Las Vegas, NV – Sam Boyd Stadium
Neither team came into 2010 expecting Sin City to be their ultimate bowl destination. Boise State came off of a Fiesta Bowl victory last year with almost its entire two-deep returned for another crack at the BCS. Utah, in its last season before joining the Pac-12, was also hoping to make its third appearance as a BCS Buster in its last opportunity before joining the establishment. But Utah suffered its first home loss in two years when TCU came in and demolished the Utes 47-7… and then followed it up with another flat performance on the road at Notre Dame to plummet down the polls. Boise State was on pace to get into the BCS discussion, sitting in the top five of the polls all year long, until they traveled to Reno and were undone by a normally unflappable kicking game. Add it up, and it means the Las Vegas Bowl gets the biggest matchup it has had in years.
- Utah: With starting quarterback Jordan Wynn sidelined with a shoulder injury that will keep him out through spring practices, the Utes turn the offense over to QB Terrance Cain in Las Vegas. The senior, who lost his starting job in the preseason to Wynn, is 9-1 as a starter and provides a strong safety net for Kyle Whittingham. He’s completing over 70 percent of his passes this season, though he has yet to face a defense as stout as Boise State will field (Wynn was healthy for the TCU game, in which Cain took no snaps). Cain will have to rise to the occasion and steer the Utes offense without mistakes if they are to generate points against the nation’s 4th-best defense.
- Boise State: Last year, K/P Kyle Brotzman was the hero of the Fiesta Bowl, pulling off the Broncos’ signature trick play on a fake punt that kept the drive alive that would yield the winning points against TCU in Glendale. But against Nevada, in a battle of top-20 teams, the senior was deceived by his leg in the waning seconds of regulation and again in overtime on two chip-shot field goals. In a game that could come down to field position and clutch kicking, Brotzman will have to shake off the memory of those blunders and return to his formidable self in order to secure the special teams advantage in this game.
KEY POSITIONAL BATTLE
Terrance Cain might be the motor that will either drive the Utes to victory or sputter to defeat, but the key will be whether the Utah O-line — fifth in the nation in sacks allowed (0.67/game) – is able to protect their quarterback and open holes for RBs Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata. They’ll face their biggest test against the Boise State D-line, which averages more sacks per game (3.75/game) than any other team in the country. Led by a deep defensive end corps that includes Ryan Winterswyk, Shea McClellin and Tyrone Crawford, the Broncos are adept at getting pressure on opponents. Whichever team manages to win this battle at the line of scrimmage will be the frontrunner for victory.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Motivation: Namely, it all comes down to which team is less disappointed by where they ended up bowling this postseason. Boise State took the harder fall down from the top with their loss. Utah expected to be in the hunt for the Mountain West title before the season. Neither was planning on making southern Nevada their destination in December; both were hoping for a more lucrative January date. But here they are. Will Chris Petersen have his team ready for a tough Utah squad? Will those Utes already be looking ahead to their upcoming inaugural season in the Pac-12? Boise State already missed out on their biggest goals, sharing the WAC title with Nevada and Hawaii and taking a loss that relegated the Broncos to a pre-Christmas date. Utah was humiliated by TCU and Notre Dame; a win over Boise State would serve as redemption. Who will come out hungrier on the 22nd?
Utah probably comes into this game with the greater motivation, the David to Boise’s Goliath. But after watching the way TCU dismantled the Utes on their home field, all the motivation in the world won’t be able to stop a Broncos team hell-bent on proving they’ve still got a top-class team despite their loss. Kellen Moore and a stacked Boise State offense will be able to exploit a mediocre Utah pass defense to separate themselves from the team they’re replacing in the Mountain West. Cain is going to be able to get the Utes a few scores and keep things close through halftime, but watch for the Broncos to pull away in the second half for the victory.
PREDICTION: Boise State 41, Utah 28