What to watch: Las Vegas Bowl
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Five things to consider, underline or anticipate from the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday between Arizona and BYU.
Can the Wildcats win a close one? Arizona has won seven games this year. The smallest margin of victory? Fifteen points (vs. California). The Wildcats have lost five. Largest margin of defeat? Ten points (Oregon). Three of those defeats came by a combined 10 points. (If this sounds familiar, we wrote the exact same thing before the Arizona-Arizona State game; the Wildcats won by 21.) Arizona hasn't won the close games under coach Mike Stoops: It is 5-16 in games decided by a touchdown or less over the last four seasons. No. 17 BYU doesn't look like the sort of team the Wildcats could blow out. So, if the game is tight, will the 'Cats play loose, or will they gag again? Of course, when the Cougars lose, they'd don't mess around, see 25- and 24-point defeats to TCU and Utah, respectively.
Goodbye Tui and Thomas: Quarterback Willie Tuitama and receiver Mike Thomas, both four-year starters, have rewritten the Arizona record book in their respective areas. Thomas needs just three catches to eclipse Arizona State's Derek Hagan, who had 258 career receptions, for the Pac-10 record. Tuitama needs 114 yards to hit the career 10,000-yard passing mark. Both should reach their numbers. But will both go out winners? If so, it may be due to a scoring fest. BYU's defense has given up 32 or more points in four of its last six games.
Power back blues: While high-powered passing comes to mind when most folks think of BYU -- and quarterback Max Hall is outstanding -- the Cougars also have a solid running game. Arizona's run defense isn't bad. It ranked fifth in the Pac-10 (132 yards per game), and held a strong California running game to just 110 yards. But power backs thrive against the Wildcats' undersized front seven. New Mexico's 234-pound Rodney Ferguson rolled up 158 yards on 26 carries in a win over Arizona, while Stanford's 230-pound Toby Gerhart had 116 yards on 24 carries in a Cardinal comeback win. It just so happens the Cougars feature 239-pound Harvey Unga, who's rushed for 1,061 yards and 10 scores. Further, BYU's offensive line is massive -- each starter weighs 315 pounds or more. If Arizona can't slow the run, then it's going to be a long day.
Strength on strength: Hall, who passed for 3,629 yards and 34 touchdowns, is money with receiver Austin Collie, who leads the nation with 1,419 receiving yards on 95 receptions. Arizona, however, is good against the pass, giving up 169.8 yards per game, the 14th-fewest in the country. And Hall did have seven interceptions in the Cougars two defeats, including five in the season-finale against rival Utah.
Which team really cares? None of the Arizona players has been to a bowl game, mostly because the program hasn't played in one since 1998. Will they play as if just getting to the postseason was enough? BYU is playing in its fourth consecutive Las Vegas Bowl. The Cougars had much higher aspirations during a 6-0 start to the season. Will they play like surprisingly frigid Las Vegas is the last place they want to be? Bowl games are often won by the team that is happy to be there and highly motivated to succeed. Will either team here play that way?