SAN ANTONIO, TX - Preparing for the Alamo Bowl, No. 14 Arizona Football (9-3, 7-2) takes on the No. 12 Oklahoma Sooners (10-2, 7-2).
The finale of the 2023 Arizona Football season is sadly here, and while it has been a good ride this year, the Wildcats still have a lot to play for as they prepare for the Alamo Bowl.
Returning to the gridiron for its final matchup of 2023, the Wildcats travel to San Antonio to take on a very skilled and talented team in Oklahoma.
Coming in, Arizona is considered the slim favorite, as the Wildcats should have just about everyone playing, meanwhile, Oklahoma will be breaking in a freshman quarterback, and a new offensive coordinator. Additionally, they will have to replace a few guys who entered the transfer portal in the past few weeks.
While Arizona does have a bit of an advantage, this isn't a game the Wildcats can overlook. The Sooners are very talented and well-coached, and beating them is still going to take a terrific effort from Arizona.
Overall, the Wildcats will need to focus and execute as a lot will be dependent on shutting down freshman quarterback Jackson Arnold and his myriad of talented offensive weapons. If the Cats can take care of the football and limit the Sooners' high-flying offense, I like its chances of winning this one!
Getting to Know the details about Arizona Football’s opponent, the Oklahoma Sooners.
Team: Oklahoma Sooners
Conference: Big-12 Conference
Current Record: 10–2 (7–2)
Head Coach: Brent Venables enters his 2nd season as head coach at Oklahoma after taking over for Lincoln Riley (currently at USC).
Having been a long-time assistant coach under several greats including; Bill Snyder, Bob Stoops, and Dabo Swinney, Coach Venables finally got his chance in 2022 when he became head coach of the Sooners.
Overall, he is 16–9 (10–8) as a head coach with two bowl appearances.
2022 Record: Finishing the 2022 season 6–7 (3–6) record, the Sooners had a bit of a disappointing season as they transitioned from Coach Riley to Coach Venables.
Oklahoma would end up in the 2022 Cheez-It Bowl against then No. 13 ranked Florida State. The Sooners fell by a 35-32 final.
Key Returners / Starters:
Wanting to know a bit more about Oklahoma's offense, we reached out to
Payton Guthrie of 'Through the Key Hole an Oklahoma Football Podcast' for his expertise.
Coming into this game, a bit is unknown among the Oklahoma fanbase as the departures of Jeff Lebby and Dillon Gabriel to Mississippi State and Oregon respectively, have left many pondering what we will see in this matchup.
Former Arizona assistant Seth Littrell and Joe Jon Finley are now at the helm of the OU offense with 5-star freshman Jackson Arnold taking over the quarterback role.
But if the recent past is any indication then expect to see a balanced offensive attack with a 45/55 pass-to-run spilt.
The Sooners employ the "Bear Raid" made famous by Baylor with some air raid concepts. The Sooners look to the outside/inside zone as their bread-and-butter running plays with a lot of side-to-side action to force the opposing defenses to flatten along the edges.
The offense is based around the idea of short gains (runs, swing passes, WR screens, flares, etc.) to set up deep shots downfield. The offense doesn't do a great job of attacking the intermediate depth, but the real money is made 20+ yards downfield.
On offense, the biggest playmaker Arizona will have to watch out for is Arnold. This will be his first starting action and the first time he has taken the starter snaps in practice. Just how have Seth & JJF built an offense around the strengths of Arnold and what can we take away from this game into the 2024 season?
A lesser-known player will be running back Gavin Sawchuk. He was banged up (as was 90% of OU's RB room) for the majority of the 2023 season but was able to put up some good numbers towards the end of the season. I expect Sawchuk to be a difference-maker in this game.
Beyond that, Arizona's secondary will be challenged quite a bit by pass catchers Drake Stoops (son of former Oklahoma head coach Bob), Jalil Farooq, and Nic Anderson.
So what defense will we see from Oklahoma? The short answer? The one that works.
Long answer? Brent Venables is known as one of the best defensive minds in college football. He will have some coverage and blitz packages to slow down the Wildcats. It's just who he is.
The Sooners like to run a four-man front on most downs with a "Cheetah" EDGE/LB/S hybrid player to create 4-3, 4-2-5, or 3-3-5 looks without having to change the personnel grouping too much.
I'd expect Brent to heat up the QB and make Arizona win some one-on-ones down field.
Linebackers Danny Stutsman and Kip Lewis provide a nice 1-2 punch for the Sooners and they will challenge the Wildcats quite a bit. Both are very physical and active players.
Beyond that, the Sooners have a talented and productive secondary with Billy Bowman, Gentry Williams, Peyton Bowen, and Reggie Pearson seemingly being the biggest playmakers.
In the Cheetah spot, look for Dasan McCullough, Kendel Dolby, and Samuel Omosigho to get a majority of the looks there.
Game information and details for Arizona Football:
When: Thursday, December 28th, 2023
Time: 7:15 PM MST / 6:15 PM PST
Where: Alamo Dome – San Antonio, TX (64,000)
Overall Series Record: Tied 1-1. Having met just twice previously, both teams have a win against each other; however, it has been 34 years since they last met.
Last Meeting vs. Arizona: The last time these two teams met was in 1989 in Tucson. Returning to the Old Pueblo for a home-and-home series, the Wildcats upset the visiting No. 6 Sooners by a 6-3 final.
Wildcat kicker Doug Pfaff was the hero in that game as he kicked a 40-yard field goal with two seconds remaining as unranked Arizona shocked Oklahoma.
My Prediction: Arizona 31 Oklahoma 27 – This is going to be a good one, and biasedly, I think it'll be one of the better bowl games this season.
Taking on a skilled Oklahoma team, I think Arizona will have the advantage merely because of all the players that have entered the transfer portal for Oklahoma or elected to not participate in addition to the Sooners replacing its offensive coordinator and starting quarterback.
While I think Oklahoma has the talent to compete, I do think because of the adversity, Arizona just edges the Sooners as the Wildcats escape San Antonio with a win.