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MAACO Las Vegas Bowl
Teams: Boise State (11-1) vs. Utah (10-2)
Date: Dec. 22, 8:00 ET
Location: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, NV
After both schools entered the season with such high hopes, it’s a shame that neither can be too excited about being in Las Vegas on Dec. 22. Holding their final practices of the season before Christmas is not what these players and coaches had in mind. Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn is out after having shoulder surgery, so the Utes will start backup Terrance Cain. However, the only key that matters is how the Boise State players respond to playing in Las Vegas in December after dreaming of playing in Glendale, Ariz., in January. Both Utah and Boise State are making their final appearances as representatives of their current conferences. Next season, Utah is moving from the Mountain West Conference to what will be the Pac-12. Boise moves from WAC into the Mountain West.
When Boise State has the ball
It’s no secret that Boise State owns one of the most potent attacks in the land. The Broncos average more than 500 yards a game and score more than 46 points a game. Quarterback Kellen Moore is the man that makes it click. The junior threw for 3,506 yards, 33 TDs and only five picks. He completed 71 percent of his throws and his 185.0 passer rating was second only to Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton of Auburn. Moore was one of four finalists invited to the Heisman ceremony in New York. Moore’s favorite targets are Titus Young and Austin Pettis. Young tallied 1,151 yards and Pettis 804, so both are proven playmakers. Doug Martin has rushed for 1,113 yards and 11 scores this season, so the Broncs can move the ball on the ground as well. Martin averages six yards a carry.
But Utah’s defense plays the run very well, giving up just over 100 yards a game this season. The Utes held their five best rushing opponents to 91 yards below their average. So don’t expect Boise to move the ball on the ground. However, Utah has been destroyed with aerial attacks, most notably TCU’s 381 passing yards in the Horned Frogs’ 47-7 demolition of Utah. Get used to seeing Moore to Young and Moore to Pettis.
When Utah has the ball
The Utes bolted out of the gates with an 8-0 record and climbed as high as No. 6 in the polls this season. But the crushing defeat to TCU brought the men in red back down to earth a bit. Utah owns a nine-game bowl winning streak, two of which have come in the Las Vegas Bowl. The Utes are 4-2 against teams headed to bowls this season. But now their hopes in the bowl game ride on Cain. Don’t let the fact that he is listed as the backup fool you. Cain was a NJCAA All-American at Blinn Junior College in Texas, and played for a national championship there as well. Cain started the first eight games last season, going 7-1 as the starter, and started this season against UNLV and New Mexico in September, both wins. He has 4.59 40 speed, so he is a threat with his legs. He did, however, throw two interceptions in the BYU win in relief of Wynn. Running backs Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata share the rushing load equally. Wide has 683 yards on 143 carries, while Asiata has 673 yards on 150 attempts.
Like Utah, Boise has a stingy rush defense allowing just a tad more than 100 yards a game. But unlike Utah, Boise is also tough against the pass.
Boise may well be in Arizona in January had kicker Kyle Brotzman hit one of two field goals from inside 30 yards in the Nevada game. In fairness to the senior kicker, he came into that game with just three misses all season — one in the opener against Virginia Tech, and two from more than 50 yards. But it was the two chip shots that will be remembered. It may not bode well if the game comes down to a pressure kick. Utah’s Shaky Smithson is an all-purpose threat averaging more than 115 yards a game on returns and receiving. He has returned two punts for scores this season.
Boise State NCAA Rankings (out of 120 teams)
Rush Offense: 200.1 (24)
Pass Offense: 319.4 (6)
Scoring Offense: 46.7 (2)
Rush Defense: 103.5 (6t)
Pass Defense: 155.8 (3)
Scoring Defense: 13.6 (4)
Turnover Margin: +0.75 (18t)
Utah NCAA Rankings (out of 120 teams)
Rush Offense: 156.8 (56)
Pass Offense: 248.0 (37)
Scoring Offense: 35.6 (18)
Rush Defense: 104.2 (8)
Pass Defense: 215.5 (59)
Scoring Defense: 19.8 (23t)
Turnover Margin: –0.17 (66t)
Prediction: The Broncos are likely over the sting of missing out on the BCS party. They are 4-1 against bowl teams, outscoring them 214-85. Too powerful for this Utah team.
Boise State by 21