National Championship: Dallas Region – 1st Round


Published: December 12, 2008


(16) Troy Trojans [8-4] – Sun Belt Champions at (1) Oklahoma Sooners [12-1] – Big 12 Champions

Oklahoma Memorial Stadium – Norman, Oklahoma

No matter what the outcome of the final BCS rankings was, Troy Head Coach Larry Blakeney and his Troy Trojans knew they would have their work cut out for them come tournament time.  Emerging as the outright champs from Division I/FBS’s weakest conference, the Sun Belt, Troy faces an opponent in the top-seeded Oklahoma Sooners that would make even the most fearless of competitors have a moment of self-loathing.   Despite the fact Troy almost knocked off No. 20 LSU in Death Valley (before relinquishing a commanding 28 point lead midway through the 3rd quarter and losing 40-31), most people give Troy about as much a chance to knock off Oklahoma as they would a guilty-as-sin death row inmate who is seeking final pardoning from the governor on the day of execution.  No chance.  And how could you blame them?  It appears as if Oklahoma has already punched its ticket to Pasadena after Boomer Sooner-ing its way through the second half of the schedule following their gut-wrenching 45-35 loss to No. 5 Texas in October.  In fact, behind sophomore quarterback and Heisman trophy finalist, Sam Bradford, Oklahoma has rolled up 60 points or more in its last five games against some the best competition that the Big 12 — college football’s premier conference in 2008-2009 — has to offer.  So where does that leave Troy?  Ahem, well lets just say that Appalachian State isn’t walking through those doors.

Unfortunately for the boys from Troy, Alabama, it starts ugly and ends even uglier.  While the Trojans have a 1,000-yard rusher in running back DuJuan Harris and a talented, scrappy defense led by linebacker Boris Lee, they’ve never come across a team quite like the Sooners of Oklahoma.  At halftime, the scoreboard reads Oklahoma 45, Troy 0.  Bradford tosses three touchdowns and accounts for over 200 yards passing in the first half and the Sooner ground game, led by sophomore DeMarco Murray and junior Chris Brown, works its usual magic by registering two touchdowns of it’s own.  Murray and Brown both find the end zone, with Murray’s run proving to be the most electrifying of the two as he hits the hole at the line of scrimmage and exploits an open cutback lane that allows him to race 75 yards untouched for the score.  The Sooner machine continues to roll in the second half after Troy opens the half with an impressive 10-play 72-yard drive that was capped off by a three-yard touchdown run from Harris.  Bradford goes on to throw two more touchdowns, one to senior wide receiver Manny Johnson and the other to freshman Ryan Broyles, making the score 59-7 before Bradford throws on a head set and exits the game in the third quarter with 347 yards passing and five touchdowns.  By the fourth quarter, the second unit for the Sooners is on the field and the fat lady is poppin’ throat losenges.  Troy scores again midway through the fourth on a 42-yard slant thrown to sophomore wide receiver, Jerrel Jernigan, from junior quarterback Levi Brown, but Oklahoma backup quarterback, Joey Halzle, engineers one more scoring drive for the Sooners which ends in Mossis Madu punching it in from six yards out.  Mercifully, the game ends with the final tally being 66-14 in favor of Oklahoma, with the Sooners waltzing to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas to face the winner of the Boise State-Penn State match-up.

Player of the Game: Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford

(9) Boise State Broncos [12-0] – WAC Champions at (8) Penn State Nittany Lions [11-1] – Big Ten Champions

Beaver Stadium – State College, Pennsylvania

In what may be the most intriguing and exciting match-up in the first round of the National Championship, Boise State makes the long trip east to face-off against legendary Penn State Head Coach, Joe Paterno, and the Nittany Lions.  The Broncos, fresh off yet another undefeated WAC campaign, look to muster more postseason magic in the form of their jaw-dropping, come-from-behind, double overtime victory over the Oklahoma Sooners in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.  That victory has since vaulted the Boise State football program from wallowing in relative anonymity (despite being rather dominate in the WAC for a number of years) and into the national spotlight.  Other than their narrow 37-32 escape from Autzen Stadium at the expense of the Oregon Ducks, Boise State has cruised through their schedule, defeating opponents by an average margin-of-victory of just over 29 points per game.  Led by redshirt freshman quarterback, Kellen Moore, the Broncos possess a tremendously potent offense that utilizes a healthy amount of pre-snap motion to create mismatches with opposing defenses.  Moore has been nothing short of spectacular in his first season as a starter, throwing for over 3200 yards and 25 touchdowns while maintaining an impressive passing efficiency rating of 161.5 going into their match-up with Penn State.  Conversely, Penn State has been the beneficiary of the dynamic play of junior quarterback, Daryll Clark.  Clark, who prior to the season was mired in a quarterback battle with backup, Pat Devlin in the fall, has taken command of Penn State’s “Spread HD” offense which features a 1200-yard rusher in sophomore running back Evan Royster, and three four-year starters at wide receiver in seniors Deon Butler, Derrick Williams, and Jordan Norwood.  Additionally, along with Boise State, Penn State enjoys the comforts of having a defense that ranks in the top five nationally in total defense, surrendering a mere 12.4 points per game (Boise State gives up 12.3 pts/game).  Spearheaded by sophomore sackmaster, Aaron Maybin and his 12 sacks this season, the Nittany Lions play a bruising style of defense that requires opposing offenses to earn every yard they get.

A key thing to watch for in this game is how Boise State would execute it’s offensive gameplan on the road in a hostile environment against a defense the likes of Penn State.  One thing is certain.  Boise State will not be awe-struck by the moment and overwhelmed by the crowd.  They proved that much by going into Eugene and playing lights out football for three quarters against a very good Oregon team who they should have put away much earlier than they did.  The Nittany Lions possess without a doubt the most skilled defense the Broncos will face all season up until this point.  Senior Ian Johnson and sophomore Jeremy Avery must be productive enough for the Broncos on the ground to allow the play-action passing game to work for Moore and his receivers.  An interesting thing to watch would be the match-ups on the edge between the Boise State receivers and the Penn State secondary and linebackers.  If Penn State is effective against the Bronco run, the job of the linebackers and secondary will be much easier, as they will be able to sit back in pass protection and make it difficult for skilled receivers like Jeremy Childs and Vinny Perretta to do damage down field for Boise State.  Additionally, the key is not to be fooled by the myriad of play fakes and motion that Boise State employs to create breakdowns in opposing defenses.  Playing assingment football within the scheme of your defense and keeping the backs and receivers in front of you is vital to thwarting Boise State on offense.  Offensively for Penn State, they can’t afford to underestimate Boise State’s skill on defense.  Junior Kyle Wilson is the best cornerback you’ve never heard of and is fully capable of locking down anyone of the Nittany Lions’ trio of talented wideouts.  Boise State’s weakness is in run defense where they could get physically overmatched by Penn State’s mauling offensive line.  Pounding the Broncos into submission with Royster and mixing in the controlled passing game of Clark, will lead Penn State to victory in this contest.  In the end, I see Penn State pulling out a hard fought victory over Boise State.  Moore is effective as usual, but is forced to do too much when his running game is stone-walled by the Nittany Lion front seven.  Royster comes up with a huge game, carrying the ball 27 times for 132 yards and two touchdowns.  Penn State wins 28-24 and moves on to the quarterfinals where they will face Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.

Player of the game: Penn State running back Evan Royster

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