Monday, December 21, 2009
MAACO Bowl Las Vegas preview
By ESPN.com staff
Breaking down Tuesday evening's Las Vegas Bowl between No. 18 Oregon State (8-4) and No. 14 BYU (10-2).
WHO TO WATCH: This is a primetime matchup of skill players. BYU will offer up quarterback Max Hall, tight end Dennis Pitta and running back Harvey Unga. The Beavers will counter with quarterback Sean Canfield and the Rodgers brothers, running back Jacquizz and receiver James. The difference for the Beavers is speed. The Rodgers brothers have it, while the Cougars are mostly about power. Canfield has been accurate all season, and if he can distribute the ball in space to the Rodgers brothers, all three could have a star turn.
WHAT TO WATCH: The Beavers pass defense. Starting cornerback Tim Clark broke his leg in the season-finale vs. Oregon, so an already thin crew is even thinner -- said coach Mike Riley, "We're thin. We're absolutely thin.'' Even with Clark, the Beavers ranked sixth in the Pac-10 in pass defense and pass efficiency defense. They surrendered 20 TD passes -- only Washington State surrendered more -- and their eight interceptions were tied for second fewest in the conference. Moreover, they only recorded 15 sacks, which ranked ninth in the conference, six fewer than No. 7 Stanford. Hall and BYU rank 12th in the nation in passing and have accounted for 31 TD passes.
WHY TO WATCH: It's the first matchup of ranked teams in the bowl seasons, and it's always interesting when the Pac-10 and Mountain West square off. The MWC annually wants to prove itself vs. BCS conferences -- perhaps paving the way for it to become one? -- while the Pac-10 doesn't want to endure dismissive sniffs from its BCS conference brethren. As for the game itself, there will be a lot of playmakers on both sides of the field. Jacquizz Rodgers, for one, could make a statement for the 2010 Heisman Trophy race, while Canfield could improve his already blossoming NFL draft prospects.
PREDICTION: BYU 33, Oregon State 30. So much of a bowl game is about which team is more motivated. Last year, Oregon State also lost a Civil War rivalry game with Oregon that knocked it out of the Rose Bowl, but the Beavers got blown out and embarrassed and wanted to exorcise that memory -- particularly the defense -- in the Sun Bowl. They were motivated. This time? They lost a heartbreaker. That's a different sort of touchstone. As for BYU, sure the Cougars are playing in their fifth consecutive Las Vegas Bowl. But they are riding high after a win over Utah in their rivalry game and surely will recall that they were out-hustled by Arizona in the bowl last year. That will be a lesson, and they will be plenty motivated this time to take a Pac-10 scalp.