The nineteenth ranked Boise State Broncos return to the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl looking to win the bowl for the third year in a row. They’ll face the Washington Huskies who have pulled some big-time upsets this year and will open their newly renovated stadium next year against these same Broncos. Boise State isn’t quite the run-and-gun offense they had under Kellen Moore, but they still are the heavy favorite as they take on their Pac-12 opponent.
When to Watch: Saturday, December 22, 3:30 PM ET
Where to Watch: Live on ESPN from Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, Nevada
What to Watch for…
When Washington has the ball: Washington’s offense ranks 92nd in the nation scoring just 23.8 points per game. The Huskies offense is led by Quarterback Keith Price who many bowl fans will remember from last year’s high-scoring Alamo Bowl in a duel with RG3. Price had a solid but unspectacular year throwing for 2,486 yards and 18 touchdowns. Those numbers are significantly down from his 3,063 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. Price has struggled against high-ranked defenses although his numbers have continued to be good against weaker teams.
The problem for Price is that Boise State’s defense is among the best in the country. They rank sixth in scoring defense, ninth in total defense, and fourth in passing defense. They’ve allowed only 163 yards per game through the air and a total of three passing touchdowns all year, the lowest number in the FBS. The Bronco defense had four first-team All-Mountain West selections–linemen Demarcus Lawrence and Mike Atkinson, linebacker J.C. Percy (team-high 101 tackles), and defensive back Jamar Taylor. Washington will have a tough time putting up points against what has become an elite unit.
When Boise State has the ball: The Broncos offense isn’t the 45-points-per-game show that they have been the past few seasons, but they do still have plenty of weapons. Quarterback Joe Southwick has had the un-enviable position of replacing the legend Kellen Moore and has led the Broncos to an average of 30 points per game. Southwick finished the season strong with multiple touchdowns in his last three games while avoiding throwing any interceptions. D.J. Harper has also emerged as a threat on the ground after Doug Martin’s departure to the NFL. Harper has had a nice Senior season rushing for 1,065 yards and scoring 15 touchdowns on the ground.
The Washington defense is vastly improved in their first year under former-Boise State coordinator Justin Wilcox but still has a ways to go. They rank 30th in total offense and 37th in scoring defense. The Huskies held their opponents under 20 for four straight before giving up 31 to Washington State in their regular season finale.
Who to Watch for (NFL Prospects)
While the first round may not have any players selected from either of these teams, there is plenty of defensive talent on both teams that will end up playing Sunday’s next year. The highest pick will most likely be Desmond Trufant-Washington-CB who could go late in the first or early in the second joining his two brothers in the NFL. Trufant is a cover corner who needs to improve his tackling but could be a quick-riser if he can perform well at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine.
Boise’s defense is likely to have future-NFL players on it as well. Jamar Taylor-Boise State-CB is the most highly regarded and could go in the second or third round while Larry Webster-Boise State-DE and Jerrell Gavins-Boise State-CB could be end of the draft selections. On the offensive side D.J. Harper-Boise State-RB is also a sixth or seventh round possibility.
Boise’s dominance of the Vegas Bowl and their familiarity with the setting and festivities can’t be overlooked. Their two losses this season were to San Diego State by two and Michigan State all the way back in the season opener. Washington utterly collapsed against Washington State in the Apple Cup squandering an 18-point fourth quarter lead against the Cougars before losing in overtime. This game won’t be high-scoring, but I think D.J. Harper has a big game and carries the Broncos to their third straight Las Vegas Bowl win. Washington’s big upsets have been at home, and their record on the road is just 2-4 with their wins coming at Colorado and California. Boise is the way to go here as their defense should dominate Keith Price and the Huskies offense.