Utah Quarterbacks and Wide Receivers vs Colorado State Secondary
Hopefully the time between the end of the regular season and the bowl game will keep Travis Wilson from his good game/bad game routine that he has seemingly put up on a week to week basis. The Colorado game turned out to be a 'good' game, so maybe the 3+ weeks off can help buck the trend. With many of his top receivers out, Wilson targeted Kaelin Clay often in the latter weeks of the season and Clay didn't disappoint with 21 catches and 3 touchdowns in his last three games. Kenneth Scott closed out the season well after disappearing during the middle of it. He has a quiet 42 catches and 4 touchdowns on the year. Outside of those two, it's a lot of unproven youngsters in Delshawn McClellon and Kenric Young trying to make an impression leading into next season.
The Rams do a good job of slowing opposing passing games, giving up only 227 yards per contest. Corner Blake Bernard had 11 pass breakups this season (but only one interception). Deandre Elliott posted 6 breakups and also one pick. Safety Trent Matthews led the team with 3 interceptions while Kevin Pierre-Louis was third on the team with 76 tackles.
Edge: Colorado State
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Colorado State Linebackers
Will this be the final game for Devontae Booker in the Ute uniform? The all conference back has been getting strong looks from NFL scouts and will be looking to showcase himself while also trying to capture the Pac 12 rushing title from UCLA's Paul Perkins and USC's Buck Allen. Booker has been a revelation this year and 1,350 yards and 9 touchdowns while becoming a big part of the passing game late in the season. With 3+ weeks off to rest his body, the junior should be rested up and ready to put up big numbers in Vegas. Tight end Westlee Tonga has often been the safety valve for the QBs this season finishing with 29 catches and 4 touchdowns.
Linebackers Aaron Davis and Corey James are the best defenders on team, at least statistically. Davis led the team with 110 tackles while posting 6.5 tackles for loss. James had 6.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. Max Morgan was second on the team with 96 tackles. Colorado State gives up 187 yards per game on the ground. Not good.
Utah Offensive Line vs Colorado State Defensive Line
The big uglies had a weird season with some struggles to begin, improvement as the season went on, and then a few issues late. They were the epitome of up-and-down. It wasn't so much game to game as it was series to series. CJ Poutasi was able to close out the season as an All Pac 12 performer and the guard rotation seemed to help keep some of the guys fresh. It wasn't perfect, but overall, it was a marked improvement over last season.
The Rams didn't put a ton of pressure on quarterbacks this season with only 19 sacks. Joe Kawulok had 3.5 this year and SteveO (real first name) Michel had 2. Terry Jackson and LaRyan King line up inside. The line for CSU isn't that good.
Colorado State Quarterbacks and Wide Receivers vs Utah Secondary
It's a high flying passing attack from the Rams with one of the best pass-catch duos in the country. Quarterbacks Garrett Grayson had a stellar year with 3,779 yards and 32 touchdowns, completing 64.8% of his passes. His favorite target is all american Rashard Higgins. Higgins can fly and posted 89 catches for 1,640 yards and 17 touchdowns. His yards per catch numbers was an absurd (for that many catches) 18.4. He did all of this despite missing a game. Joe Hansley is target number 2 with 32 grabs and 2 touchdowns. Charles Lovett had 26 catches and big bodied Xavier Williams had 27.
Who's going to draw the matchup of Higgins? Rowe? Hatfield? Rowe had a decent season, but Hatfield was probably Utah's most consistent and won the game against Colorado with this pick 6. Justin Thomas did very well this season in his first year as a starter with 7 pass breakups. Utah gave up 245 yards per game through the air this season, but did struggle a bit down the stretch outside of the Stanford performance.
Edge: Colorado State
Colorado State Running Backs and Wide Receivers vs Utah Linebackers
Dee Hart can play. The transfer from Alabama put up over 1,200 yards this season with an average of 6.1 yards per carry and 16 touchdowns. Treyous Jarrells also pitched in 48 yards per game as the Rams averaged 171 yards per game on the ground. The Utes will have a to keep an eye on tight end Steven Walker who had 29 catches and 4 touchdowns.
Utah generally got the edge throughout the season with their tremendous linebacker play led by Gionni Paul. Once Paul went down with a season ending injury, things went out the window and they struggled against Arizona and Colorado. Jared Norris was 4th in the Pac 12 in tackles and led the Utes. He'll have to carry the load after Jason Whittingham looked slow and out of shape in his late season return. Jason Fanaika has been up and down the past few weeks while adjusting to his role at linebacker. There's still not a lot of depth and with Paul out, they have looked like an average to below average group.
Colorado State Offensive Line vs Utah Defensive Line
Colorado State has a decent offensive line, but nothing special. They gave up 25 sacks on the year and could be susceptible to Utah's pass rush, which is among the best in the country. Left tackle Ty Sambrailo is a good one though, and a possible first round pick. As a group, they're very experienced and have had the same guys starting for most of the season with of the starters starting at least 11 of the 12 games.
Utah could be at a disadvantage if Hunter Dimick is unable to go, and that's still up in the air at this time. Fortunately they have Nate Orchard on the other side who led the nation in sacks per game and was named to multiple all american teams. With Lowell Lotulelei inside along with a host of other guys like Sese Ianu, Filipo Mokofisi, and Seni Fauonuku, an area that once looked like a weakness turned into a strength by the end of the year.
Tom Hackett won the Ray Guy Award after a fabulous season where he averaged 47 yards per punt, pinned opponents inside the 10 consistently, and was an all-around bacon kicking bad-ass. Kaelin Clay was named to multiple all american teams after 4 kick returns for touchdowns this year. Andy Phillips was 22 of 26 on his field goal attempts this year with a long of 50. Utah had some issues later in the season covering kicks after a stellar first half of the season.
Joe Hansley will return punts, but only had 6 attempts this season for 9.7 yards per return. Deionte Gaines was more than serviceable in returning kickoffs with an average of 26.5 per return with a long of 61. Punter Hayden Hart averages 43 yards per punt while kicker Jared Roberts was 11 of 18 this season with a long of 53. Colorado State covered kick and punts as well as anyone in the country. Giving up only 21.2 yards per kick return with a long of 36 is quite impressive.
Las Vegas Bowl Matchups: Utah vs Colorado St.
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