Twas the week before Vegas, and all through the papers, not a creature said squat about No. 19 Utah.
With Kyle by his whistle, and Shaky in his cap, the Utes settled down for a long winter’s practice.
And so Utah went about the arduous task of determining how to slow down No. 10 Boise State.
Most teams would rather take a long winter’s nap and forget playing a team like the Broncos at any point during the season, let alone the Las Vegas Bowl.
But that’s the way the sugar cookie crumbled for Utah, and so it gets a Boise team that scored 46 points and allowed just 13 per game in a 12-game season. Those numbers are enough to make Utah fans shiver.
Also, the Broncos’ offense is ranked in the Top 10 in key statistical categories. If that weren’t enough for Utah to handle, Boise has a 1,000 yard rusher, a Heisman Trophy finalist behind center and two superstar wide receivers.
They have punted a grand total of 30 times. If you want numbers, that’s 2.5 times the Broncos give the ball back to their opponents willingly. (Quarterback Kellen Moore threw five interceptions.)
Defensively, Boise State brings the heat. It averaged four sacks and over one interception per contest.
As a blind man can see, defeating the Broncos is a task in and of itself.
The good news is that the Utes have to be somewhat encouraged by the fact that the Broncos have struggled at times this season, and that’s what kept Boise out of the BCS picture.
Here are several suggestions that may help the Utes upset the Broncos:
1. Mix up defensive coverages
Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore is as good as it seems. He finished fourth in Heisman Trophy balloting with 33 touchdown passes and 3,500 yards, earning a trip to the Downtown Athletic Club. If not for a heroic second half from Nevada, we might be talking about a Utes-Wolfpack matchup in Sam Boyd Stadium.
Moore had little to do with that loss, mind you; he helped engineer a miraculous drive against Nevada that resulted in a last-second bomb to wide receiver Titus Young to put the Broncos in a spot to win in Reno. (You all know the rest of the story.)
But what kept the Pack in the game in the first place, was that Moore struggled after Nevada made halftime adjustments and mixed their defensive packages. Expect more of the same from the Utes, who will blitz every chance they get and try to confuse Moore.
2. “You can’t stop ‘em, you can only hope to contain ‘em”
Look closely at the Broncos, and you can see its biggest struggles and fewest points came against teams that were either ranked at the time or were BCS conference opposition: Virginia Tech, Oregon State and Nevada. Utah will be the fourth ranked team the Broncos play.
In those three games the Broncos averaged 35 points and gave up 31. Against Va Tech, OSU and Nevada, Boise had difficulty keeping leads going into the second half after cruising to comfortable first-quarter cushions. Pattern here? You better believe it, and the Utes know the only chance it has against a bigger, faster and stronger team that is to somehow keep the game close.
3. Shaky & Bake-y
The No. 1 issue for the Broncos this season has been special teams. Missed kicks prevented them from appearing in a BCS bowl game. Good yardage on punt and kickoff returns were nullified by stupid mistakes on special teams. But, the number one reason Ute fans should be excited is because Boise allows yardage on kickoff returns. (Not a ton, but enough to give Shaky Smithson a chance.)
This should have Ute fans salivating at the chance that Smithson, the Utes’ All-American specialist, might break off a touchdown or two. The bad news? Boise is not as giving on punt returns, Shaky’s specialty. (He ran back two for touchdowns this season.) The Broncos allow just 10 yards per punt return.
4. Kyle Brotzman
You would really have to be blind not to see that in a close game, Kyle Brotzman could be a factor. Brotzman was the Broncos’ lonesome kicker who missed two point-blank field goals at Nevada. He became an instant Internet villain and was a Twitter trend for weeks, run through a media gauntlet of epic proportion that not even Deion Sanders would have cherished.
5. The streak
The Las Vegas Bowl is not the first bowl game in which the Utes have been decisive underdogs. One only needs to go back to the 2008 Sugar Bowl against Alabama; everyone in the Beehive State knows how that came out. Utah has won an NCAA-record 10 consecutive bowl games.
And like the Sugar Bowl, nobody is giving the Utes a fighting chance. But, that’s why they play the game, and so long as they do, the Utes have that word, a chance. Not a great “chance” in the eyes of many, but an opportunity on a big stage nonetheless.
Las Vegas Bowl
Utah (19) vs. Boise State (10)
Wed. Dec. 22