best record since 2014 thanks to a dominant offense that finished 21st in the country in points per game, averaging 34.3 points. They have a core of stars leading their offense: Noah Fifita, Tetairoa McMilllan, and Jacob Cowing. Fifita is a redshirt freshman quarterback from Servite HS in Anaheim, California. Fifita stepped into the role after Jayden de Laura was injured early in the season and has been on fire ever since.
He ended the season with 2,515 passing yards and a 23:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His 73.6% completion percentage was fourth in the country and second in the Pac-12 behind Heisman finalist, Bo Nix. Although he’s under six-feet and might not have the strongest arm, Fifita more than makes up for it with his accuracy and decision making.
He is a definite pocket passer who only has 31 official rush attempts on the season, but his offensive line protects him well and has only allowed him to be sacked 14 times in 11 games. The Sooners’ pass rush has struggled to get home this season and their ability to disrupt Fifita’s timing and hurry him is going to be key in this game. If he’s allowed to sit in the pocket for too long, he’ll pick apart the Oklahoma secondary even if they play good coverage.
Speaking of the picking apart secondaries, Tetairoa McMillan and Jacob Cowing have been doing that to opponents all season. McMillan was Fifita’s teammate in high school and he has developed into one of the best receivers in the nation.
He finished third in the Pac-12 and eighth in the country with 1,242 receiving yards and was one of only three receivers in the conference to average more than 100 receiving yards per game. He also hauled in 10 touchdown catches on 80 total receptions this season. He has good size and speed, and at 6’5, he has the ability to win most 50-50 catch situations.
Across from McMillan is Jacob Cowing, who may not have the counting stats that McMillan does but absolutely has the talent to take over a game. The fifth-year senior caught 83 balls for 696 yards, averaging 6.9 receptions per game. He slightly outpaced McMillan in the touchdown department, scoring 11 on the year.
Standing at 5’11, 175 pounds, he presents a very different threat than McMillan. Cowing runs good routes and is shift and electric after the catch. The Oklahoma secondary is going to have its hands full defending both McMillan and Cowing and it’s likely that the Sooners will play a lot of Cover Two in an effort to limit deep passing plays.
Even if OU shuts down Arizona’s passing attack, they’ll still have to contend with the Wildcats’ running game and Jonah Coleman. Coleman was Arizona’s leading rusher this season, finishing fifth in the Pac-12 in rushing yards with 851. He averaged 6.9 yards per rush, which was second in the conference and is not someone that Brent Venables and Oklahoma want to overlook.
How worried should the Sooners be about the Arizona offense?
In short, they should be very worried. Even with Billy Bowman and Danny Stutsman returning to the team, Oklahoma is going to need to play a stellar defensive game to keep the Wildcats under wraps. A successful day from the defense would probably look something like this: consistently getting pressure on Fifita and sacking him a few times, limiting explosive passing plays of over 20+ yards to just three or four occurrences, and holding Arizona to under 30 points for the game.
If Oklahoma can manage all of those things, they should feel good about their chances in the game. But if it turns into a shootout, Oklahoma may get left behind due to their inexperienced, albeit very talented, new starting quarterback, Jackson Arnold.
The matchup between Arizona’s offense and Oklahoma’s defense is one of the most intriguing ones of the entire bowl season, so it should be a treat to watch. Be on the lookout for another preview detailing Oklahoma’s offensive outlook for this game soon!
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