By ANDREW GARDA - PAC-10 INSIDER
December 20, 2008 * 8:00 * ESPN
Sam Boyd Stadium (71,500) *
Las Vegas, Nevada
THIS SEASON THE Pac-10 has squared up with the Mountain West Conference seven times with the MWC going an impressive 6-1. Included in that group is two wins by BYU (over UCLA and Washington), as well as a loss by Arizona (to New Mexico. Will the trend continue?
When the ‘Cats Have the Ball
Quarterback Willie Tuitama has had an outstanding year, throwing for 2,763 yards with 21 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. He will face a BYU defense that can be scored on at times – the Cougars have allowed 32 or more points in four of their last six games. BYU has also had trouble pressuring and containing opposing quarterbacks, especially off the edges. This defense is not especially fast and that will also be an advantage for Wildcat running back Nic Grigsby. The sophomore back had his first 1,000-yard season and had an impressive 5.5 yards per carry average. Grigsby can move the chains and while he has not blown the opposition away, he is a threat and scored a touchdown in nine of twelve games. If he can get around the edges, or if the defense is caught over-committing, he could put together some big runs. An effective ground game will set up the Wildcats’ pass offense nicely. Even without it, Tuitama should be able to find his receivers against this defense, but with the run game rolling, the defense would open up more and couldn’t concentrate on simply one phase of Arizona’s offensive game. Tuitama tends to look most often for senior wideout Mike Thomas and like Grigsby and Tuitama, Arizona will need a good game from him if they are to win in the Las Vegas desert. They can also look to red zone target Rob Gronkowski, who leads the receiving corps with 10 touchdowns.
When the Cougs Have the Ball
This is BYU’s fourth consecutive trip to the Vegas Bowl and the Cougars have won the first three. If they want a fourth, they’ll need a big time performance from their star player… the guy they have depended upon all season long. That is, of course, quarterback Max Hall. Hall has been terrific this season, with 3,629 yards and 34 touchdowns with only 13 interceptions. He has thrown for more than 300 yards in three of his last four games, including a five-touchdown game against Colorado State. His favorite target is Austin Collie, who leads the nation with 118.25 receiving yards per game and has a total of 1,419 yards and 15 touchdowns. If the Wildcats are able to slow the Cougars through the air, they’ll still have to contend with the ground attack. While Harvey Unga isn’t quite having the success he did in 2007, he’s still had quite the season. His second consecutive 1,000-yard is supplemented by another 41 receptions and 303 yards through the air. BYU ranks 17th in the nation offensively and Arizona will be hard pressed to contain them, even with a defense which has not performed terribly. The Wildcats have some opportunistic players in their defensive squad and they have been able to grab a total of 15 interceptions, led by Trevin Wade’s four. Hall has turned the ball over on occasion, but not with such frequency that the Cougars should be worried. In all likelihood, the Cougars will just have too much firepower for the Wildcats.
EXPECT AN EXPLOSIVE offensive showdown, with the Cougars continue their domination over the Pac-10 and winter their third straight bowl.
Inside the Numbers– Pass, Run & Catch:
Arizona Wildcats (7-5, 5-4)
Pass: Willie Tuitama – 2,763 yards, 21 touchdowns
Run: Nic Grigsby – 1,066 yards, 12 touchdowns
Catch: Mike Thomas – 796 yards, 5 touchdowns
Brigham Young Cougars (10-2, 6-2)
Pass: Max Hall – 3,629 yards, 34 touchdowns
Run: Harvey Unga – 1,061 yards, 10 touchdowns
Catch: Austin Collie – 1,419 yards, 15 touchdowns
The CFI Prediction: BYU 38, Arizona 27
Photo Credit: Jaren Wilkey, BYU
Friday, December 19, 2008
By ANDREW GARDA - PAC-10 INSIDER