As you know – one bowl game I’m looking forward to is tonight’s Las Vegas Bowl between #19 Utah and #10 Boise State. Admittedly, I don’t know as much about University of Utah’s football team as I do Boise State’s but I will do my best to break down each team by position and decide which team has the overall advantage. Be sure to let me know what you think – I would love to hear from some Utah fans too.
Photo via zimbio.com
Boise State junior Kellen Moore is among the nation’s top quarterbacks and was a finalist for several major awards. Moore threw for 3506 yards, 33 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions – he is accurate, incredibly smart, and takes care of the football. Terrance Cain will start in place of Jordan Wynn for Utah but was 9-1 as a starter last season. Cain gives the Utes somewhat of a running threat at the quarterback position but isn’t as good of a passer as Wynn.
Advantage: Boise State
Doug Martin and Jermey Avery give Boise State a thunder & lightning type of combination at running back. Martin has carried more of the load this year for the Broncos but Avery provides a good change of pace and different style than Doug. Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide give the Utes a balanced, two-headed rushing attack with each back running for over 675 yards. The Ute backs have more receptions but Boise State’s running back combo has more rushing touchdowns, more yards per carry, and yards per catch.
Wide Receiver/Tight End:
Utah appears to have a balanced receiving core lead by DeVonte Christopher (39 recs, 660 yds & 6 TDs) and Jereme Brooks (50 rec, 628 yds & 4 TDs) with solid contributions from Shaky Smithson and Luke Matthews. Boise State features arguably the best wide receiving duo in the country with Titus Young (65 rec, 1151 yds, & 9 TDs) and Austin Pettis (59 rec, 804 yds & 9 TDs). After Young and Pettis, the Broncos most consistent receiving threats are Tyler Shoemaker and tight end Kyle Efaw who have combined for 9 TDs.
Advantage: Boise State
Without knowing many specifics about Utah’s offensive line I figured I would compare each teams yards per carry and sacks allowed – I know those stats aren’t entirely based on the offensive line but give a general idea. The Utes averaged 4.7 yards per carry and allowed 7 sacks this season and the Broncos averaged 5.4 yards per carry and allowed just 5 sacks. The Broncos appear to have a slight advantage based on the stats but the Utes has three offensive linemen on the All-MWC first or second team.
To compare defensive lines I looked at tackles for loss and sacks (for defensive linemen only) and rush defense which is typically anchored by the defensive line. The Boise State D-line has been dominant this season racking up 66.5 tackles for loss, 35.5 sacks, and ranking 6th in run defense allowing 103.5 yards per game. The Utah run defense has been equally dominant ranked 8th nationally allowing 104.1 yards per game but the defensive line only has 35 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. The Broncos appear to have more depth on the defensive line which could serve them well on Wednesday against the Utes.
Advantage: Boise State
The Broncos rotate a variety of players at linebacker and have struggled a little bit against the run since Byron Hout injured his foot in November. J.C. Percy leads the Boise State linebackers with 63 tackles on the season. Contrary to the Broncos, Utah’s defense appears to be lead by two linebackers – Chaz Walker and Matt Martinez who have combined for 186 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss. It could be the defensive schemes, the Broncos overall dominant defense, or something else but Utah’s linebackers appear to have a greater impact on defense than Boise State’s.
Three of the Broncos top four tacklers are safeties Jeron Johnson and George Iloka and nickel Winston Venable. All three often play near the line of scrimmage and are sure tacklers. Brandyn Thompson and Jamar Taylor hold down the corner spots and have played fairly consistently this year ( with the Broncos only allowing 155 yards per game through the air. Three of Utah’s top five tacklers are safeties Brian Blechen and Justin Taplin-Ross and cornerback Lamar Chapman with Brandon Burton (Utah’s cover corner who could be a good match up for the Bronco receivers) ranking 7th in tackles. I don’t know if it Utah’s scheme or what but it’s a little concerning to me that their corners have so many tackles. Utah gives up an average of 215 yards per game through the air and could be in trouble against Kellen Moore.
Advantage: Boise State
Utah’s Joe Phillips was 12 for 14 on field goals (but didn’t attempt any kicks over 50 yards) and was named first team All-MWC kicker. Phillips combined with Nick Marsh causing opponents to take a touchback 23% of the time on kickoffs. The Utes averaged 39.5 yards per punt. Kyle Brotzman was 14 for 20 on field goal attempts (1 for 3 from 50+) and helped the Broncos to average 44 yards per punt. The Boise State kickers only forced opponents to take a touchback 8.6% of the time. Phillips consistency and the Utes’s 23% touchback percentage gives them the edge over Brotzman and the Broncos.
Both teams feature dynamic punt and kick returners. Shaky Smithson returns the majority of punts (29 rets, 19.7 yds, 2 TDs) and kickoffs (20 rets, 24 yds) for the Utes and is one of the best in the country. The Broncos counter with Titus Young on kickoffs (23 rets, 23.9 yds) and Chris Potter and Mitch Burroughs who combine for 29 returns for an an average of 13.9 yards and 1 TD. Shaky appears to give the Utes a slight advantage over the Broncos.
Utah is on a nine game bowl winning streak (that’s pretty impressive) whereas the Broncos have struggled recently in non-BCS bowls. I wasn’t sure if Boise State would be motivated to play after missing out on a BCS Bowl but the teams reportedly got into a pushing and shoving match that resulted in some broken dishes on Sunday. And to potentially motivate the Broncos even more – DeVonte Christopher tweeted, “I can’t wait to get out here wit these Boise State or should I say Girlse State they a bunch of cheerleaders…lol” on Wednesday. The two “incidents” this week have put my motivation concerns to rest.
Kyle Whittingham and Chris Petersen are two of the best young coaches in the country leading both
“non-BCS” programs to multiple BCS Bowl wins.
What does it all mean?
If Boise State is motivated to play - which I think they are – they should cruise to a victory over the Utes. The Broncos appear to be as good or better at nearly every position on offense and defense. The Boise State defense will give Terrance Cain trouble despite his 9-1 record as a starter and could potentially overwhelm the Utah offense. The Bronco offense has been dominant this season and could take advantage of Utah’s defense that has struggled against some of their better competition. However, if the game is close and comes down to special teams the Broncos could be in trouble. The Utes have an accurate kicker and a dynamic punter returner that could be the difference in a close game.
Prediction: Boise State 43 – Utah 17