Boise State Inside Slant - Las Vegas Bowl

Once again, Boise State will play in one of the most attractive bowl games of the season. The No. 10 Broncos will face No. 20 Utah in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas on Dec. 22. The teams' combined record is 21-3. Boise State replaced the Pac-10's fifth selection in Las Vegas.

Once again, Boise State will play in one of the most attractive bowl games of the season. The No. 10 Broncos will face No. 20 Utah in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas on Dec. 22. The teams' combined record is 21-3. Boise State replaced the Pac-10's fifth selection in Las Vegas.

"We've got one of the top teams in the country coming to Las Vegas," executive director Tina Kunzer-Murphy told the Idaho Statesman. "Everybody's delighted. ... I can't think of a better thing to happen for us." Boise State will face a ranked team in its bowl for the seventh time in eight years. For the sixth time during that stretch, both teams in the matchup are ranked.

And the Broncos have delivered must-see TV. They have played seven straight bowl games decided by seven points or fewer.

Coach Chris Petersen, whose team was in the running for the BCS National Championship Game or Rose Bowl, lobbied for the trip to Las Vegas because of the opponent and early date. The bowl system has worked out well for Boise State despite its inability to qualify for the BCS with a Top 10 ranking three times now.

Petersen, in fact, often says that he believes the bowl system will reward his team in the end.

"Good karma," Petersen said. "You've just gotta keep believing. ... The last few years, it has worked out well for the Broncos. That's really the message that we've preached to our guys -- we take care of what we can control and good things will happen."

Utah is the Broncos' third straight bowl opponent from the Mountain West Conference. They split with TCU in 2008 and 2009.

The Utes have won nine straight bowl games, tied for the second longest streak in college football history.

"We need to end that," Boise State athletic director Gene Bleymaier said. "That will be a big challenge for our team."

Utah will be without its starting quarterback and left tackle, who are injured. Backup quarterback Terrance Cain is 9-1 as a starter, though.

"Until a week ago, the Broncos were in the mix for the national championship, so this game will have a lot of national as well as regional interest," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said in a statement. "Not many bowls outside the BCS games will feature teams with the kind of success Boise State and Utah have experienced in recent years. ... We will have our work cut out for us."


NOTES, QUOTES

--QB Kellen Moore slipped out of the national pass-efficiency lead and below FBS record pace in the regular-season finale against Utah State. He has a chance to get both back in the bowl game -- but he'll need a big game against the Utes. Moore has 72 touchdown passes and eight interceptions in the past two seasons.

--WR Titus Young is nearing the school record for receiving yards in a season. He already has broken the mark for receiving yards in a career. He also is a potent kickoff returner who might get a few more chances against the Utes than he has in the WAC, where opposing teams rarely score on the Broncos.

--K/P Kyle Brotzman needs three points to break the school record for career points by a kicker. However, he has missed his last three field goal attempts -- including the two critical kicks at Nevada -- so it's unclear how much confidence he has.

--S Jeron Johnson should finish as the Broncos' leading tackler for the third straight year. He was much more active the final two weeks of the regular season as the Broncos' opponents found some success running the ball against the front seven.

--Boise State coach Chris Petersen is 60-5 in his career and 6-3 against ranked teams, but he's 2-2 in bowl games. He'll have some challenges for this game -- the wounds from the Nevada loss are still fresh and the Broncos will have limited practice time because of finals. Also, quarterback Kellen Moore is hitting the awards circuit and that will cost him some practice time.

BOWL HISTORY: Boise State is 6-4 in bowl games but 2-4 in the past six years. It's hard to criticize that record, though -- the losses were by four, six, three and one points. Three opponents were ranked and the fourth was led by NFL star Chris Johnson.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'd love to play Utah. That would be awesome." -- Boise State senior defensive end Ryan Winterswyk.


STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

BOWL BREAKDOWN

Scouting the running game: Boise State has not run the ball as well since losing starting tight end Tommy Gallarda to a broken foot. They have operated more out of spread formations and leaned more heavily upon the passing of quarterback Kellen Moore. Still, they rush for 200 yards per game and the tailback tandem of Doug Martin and Jeremy Avery is explosive. Utah prides itself on run defense. The Utes allow 104 rushing yards per game, ranking eighth in the nation.

Scouting the passing game: Quarterback Kellen Moore ranks second in the nation in pass efficiency with 33 touchdown passes and five interceptions. He's completing 71 percent of his passes and average 10.2 yards per attempt. He has two future NFL wide receivers in Titus Young and Austin Pettis but uses his other receivers well, too -- slots, tight ends and even running backs. Utah's pass defense could be an issue -- the Utes rank 82nd in pass-efficiency defense.

Scouting the run defense: The Broncos led the nation in rush defense with two weeks let in the regular season. The last two games, that aspect of the team unraveled. They allowed 269 rushing yards to Nevada and 250 yards to Utah State. The latter was unimportant because the Aggies were completely one-dimensional, but the run defense was one of the key factors in the loss to Nevada. Sloppy tackling has been the biggest issue. Utah averages 156.8 rushing yards per game out of a spread formation, the type of run game that has challenged the Broncos.

Scouting the pass defense: The Broncos' defensive line has tormented quarterbacks all year. They lead the nation with 3.8 sacks per game, the main reason they are third in pass-efficiency defense and third in pass defense. The secondary can be beaten, as Nevada proved, if the quarterback has time to throw. Few have. Utah, though, is fifth in the nation in sacks allowed -- that should be a terrific matchup.

Scouting the special teams: Boise State is aggressive and sound on special teams but a couple of issues are haunting the Broncos going into the bowl game. They have had problems covering kickoffs all year and kicker Kyle Brotzman's poor finish is cause for concern. Utah's Shaky Smithson leads the nation in punt returns (19.7 yards) and kicker Joe Phillips is 32 of 36 on field goals in his career.

Intangibles: Boise State will have an expedited preparation process because they played the final week of the season and they have finals the week before the game. Plus, quarterback Kellen Moore is scheduled to spend five of those days on the road on the awards circuit. Utah had an extra week of rest because it finished the season Nov. 27. The Utes also are riding a nine-game bowl win streak.

ROSTER REPORT:

--TE Tommy Gallarda (broken foot) had hoped to return for the bowl game. The early date likely eliminates that possibility.

--LB Byron Hout (broken foot) is out for the bowl. His absence likely has contributed to the porous run defense the past two games.

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