Orange Bowl: Texas Tech v. Cincinnati
A close, hard-fought contest proved once and for all that Cincinnati deserved every bit of the seeding they got in the Golden Bowl Tournament - and left the rest of the actual tournament with a high bar to follow.
The tone was set early when Graham Harrell's third pass attempt was intercepted, and returned to the 18, setting up an easy touchdown pass to Dominick Goodman. Unfazed, Harrell led the Red Raiders right down the field, with some help from a couple of throws to Michael Crabtree, including one that Crabtree managed to take into the endzone. After a three-and-out and a Red Raider first down that went nowhere, the Bearcats - pinned inside their own 20 by a holding penalty - marched down the field to the 6 heading into the second quarter before the Raider defense stuffed everything they tried and held them to a field goal. The Red Raiders struck back with their own drive, but faced with fourth-and-1 on the 30, decided to kick a field goal of their own - and watched it sail wide right.
The Bearcats started another good drive before a second-down sack of Tony Pike put them at third-and-17 from the 36. The next play was an incompletion, and the Bearcats were forced to punt - and proceeded to force a three-and-out, after which they picked up where they left off, culminating with Pike-to-Goodman for another touchdown, putting the Bearcats up by ten. Harrell led the Red Raiders on another valiant drive, but on second-and-goal from the five, no timeouts, and twenty-one seconds left, Harrell drops back to pass instead of handing the ball off - and overthrows Shannon Woods, making it third-and-goal with fifteen seconds left. Enough time not to be an ideal circumstance to bring out the field goal unit on any but fourth down, but not enough to comfortably run another play and still get a field goal off (at least if the Raiders had run the ball on second down Harrell could have worked the clock down to three-to-five seconds before spiking the ball). Still, it's somewhat bewildering Mike Leach doesn't at least call for another pass and instead brings out the field goal unit anyway, and perhaps more bewildering when the resulting chip shot bangs off the upright. Cincinnati enters the half with all the momentum and a full ten-point lead, and the analysts wonder if the Red Raiders can get more than a fluke stop.
Baron Batch runs off a 63-yard run before finally getting stopped on the 7 on the second play from scrimmage in the second half, setting up a quick Red Raider touchdown, but the Raider defense still can't stop the Bearcat offense as Pike goes 4-for-5 on the ensuing drive. The incompletion, an overthrown touchdown attempt, helps hold Cincinnati to a 39-yard field goal, keeping the game within a score, and the Raider offense catches a little bit of fire of its own. While the Bearcats are operating slowly and methodically, the Red Raiders score their points with big plays like a 32-yard completion from Harrell to Eric Morris, and a throw to Tramain Swindall that makes Swindall look like a Heisman candidate before he finally dives into the endzone.
After another Cincinnati touchdown, though, the Bearcat defense forces a three-and-out and the Bearcats prove just as unstoppable with yet another touchdown drive that spans the quarter break. Harrell keeps the Raiders in the game with a touchdown drive of his own, but Jacob Ramsey breaks off a 46-yard run that sets up a field goal. The Red Raiders get the ball back with 6:32 left, but burn a lot of clock en route to the end zone and can't complete the two-point conversion, so Cincinnati still has a 36-34 lead. Astoundingly (even though there's still 2:43 remaining), considering how little the Raider defense has been able to stop the Bearcats all day, Leach does not call for an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff - but the Raider defense vindicates his confidence by finally forcing a three-and-out. But Harrell's comeback attempt is a disaster: sacked on first down, an 11-yard completion with 17 to go on second, and two incompletions. Cincinnati sneaks out of Miami with the victory, but Graham Harrell is named the game's MVP for keeping the Red Raiders in the game when Cincinnati ran all up and down on the Raider defense.
Final score: Texas Tech 34, Cincinnati 36
Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma v. Alabama
Stewing from two weeks of pundits suggesting they might be soft or not mentally prepared, the Sooners - once having visions of championships dancing in their heads - vow to make the most of their consolation prize and show people why they had been the #1 seed. After a three-and-out and an Alabama missed field goal, Sam Bradford methodically leads the Sooners down the field and into the end zone. Glen Coffee does most of the work on the ensuing Alabama drive, but it gets stopped on the 6 and forces another field goal, made this time. On Alabama's next drive early in the second, Coffee takes it into the end zone himself and gives the Tide what would be their only lead of the game. Oklahoma's next drive is a three-and-out, but the defense stops Alabama in their own territory and a 65-yard touchdown run gives the Sooners the lead for good.
That long touchdown is arguably the turning point of the game. Alabama doesn't get a first down for the rest of the half and Oklahoma's next drive, already starting in Alabama territory, starts with two Chris Brown runs before Jermaine Gresham catches a Bradford pass and outruns the defense for a 36-yard touchdown. Oklahoma enters the half with a 21-10 lead, but Alabama methodically makes its way down the field to cut that lead to four to start the second half, this time with John Parker Wilson taking a more central role. Oklahoma brushes it off, though, when Brown breaks open another touchdown run of more than 60 yards. Alabama makes another effort on their next drive, but get stopped near midfield. Oklahoma, though, doesn't do much better on their next drive and Alabama manages to take the punt almost to where it was punted from to start the fourth quarter.
Wilson hits Nick Walker for a 36-yard gain to set up a throw to Coffee for the touchdown (a risky touchdown throw on fourth-and-1 from the 8), picking up the two-point conversion to get within a field goal. But once again, Oklahoma brushes it off with another big play, this time a long run on the second play from scrimmage that just barely gets tackled a yard short of the end zone. After the eventual TD, Alabama has Coffee and Mark Ingram (and occasionally Roy Upchurch) trade carries until they get inside the Sooner 40 with six minutes left, after which they rely more on Wilson's arm. Although he gets an 18-yard first down completion on his first try, the next three plays are a short completion, an incompletion, and a sack, holding the Tide to a field goal with a little less than five minutes to play. Alabama opts to kick it away and Oklahoma makes them pay, taking the kickoff to their own 31, having Bradford make a 20-yard completion to the Tide 33, and breaking open yet another touchdown run from there. The demoralized Tide get nowhere on the ensuing drive, but the defense do manage to get enough of a stop to force the Sooners to kick a field goal on fourth down. There's nowhere near enough time to make up a 17-point deficit, though.
Final score: Oklahoma 45, Alabama 28
USC is in the Golden Bowl. Who will join them, Texas or Florida? Tune in tomorrow and find out!