We're just days away from the Broncos 2010 finale and the Broncos, as we previously discussed, have plenty left to still play for. Ultimately, which team leaves Vegas the victor may come down to which team wants it more...but there are plenty of other factors in play that could turn the tide for either squad. After the jump, I will discuss 3 key factors for both teams that could mean leaving Sin City with a W or an L.
For the Utes
Establish a ground game
The last two games of the regular season weren't good ones for the Boise State rush defense. After leading the nation in the category for most of the year and shutting down powerful rushing attacks from Virginia Tech, Fresno State, Oregon State, and the like...the Broncos just couldn't hold it together against Nevada and Utah State. Luckily Utah State was inept enough in all the other categories to allow the Broncos to cruise to an easy victory, but I think we all know how the Nevada debacle turned out.
The Utes finished the season ranked 55th in the country in rushing offense...well below both Utah State and Nevada. But the Utes do have a formidable one-two punch with Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata. Both senior backs can lower their shoulders and grind out yards and both know how to score. If the Utes can establish the ground game early (or late, as the case may be), it will open up the rest of the offense for Terrance Cain—who himself is a definite run threat. Keeping the Bronco defense on the field is the best way to keep the Broncos high-scoring offense from absolutely demoralizing you.
The Utes really struggled in this department this year—finishing the regular season tied for 59th in the nation in takeaways. This stat will be absolutely vital to any success the Utes may have against the Broncos as they'll need to get the ball back when the Boise State offense is on the field. Kellen Moore simply does not turn the ball over often, but if the DBs can tip some balls or the linebackers or D-lineman can punch the ball away from Bronco ball-carriers, it will give the Utes momentum, field position, and scoring opportunities. This one's a no-brainer...don't let the Broncos have the ball for too long or it could spell trouble.
Turn Shaky loose
If you could point to one glaring weakness on the 2010 Bronco squad, it would be special teams coverage. Game after game, it seemed the Broncos allowed long returns by missing tackles, taking poor angles, or overpursuit. Ute return man Shaky Smithson may be the best punt returner in the nation...better than OSU's James Rogers...and you probably remember what he did to the Broncos in September. There are cheap points to be had by the Utes by taking one to the house, and field position will also be vital if this turns out to be a close game. The Broncos need to focus on tackling this week and making sure somebody (preferably a sure tackler) has contain on Smithson. My remedy...just don't kick to the guy.
For the Broncos
Bring the pressure
How about this as a pleasant surprise this year...the Broncos finished the season first in the nation in sacks (45) and third in the nation in tackles-for-loss (100). The Broncos have largely been able to neutralize quarterbacks this season by bringing the type of pressure that Freddie Mercury and David Bowie sang songs about. Shea McClellin, Chase Baker, Tyrone Crawford, Ryan Winterswyk, and Billy Winn can be an overwhelming force and collapse the pocket quicker than you can say 'Nathan Enderle'—if they do, Terrance Cain will be uncomfortable all evening and won't be able to stretch the field...something that he'll need to do to keep the Ute offense moving.
Take shots downfield
Did you know that in 9-out-of-12 games this season, Titus Young had at least one 40+ yard reception? There simply haven't been many DBs that can keep up with Young when he's on, and more importantly, when Kellen is. Coach Harsin would do well to test the mettle of the Ute secondary by seeing if they can keep Young in front of them. If they can't...the Bronco offense will make them pay in a hurry. The double-edged sword for the Utes is that if they sell out and double-cover Young to take away the deep ball, Austin Pettis, Tyler Shoemaker, or a slew of tight ends can make them pay anyway. The Broncos have the weapons...and this will be Titus' last game as a Bronco. Turn the kid loose and see what happens.
Don't let up
The Broncos in the Chris Petersen era have been dominant...but they haven't been ruthless. The Broncos throughout the year routinely jumped out to large leads and then called off the dogs in favor of a more conservative attack. Well, this is the last game of the year and the Broncos are in Vegas...I say "go for broke". There is absolutely nothing to save our starters for...so the Broncos should just keep the pedal to the metal and try to put as much distance between themselves and the Utes until the closing whistle. I still have a sneaking suspicion that Coach Pete won't go this route, but ending the year with a rout would be a nice way to close things out.