Game Preview: Utah vs Boise State

The Utes and Broncos hook up in the Las Vegas Bowl...

Facts and Factors

No. 19-ranked Utah (10-2, 7-1 MWC) will play No. 10 Boise State (11-1, 7-1 WAC) in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas on Wednesday, Dec. 22 at 5:00 p.m. PT in Sam Boyd Stadium. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN. The broadcast team will be Brent Musburger, Kirk Herbstreit and Tom Rinaldi.

Utah finished No. 19 in both the BCS standings and the USA Today Coaches' poll. The Utes are 20th in the Associated Press rankings. Boise State is 10th in the fi nal BCS standings and both polls.

Utah and Boise State are playing in the 19th edition of what is now the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. Utah has a 2-0 Las Vegas Bowl record, with wins over Fresno State in 1999 and USC in 2001. Boise State makes its first Las Vegas Bowl appearance.

Utah owns the nation's longest active bowl win streak at nine games (1999, 2001, 2003-2009). The nine-straight wins ties Utah for the second-longest bowl win streak of all time with USC, which won nine straight spanning from 1923-45. Florida State holds the record with 11 consecutive bowl wins (1985-96).

Utah's current bowl win streak began in Las Vegas in 1999 against Fresno State. Utah's next bowl game and bowl win was also in Las Vegas—against USC in 2001. Utah is 12-3 all-time in bowl games and its 80-percent postseason success rate is the best in the nation among teams that have played in at least 10 bowl games.

Utah has played just one other Western Athletic Conference school in a bowl game, defeating Fresno State in the 1999 Las Vegas Bowl. For a complete list of Utah's bowl results, see sidebar on this page. The Utes are 2-4 all-time against Boise State. For more on the series, see page two of this release.

Old Mountain West meet new Mountain West.

When Utah Has The Ball

Which Terrance Cain are we going to see in place of Jordan Wynn? The one with 9 and 1 career record as a starter or the deer in the headlights Terrance Cain that we saw against BYU when he threw two picks in two series? Cain has to be tremendous for Utah to have a chance. He's struggled at times against high profile opponents, and Boise State is about as high profile as it gets.

While no one in the receiving corps stepped up and had a tremendous year, the Utes do havequite a bit of depth and multiple playmakers that can take one to the house at any time.

Jereme Brooks is going to have to get into his early role of making short catches over the middle to get Cain comfortable and to help open the run game. When Utah has success on offense, it usually happens in a game when Brooks is effective early on.

With Boise using a five DB set, the deep ball might not be there often for the Utes, but with Cain's struggles going deep, they might have been limited anyways. The lack of a deep ball might negate DeVonte Christopher and Luke Matthews, so they coaches are going to have to find a way to get them involved.

Utah has to run the ball. They have to control the clock. They have to limit the number of Boise State possessions.

Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide ended the regular season with fairly comparable numbers, but anyone that watched the two run can see that ASiata is the premier back. The Utes need to use Asiata early and often to to control the clock. If Utah doesn't win the time of possession battle by at least 8 minutes, they won't win the game. It's that simple.

Despite holding opponents to just over 100 yards per game on the ground, the Broncos can be exploited in the run game through repetition. Nevada was able to put up 252 yards on the ground with 50+ carries, with much of that coming in the second half. As long as Utah doesn't get away from the run game, even

if they're behind, they can hang with Boise State and control the clock. The defensive line for Boise State is very good. The two defensive ends Ryan Winterswyk and Shea McClellin are All MWC players who combined for 11 sacks and were stout in stopping the run. They'll try to put pressure on Cain often to disrupt his rhythm.

The secondary for the Broncos is one of the best in the country, led by the safety group of George Iloka, Winston Venable, and Jeron Johnson. Johnson is one of the best safeties in the country who led the team in tackles and is tremendous is coverage. This group is very similar in ability to what we saw against TCU. The Utes couldn't move the ball at all against the Horned Frogs, and may have the same trouble against the Broncos.

Advantage: Boise State

When Boise State Has The Ball

The Broncos come in averaging 46.7 points per game, good for second in the country. They average just under 520 yards per game. They're sixth in passing yards per game at 319 and are also running for 200 yards a game. This offense is explosive and unstoppable. You can' stop Boise State. You have to outscore them.

Boise is going to pass…and they should. Kellen Moore had 33 TDs and only 5 intercpetions. He was a Heisman Trophy finalist and arguably the best quarterback in the country. No one is more efficient and consistent on a game to game basis than the Broncos' junior quarterback. The offensive line is one of the best in the country and led the country in sacks allowed. With the lack of a pass rush that the Utes have created from their defensive line this year, Moore is likely going to have all day to throw. Even when the Utes use the blitz, specifically form corner Lamar Chapman, the Broncos shouldn't have any trouble picking it up as Moore is a master at the audible, noticing when the blitz is coming, and getting the ball out quickly and accurately.

Boise State has two elite receivers in Titus Young and Austin Pettis, while Utah can counter with only 1 elite corner in Brandon Burton. Lamar Chapman is a weapon in the blitzing game, but he's not the lockdown cornerback that is going to be needed to slow the Boise passing game. Burton should stop one of the big two in his tracks, but the other will be poised for a huge game.

The Utah safeties have been able to come up with big plays often this season, but those were generally against quarterbacks with accuracy issues, while accurate guys like Tommy Rees of Notre Dame, Andy Dalton of TCU were able to pick them apart. Kellen Moore might be the most accurate quarterback in the country and will exploit the poor angles that Blechen and Taplin-Ross often took to the ball. He'll go over the top time and time again, likely at Blechen, forcing the true freshman to make plays.

If Kellen Moore finishes with under 300 yards passing, I'll be surprised.

With the advantages that Boise has in the pasing game, they won't need to use their highly effective running game often, despite having an all conference back in Doug Martin. Martin ran for over 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns on the year and helped create a nice balance to the offense. Add in Jeremy Avery, who ran for over a thousand yards in 2009, and added 440 and 11 touchdowns in 2010, and you've got a very good duo.

While the Broncos probably aren't going to run the ball a ton, the linebackers from Utah are going to be a big key. All three starters are healthy for the first time in months and their play, especially dropping in to coverage, is going to help determine whether or not the Ute defense can slow down the explosive Broncos offense.

The defensive tackles shouldn't have any trouble doing what they need to do to slow the running game of Boise, but if the Utes want to win, Sealver Siliga, Dave Kruger, and Star Lotulelei need to be dominant and get some kind of pressure on Moore consistently.

While Utah has a very good defense, the matchups just aren't there for them in this regard, and Boise State making Boise State difficult to stop.

Advantage: Boise State

Special Teams

Where have you gone Shaky Smithson? Ute nation turns its lonely eye to you. The Utah train seems to have slowed down as Shaky Smithson has been slowed in the return game. Through the first eight games the Dream Shake was averaging over 23 yards per return with 2 touchdowns. As opponents began kicking away from Smithson in the last four games with rollout punts, directional punts, and intentional high, short punts, the return game hit the wall. As the Utes struggled in over their final four, so did Shaky who had only 5 returns for 12 yards over that same stretch. Boise's Chris Potter averaged over 13 yards per punt return, a very good number, but doesn't have the same abilities as Smithson.

Reggie Dunn joins Smithson as kick returners and form one of the better duos in the country, while Titus Young of Boise State averaged 24 yards per return and is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches it.

What's the difference between a Las Vegas Bowl berth against Utah and taking on Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl? Two missed field goals. When kicker Kyle Brotzman missed a 26 yarder with 2 second left in regulation and then a 29 yarder in overtime against Nevada, the BCS dreams of Boise State were dashed. Brotzman is normally a Fairly reliable kicker, finishing 14 of 20 on the year, but those misses may end up defining the season for the Broncos.

Joe Phillips on the other hand didn't miss any big kicks, making all but one field goal attempt in 2010. He's one of the best in the country and in a close game, could end up being the difference.

Both kickers turn around and punt as well with Brotzman getting the edge over Phillips in that area due to his 43+ yard per punt average.

Advantage: Utah


These are two amazing coaching staffs with head men that are as good as it gets.

Chris Peterson is arguably the best head coach in the country. He's the first call from every athletic director in the country when their head coaching spot opens up. How Boise State has been able to keep him as a Bronco is beyond me. Eventually there will be a $5 million a year job that will open up that he has to take, but Peterson seems pretty comfortable living the quiet life in Idaho.

Kyle Whittingham isn't in the same class as Peterson, but he's about as class as you can get. He's righted the ship of a team that could have given up after their two humiliating losses to TCU and Notre Dame. Undefeated as a coach in bowl games, he's one of the best at having his team prepared to play.

Advantage: Boise State


This is arguably the worst possible bowl matchup for Utah. There's not much to gain in terms of perception if they beat a non-BCS program, even though it is the premier non-BCS program. Combine that with the fact that the Broncos are a disciplined, well coached team, similar in almost every way to TCU, and the Utes are in big trouble. Utah absolutely has to start fast. Going down at any point in the game is not an option, especially without the possibility of aerial pyrotechnics that Jordan Wynn occasionally brings to the table. Boise State's going to do what they've done all year and jump out to an early lead, taking a 14-3 advantage after the first quarter. The Utes respond in the second behind a long Matt Asiata touchdown run, but another Bronco touchdown before the half makes it 21-10 at the break. Kellen Moore continues to move the ball with ease through the air in the second half taking Boise State down the field for a fourth touchdown and a 28-10 lead. It's 38-13 late in the fourth before Utah puts up a garbage touchdown for the final outcome and the end of the bowl winning streak. It's not that the Utes are going to play poorly, they're just overmatched and outclassed by a superior team. I haven't picked against the Utes all year, but Boise is a team that they just can't handle.

Boise State 38 Utah 20

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