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Oregon State, Boise State spend Christmas Eve in Hawaii
How’d you like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island? Oregon State (6–6, 4–5 Pac-12) and Boise State (8–4, 6–2 Mountain West) will do just that when the Hawaii Bowl kicks off as the only game on television Christmas Eve.
The Beavers are making their first trip to the big island of Oahu and are just the second Pac-12 school to play in the Hawaii Bowl. Arizona State lost to hometown favorite Hawaii, 41–24, in 2006. Oregon State did play in the now defunct Oahu Bowl in 1999, losing to Hawaii, 23–17, on Christmas Day. Coach Mike Riley started his second stint at OSU with a 5–0 record in bowl games from 2003-08. But Oregon State is 0–2 in bowls since then.
This year’s trip to Honolulu snaps a three-year Las Vegas bender for the Broncos, who are riding a four-bowl win streak following three straight wins in Vegas (2010-12) and a memorable Fiesta Bowl victory following the 2008 season. This is Boise State’s second appearance in the Hawaii Bowl, having been upset as 10-point favorites by East Carolina, 41–38, in 2007. In that game, ECU track star Chris Johnson accounted for 255 total yards and two TDs.
In the all-time series, OSU has a 4–3 edge over Boise, although the Smurf Turfers have a 3–2 advantage since stepping up to FBS status in 1996. Most recently, the Broncos defeated the Beavers, 37–24, in 2010.
Oregon State vs. Boise State
Kickoff: Tuesday, Dec. 24 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Oregon State -3
Oregon State’s Key to Victory: Sean Mannion to Brandin Cooks
Oregon State has an NFL-caliber quarterback and this year’s Biletnikoff Award-winning wide receiver. As Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks go, so go the Beavers. When OSU jumped out to a 6–1 start to the season, Mannion threw for 2,992 yards, 29 TDs and three INTs, while Cooks hauled in 76 catches for 1,176 yards (15.5 ypc) and 12 TDs. When OSU fell apart to go 0–5 down the stretch to end the year, Mannion threw for 1,411 yards, seven TDs and 11 INTs, while Cooks had 44 catches for 494 yards (11.2 ypc) and three TDs.
Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence will be charged with applying a pass rush to Mannion. The Broncos’ top defender has been a terror off the edge this season, with 19.5 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. Up front, Lawrence is joined by 300-pound fifth-year senior defensive tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, who will command attention as a monster in the middle. In the Boise State secondary, cornerback Donte Deayon and safety Jeremy Ioane, a pair of All-MWC selections, will have their hands full stopping the Beavers’ aerial attack. Only a sophomore, the 5’9” Deayon will be put to the test by the nation’s best in the 5’10” Cooks.
Boise State’s Key to Victory: Expose Beavers’ Weak Defense
Oregon State’s defense is one of the worst statistical units playing in a bowl this season. The Beavers rank 94th in total defense, allowing 482.2 yards per game; 95th in scoring defense, allowing 32.1 points per game; and 120th in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score an eye-popping 93.2 percent of the time the ball is inside the 20-yard-line. And it wasn’t just Pac-12 powers like Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State that lit up the Beavers defense. FCS power Eastern Washington scored 49 points in an upset win and Utah scored 48 points in an overtime nail-biter.
Boise State’s offense will be led by junior quarterback Grant Hedrick, who passed for 1,443 yards, 15 TDs and five INTs, while going 4–2 as a starter after replacing injured senior Joe Southwick. Recently, waves were made when Southwick — who had returned from a right ankle injury — was sent home from the Hawaii Bowl for disciplinary reasons. Redshirt freshman Nick Patti was also suspended, although he has been reinstated and will serve as the backup to Hedrick. Capable wideouts Matt Miller and Shane Williams-Rhodes provide firepower on the outside, while senior O-linemen Charles Leno Jr. and Matt Paradis pave the way in the trenches.
Key Player: Jay Ajayi, RB, Boise State
Regardless of who lines up under center for the Broncos, Ajayi will be the centerpiece of the Boise State attack. The 6’0”, 215-pound sophomore out of Plano, Texas, was named first-team All-MWC after posting 226 carries for 1,328 yards (5.9 ypc) and 17 TDs, while hauling in 16 catches for 189 yards (11.8 ypc) and one score. Ajayi had six contests with over 100 total yards and five multi-TD games this season. Only twice did Ajayi fail to rush for at least 80 yards — with a 54-yard, one-TD effort in a 41–40 loss at Fresno State, and a 70-yard, three-TD performance in a 48–7 blowout of Wyoming as his worst outings of a brilliant 2013 campaign.
Longtime Boise State coach Chris Petersen — who went 92–12 in eight seasons, including two undefeated years (2006, 2009) — has moved on to take the top spot at Washington, leaving interim head coach Bob Gregory to coach the Hawaii Bowl. Gregory previously served as the Broncos defensive coordinator and was coaching linebackers prior to being named interim head coach. Former Boise offensive coordinator and Arkansas State coach Bryan Harsin will take over as the next coach of the Broncos following the bowl game. On the other sideline, Oregon State coach Mike Riley appears to have coached his way off of the proverbial hot seat with his second straight bowl trip after a two-year postseason drought in 2010-11.
Both teams are happy to be in Hawaii, for the weather as much as the football. With two high-octane offenses, the defense in this year’s Hawaii Bowl could be reminiscent of the NFL’s Pro Bowl in Honolulu. Expect plenty of scoring, lots of hula dancing and plenty of people getting lei’d on Christmas Eve.
Prediction: Oregon State 42, Boise State 40