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Holiday Bowl Preview, Part 4: The Passing Games

Holiday Bowl previewing continues with a look at the battle in the trenches.

Arizona State Secondary Vs Texas Passing Game

We've spent all season talking about Colt McCoy's regression in 2007, debating whether he's shown his true ceiling or hit some sort of slump that's a product of a flaw in the overall system. As with most things, the truth most likely hides somewhere in between, but now that the '07 regular season is finished, let's look at his numbers side-by-side.

This preview isn't the place to get into all the details of McCoy's sophomore encore - we'll save that for the offseason - but even a quick and dirty look at the two composite performances is instructive. In 2007, Greg Davis threw the ball more often with his sophomore quarterback. McCoy completed nearly the same percent of his attempts, for nearly the same yards per attempt. But he also struggled to find the end zone as often, while his interceptions have skyrocketed. Bear in mind that the 2006 numbers include McCoy's strong performance in the Alamo Bowl to close the season 26-40, 308 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT).

Though we'll have to save a more in depth look at McCoy for the offseason, it's safe to say that the 2007 version has been problematic. McCoy was interceptionless only twice this season - Rice and Iowa State - and threw multiple picks against Arkansas State (2), TCU (2), Kansas State (4), Baylor (2), and Oklahoma State (3). That matches the number of games McCoy had multiple touchdowns - Arkansas State (2), Rice (3), Oklahoma (2), Iowa State (4), and Texas Tech (4).

Heading into the season, McCoy was thought by many to be the cornerstone of the Texas offense. After his dazzling freshman debut, some thought a healthy McCoy could make a run at the Heisman, in no small part because Texas returned its top six pass catchers from 2006. But on August 15th, Limas Sweed hurt his wrist, and though he'd try to play through the injury, by the second week of October, he'd headed for season-ending surgery. With the brittle Jordan Shipley coming back slowly from a hamstring injury, Texas had no deep receiving threat. McCoy, meanwhile, was making mistakes - both with accuracy and decision-making.

The net result has been at times disastrous. Though the pass-first Colt-centric offensive game plan worked as planned at times (at Iowa State, for example), too often the Longhorn offense sputtered. One can't help but wonder how south the season might have gone had Colt McCoy not taken a play off at the fourth quarter of the Nebraska game. Until that moment, the Longhorn offense looked positively broken.

On the other side of the ball, Arizona State's pass defense has been mostly solid throughout 2007, holding opposing quarterbacks to a 108.2 quarterback rating and intercepting 17 passes. Safeties Troy Nolan and Josh Barrett anchor the defensive backs, and though Nolan's had the better overall season (6 INTs), Barrett's been playing exceptionally well of late after starting the season injured. (Update: EOB notes that Barrett is out for the game. Outstanding.)

If Texas is smart, they'll take a cue from USC and look often to tight end Jermichael Finley. The Sun Devils have proven vulnerable in the middle of the field to tight ends; Greg Davis' offensive game plan against Oklahoma would be a good one to remember in preparing for Thursday night.

Texas Secondary Vs Arizona State Passing Game

Including tight end Brent Miller, Arizona State has five receivers with 20 or more catches on the season. Junior quarterback Rudy Carpenter has 23 touchdowns on the season, against just 8 interceptions, at 8.3 yards per attempt - good for a 149.5 QB Rating. Though Texas' first big worry will be 6-4 wideout Michael Jones (38 catches, 17.4 per reception, 8 TDs), the kid who should really strike fear in Longhorn fans' hearts is sophomore Chris McGaha. Amazingly, though he's made a team-high 52 catches on the year, not one has been for a touchdown. The kid can burn, though, and I'm having Jordy Nelson flashbacks just typing this.

As solid as the ASU passing attack is, the Sun Devils aren't at their best unless the offense is somewhat balanced. Against lesser competition (Oregon State, Washington State, UCLA, Arizona), ASU managed to win despite not running the ball particularly well. Against Oregon and USC, however, that deficiency proved fatal. It's not clear that it will make much of a difference against Texas, however. When Texas A&M is moving the ball at will through the air with Stephen McGee, there's not much incentive for ASU to kill themselves seeking balance. If ever there was a game to pass, pass, and then pass some more, this is it. Unless and until Texas shows some ability to slow a quarterback down, why bother with the run?