Shreveport, LA (SportsNetwork.com) - Two of the top running backs in the country will be going head-to-head in the Advocare V100 Bowl as Andre Williams and the Boston College Eagles match up with Ka'Deem Carey and the Arizona Wildcats at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Led by Carey, the second season for Arizona under head coach Rich Rodriguez was filled with plenty of peaks and valleys. The Wildcats opened the year with three straight wins, promptly took two losses, ripped off another three wins, fell in back-to-back bouts before crushing Oregon, 42-15, that stands as the signature win for this squad. However, a regular-season finale against Arizona State resulted in a humbling 58-21 loss to the Sun Devils, leaving Arizona at 7-5 overall, after going 8-5 last season.
Even though they might not have won enough to challenge for the Pac-12 title, the Wildcats are headed to their fifth bowl game in the last six years. That is nearly half as many bowl games as they had prior to the 2009 campaign.
"We're excited to be invited to the AdvoCare V100 Bowl in Shreveport, Arizona athletics director Greg Byrne said. "In order for us to reach our long-term goals of playing in Rose Bowls and contending for National Championships, we have to build from a strong foundation that includes making a bowl game each and every season."
In last year's bowl appearance the Wildcats faced off with New Mexico in the New Mexico Bowl and came away with a thrilling, 49-48 victory thanks to a last second touchdown pass from Matt Scott to Tyler Slavin. The win was the seventh in 16 all-time bowl games for the Wildcats.
On the other side of the country, Williams racked up just about every honor there is for a college running back in helping Boston College to its first bowl game since 2010. The transition from Frank Spaziani to Steve Addazio at head coach clearly had some positive effects on the Eagles, who finished the regular season at 7-5. Like Arizona, Boston College suffered its share of ups and downs but it claimed some impressive wins over Virginia Tech and at Maryland, while going toe-to-toe with both Florida State and Clemson. The win total for the Eagles is the most since they had a streak of 12 years with seven or more wins snapped in 2011.
During that 12-year run the Eagles were mainstays in the bowl landscape, However the last two season, when they managed just six wins combined, kept them out of the postseason. They will now have a chance to not only earn an eighth win for this campaign, but improve on their record in bowl games, which currently stands at 12-9.
Besides the two running backs in this contest, also adding intrigue is the fact that this will be the first-ever matchup between these two programs.
Carey missed the first game of the season with an injury. He certainly made up for lost time, putting together a season that far exceeded many of his peers who were healthy all year. The junior piled up 1,716 yards and 17 touchdowns on 322 carries, enjoying 100-yard efforts in every game he played in. Carey also ranked behind only Williams in rushing yards per game (156), while earning consensus All-American honors, being named the Pac-12 Player of the Year and a grabbing a spot on the finalist list for the Doak Walker Award. Carey even managed to finish 10th in the Heisman voting.
The offensive gameplan that Rodriguez preaches certainly helps Carey stack up yards and scores. Rodriguez has always been reliant on running the football and the Wildcats have done so with great success this season, ranking 11th in the nation in rushing (265.8 ypg) and 35th in total offense (452.6 ypg).
Aside from Carey, the most important player pushing the Wildcats to such heights is quarterback B.J. Denker. The dual-threat signal caller racked up 898 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground alone. He finished with at least 50 yards in all but two games and even put together a pair of 100-yard efforts. Denker was a bit more subdued as a passer, tallying 2,141 yards and 14 scores on the year through the air but he completed 60.5 percent of his passes and was intercepted seven times. However, three of those picks came in the season finale against Arizona State.
Putting so much emphasis on running didn't open up a ton of opportunities for a large group of the receiving corps. Still, Nate Phillips (42 receptions, 503 yards, seven TDs), Samajie Grant (45 receptions, 355 yards, one TD) and Terrence Miller (39 receptions, 456 yards, one TD) all played important roles.
For how impressive they were on offense, the Wildcats were unable to match that success on the defensive side of the ball. They were eighth in the Pac-12 in yards allowed (405.2 ypg), while generating only 17 sacks all season. Heading up the unit is senior linebackers Marquis Flowers (86 tackles, 8,5 TFL) and Jake Fischer (85 tackles), while junior safety Tra'Mayne Bondurant (66 tackles, 7.0 TFL, four INTs) was a dangerous defender in the secondary.
The only back in the country that was better than Carey was the one taking handoffs for the Eagles, as Williams was unstoppable in thrusting himself into the national spotlight. He led the nation in rushing with 2,102 yards and 17 touchdowns on 329 carries, earning Consensus All-American honors, as well as the Doak Walker Award and an impressive finish in the Heisman voting. The bad news was that he was hobbled during the season finale against Syracuse and is still listed as questionable for this game, though the reason has been undisclosed.
"He's been playing well all year," Addazio said of Williams, adding he believes his running back is the 'heart and soul of what we do'. "But it just seems like each week he's growing, getting better, as is, I believe, our offensive line, and the two are working together hand in hand."
Even with Williams stampeding his way into the record books, the Eagles were still a rather pedestrian offensive team. They averaged only 28.4 points and 368.6 yards per game as a unit, ranking 10th and seventh in each category, respectively, in the ACC.
Chase Rettig was yet again unable to live up to the promise he showed early on in his career. The senior quarterback was solid this season, but never the lynchpin for the offense. He threw for only 1,804 yards and 17 touchdowns, though he did complete 61.6 percent of his pass attempts and avoided interceptions, with just six in 12 games.
When Rettig is able to get time and complete passes he is normally looking for Alex Amidon. The two have created an evident chemistry over the years and this season was no different. Amidon led the team by a huge margin in receptions (67) and receiving yards (895), while totaling a team-best five touchdowns through the air. While those numbers aren't overwhelming, they dwarf the rest of the roster, as Jake Sinkovec (12 receptions, 103 yards, three TDs) seems to be the next best option.
Linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis joined Williams on the All-ACC First-Team as the clear leader and most effective defender for the Eagles. The 6-foot-1 senior record 104 tackles, 10.5 for loss and six sacks this season. Fellow linebacker Steele Divitto (107 tackles) also reached the century mark in stops. Senior defensive end Kasim Edebali (62 tackles, 15 TFL, 9.5 sacks) certainly had a season to be proud of as well. However, the Eagles were not always able to clamp down on the defensive end enough, allowing 419.3 total yards and 27.8 points per game.