You saw my preview and prediction. Now here are three keys for No. 10 Boise State and No. 19 Utah in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas tonight:
Boise State (11-1)
1. Stop the run. The Broncos have uncharacteristically struggled against the run in their last two games, giving up over 200 yards on the ground against Nevada and Utah State. Both those offenses are different from the Utah offense, but the Utes do have two good runners in Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata. The Broncos have switched up their starting linebackers to help shore up the run defense, which has been hurt without Byron Hout (foot). Daron Mackey and Derrell Acrey will split time in the middle. Slowing down the run means …
2. Putting the game on Utah QB Terrance Cain's shoulders. Yes, Cain is capable of managing a game, but you definitely want to see how he responds when the responsibility is completely on him. He has a tendency to be rushed into making mistakes, and that should be a huge part of the Broncos' game plan. Wide could prove to be a good safety valve for Cain should he feel pressured.
3. Take advantage of play-action for big plays. The Broncos are so good at big plays because of Kellen Moore, who is terrific at selling play-action. Utah has given up plenty of big passing plays this season and is going to have to be on top of its game to slow down Titus Young and Austin Pettis. One of the most intriguing matchups in this game is between Pettis (6-foot-3) and Brandon Burton (6-feet). Pettis is the go-to guy in the red zone for the Broncos, the only team in the country to rank in the top 4 in total offense and total defense.
1. Get Cain going. The Utes are going to have to tailor what they do to Cain’s strengths. One of those strengths is his ability to run. As we have seen in the last two games, the Broncos have had a hard time slowing down mobile quarterbacks. Getting him a few more designed runs would certainly help, especially considering Utah does not want to find itself in third-and-long situations. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Cain has completed only 55.6 percent of his passes on third down this season. He will be facing a Boise State defense that has held opponents to a pass efficiency rating of 80.6 on third down this season, fourth-best in the nation.
2. Ball control. Utah has the ability to run the ball, and the more the Utes hold the ball, the longer they keep the Boise State offense off the field. Boise State showed against Nevada it could get winded late in games. That would play right into the hands of the Utes. The Utah offensive line is one of the best among the non-AQs and has the capability of slowing down what has been a terrific defensive front.
3. Shaky Smithson. Field position is going to be critical in this game for Utah to have a chance. That is where Smithson comes in. Though teams have been kicking away from him, he still leads the nation in punt returns of 20-plus yards with 10. If the Broncos kick to him, Smithson could be a very important player to watch.