December 19, 2008

BYU makes fourth straight trip to Las Vegas Bowl

MORE: Bowl schedule and coverage

Arizona is making its first bowl trip in 10 years, while BYU is making its fourth consecutive trip to the same bowl.

Welcome to Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl.


Arizona (7-5)
vs. BYU (10-2)

WHEN: 8 p.m. Dec. 20.
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas.
TV: ESPN2 (Mike Patrick will do play-by-play, with Todd Blackledge as the analyst).
THE LINE: Arizona by 3.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: Arizona 1-3, BYU 2-2.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Arizona 113th, BYU T-100th.
BCS RANKINGS: Arizona unranked, BYU 16th.
COACHES: Arizona − Mike Stoops (first bowl); BYU − Bronco Mendenhall (2-1 in bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: The Cougars are 10-2 and in the BCS top 20, yet they're underdogs. The Mountain West owned the Pac-10 this season. Can BYU continue that trend? BYU's passing attack is high-powered, and the potential exists for a lot of points in this one.
KEY STATS: BYU is seventh nationally in passing offense, at 308.9 yards per game. Arizona is 14th in pass defense, giving up 169.8 yards per game.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Arizona TBs Nicolas Grigsby and Keola Antolin a Las Vegas native, by the way have combined for 1,591 yards and 22 touchdowns. Grigsby has had fumbling issues, leading to increased playing time for Antolin in the second half of the season.
Arizona's last postseason appearance was in the 1998 Holiday Bowl, under Dick Tomey. BYU, meanwhile, has spent the week preceding Christmas preparing for a Pac-10 opponent in the Las Vegas Bowl in each of the past four seasons.

But no one at BYU is complaining about going back to Vegas.

"We have an advantage from that perspective in that we know the routine," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall told reporters earlier this month. "There is a familiarity there, and there aren't unknowns in terms of game day management [and] also practice management and logistics."

Mendenhall also said he expects the familiarity "will work to our advantage."

BYU is going for its third consecutive 11-victory season. Arizona, meanwhile, is trying to win more than seven games for just the second time since 1994.

One thing BYU hadn't seen in Vegas before this season was snow. Three inches of snow fell this week; it was the city's worst winter storm in more than 30 years. While snow is not in the forecast for Saturday, temperatures are expected to be in the mid-30s. That means that David Hasselhoff, who is scheduled to sing the national anthem, will be wearing a heavy jacket or two.

Who has the edge?

Arizona run offense vs. BYU run defense
The Antolin-Grigsby duo has to be making BYU defensive coaches uneasy. The Cougars have trouble against the run, though they've allowed foes to score multiple TDs on the ground in just five games. If Arizona makes it a priority to run right at BYU, the Wildcats are going to have success. In contrast, in four of their five losses, the Wildcats had trouble running the ball.
Edge: Arizona.

Arizona pass offense vs. BYU pass defense
Arizona QB Willie Tuitama has had a solid season and has a nice group of receivers. The main threats are WR Michael Thomas and TE Rob Gronkowski, who leads the team with 10 TD catches. BYU's secondary is nothing special. Tuitama has some mobility, but Arizona has allowed 27 sacks (2.3 per game, which is tied for 85th in the nation). BYU's pass rush is adequate, nothing more.
Edge: Arizona.

BYU run offense vs. Arizona run defense
At first glance, Arizona has been OK against the run; the Wildcats are allowing 132.3 yards per game. But in its five losses, that figure creeps to 206.0 yards per game. While BYU is known for its passing attack, sophomore RB Harvey Unga has had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Unga isn't going to dazzle anyone with his speed, but he's a tough runner who also is an excellent receiver.
Edge: BYU.

BYU pass offense vs. Arizona pass defense
This is where the game will be won or lost by BYU. It's vital that QB Max Hall is sharp and avoids mistakes. BYU has to move the ball consistently and hit some big plays in the passing game. His last game was a five-pick, no-TD performance in a big loss to Utah. WR Austin Collie has a string of 10 consecutive 100-yard games and has 15 TD grabs this season. TE Dennis Pitta also is a 1,000-yard receiver; he had four 100-yard games and three 10-catch games this season. Like Collie, he is a deep threat. Arizona has been good against the pass, led by CBs Devin Ross and Marquis Hundley. Arizona has 15 picks and has allowed just 11 TD passes. Arizona has allowed two TD passes in a game just twice this season. By contrast, Hall has thrown at least two TD passes in a game 10 times this season. Hall threw seven TD passes in a 59-0 demolition of UCLA and had three against Washington. Tuitama threw five total against those teams. Arizona's pass rush isn't that good, but BYU has had protection issues at times. Look for some blitzes by Arizona.
Edge: BYU.

This is BYU's fourth consecutive Las Vegas Bowl appearance. Here is a list of the longest streaks of consecutive postseason appearances in the same bowl in history.
BYUHoliday7 (1978-84)
TexasCotton6 (1968-73)
Air ForceLiberty4 (1989-92)
BYULas Vegas4 (2005-current)
Fresno StateSilicon Valley Classic*4 (2000-03)
MarshallMotor City4 (1997-2000)
NebraskaOrange4 (1991-94)
North TexasNew Orleans4 (2001-04)
Ohio StateRose4 (1972-75)
OklahomaOrange4 (1977-80)
OklahomaOrange4 (1984-87)
USCRose4 (1966-69)
USCRose4 (2005-current)
(* − Bowl no longer exists.)
Arizona special teams vs. BYU special teams
Arizona kicker Jason Bondzio is 13-of-15 on field goals, including 4-for-6 from beyond 40 yards. Punter Keenyn Crier is one of the best on the West Coast. Thomas is an excellent punt returner and has taken two back for TDs this season. The Wildcats' kick-return and kick-coverage units are average, and their punt coverage is spotty. BYU kicker Mitch Payne is 10-for-12 on field goals, including 3-for-3 from 40 and beyond. Punter C.J. Santiago had a solid season. Freshman O'Neill Chamber is an OK kick returner, but the Cougars' punt returners haven't done anything. BYU's coverage units are good.
Edge: Arizona.

Arizona coaches vs. BYU coaches
This is the first bowl appearance for Arizona in Stoops' five seasons, and he essentially had to get to a bowl to save his job. Mendenhall has taken BYU to four consecutive Vegas bowl appearances. He has rebuilt the program to where it again annually competes for the Mountain West title.
Edge: BYU.

X-factor: Watch Thomas to see if he can bust a big punt return or two and make some big plays in the passing game. He has averaged more than 10 yards per catch in just two of the past eight games. Arizona needs Thomas to be more than a possession receiver in this contest.

Arizona will win if: The Wildcats have to run effectively with Antolin and Grigsby. Both have good speed, and BYU's defense as a whole is going to have problems keeping up. Arizona also needs to find a way to get consistent pressure on Hall.

BYU will win if: If Hall has a typical day around 300 yards and three touchdowns the Cougars should win. If Hall is "on," it's likely Unga will have room to run, too. BYU's defense is going to give up some yards and points, though.

The pick
Mike Huguenin: BYU 28, Arizona 23.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for He can be reached at is your source for: College Football | Football Recruiting | College Basketball | Basketball Recruiting | College Baseball | High School | College Merchandise
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