The Vegas Bowl has been the home to Boise State for the last three years. For the second straight year BSU has been matched up with a Pac-12 opponent. This year there were many teams that could have been selected to play against the Broncos, and all would have made a good matchup. I like what this UW team brings to the table. UW has athletes in key places that can hurt us. UW also has consistency issues that have their most loyal fans worried.
What has UW done this year? Well, they knocked off Stanford and Oregon State at home. Other victories at home include San Diego St, and Utah. The next part is where it gets interesting.... UW on the road has losses to LSU (that's not so bad), lopsided losses to Arizona and Oregon, and a loss to instate rival Wazzu (Swing your sword. Great game for us coug fans). What are we to learn from this? Simple solution could be the home crowd of UW, which has shown up big for the marquee wins that UW has. But, if a team wants to go from good to great, they need to win on the road.
UW has big time play makers at key positions. This is one team where I can say the sum of their parts, may be greater than the sum of its whole. Austin Seferian-Jenkins: the larger than life tight end can steal the show by himself. He stands 6'6'' and weighs 266 pounds. If he is not the best tight end in NCAA, there may only be one or two better than him. This is the biggest part of the offense that worries me. We do not have any 6'6'' defenders to match up on him. Who will the coaches put on him? Will they rely on the zone defense to keep Seferian-Jenkins in check? Those are the difficult questions that many people (our staff included) have yet to find a definitive answer.
Wide receiver Kasen Williams, a sophomore who plays like a senior, stands 6'2'' and weighs 216 pounds. He averages 6 receptions a game, and is the go-to receiver for quarterback Keith Price on the outside. Running back Bishop Sankey is everything one would expect from a Pac-12 running back. Quick, shifty, has a burst, and is not afraid of contact. Sankey has averaged 100 yards a game this season and must get things going on the ground if UW is to have any chance. Quarterback Keith Price has been at the helm for his 2nd year since taking over for the most overrated quarterback in D1 history, Jake Locker. Price has had flashes of greatness, but this biggest thing this year has been keeping him protected. Some may read this and think, "geez hatemay, with all this talent, UW should be playing for a BCS game." Yeah, there was some hype about this UW team this year, but factor in their Jekyll and Hyde style of playing,and their offensive line has had some injury problems this year. They lost so many guys, and young players were pushed into duty earlier than coaches would have wanted.
What is the solution to keeping so many athletes in check? First thing: pressure. That is one thing that Wazzu did all night long. They knew that they could not let Price sit back and survey the field all day and find the open man. We must do the same... and we have a much better defense than Wazzu. Granted, it was a rival game, and Wazzu was playing for pride and for their defensive leader who sustained a season ending injury the week before. Wazzu blitzed, blitzed, and blitzed some more. I am convinced we will blitz, but I know that man for man, we have the upper hand on the UW offensive front. Demarcus Lawrence and Sam Ukwuachu must live in the backfield. They are the key. We cannot afford to man up every play on Williams and Seferinan-Jenkins, so we must get pressure and force Price to check down or hit the hot route. We cannot let Price have time to see the field every play. This could be a long day if Price has a clean jersey when its all said and done. Pressure is the key.
In order to win, Seferian-Jenkins must have no more than four receptions. Sankey must be held under 100 yards, and Williams must have less than four catches. And (my favorite stat) we must sack Price at least three times. Forcing the play makers to perform below quota is the key.
Offensively we have been a mess this year. Southwick has had his demons with passes over the middle, Prince has had his issues figuring out what works, and a whole bunch of little things have culminated to take the wind out of our sails for the better part of the season. I feel the need to mention some of those little things: offensive line stepping the right way for pass protection, blitz pick up calls, guys making the right read on run blocks, sustaining the blocks, wide receivers sustaining blocks on our bubble screens or sweep plays, quarterback making the right reads and throws, quarterback checking us out of bad plays, running backs seeing the holes and ball security.
I may sound redundant, but the keys to game are as follows: 1) Win the turnover battle, 2) Establish the run 3) Touchdowns in the redzone, 4) Pressure Price. Harper has been steady for us this year barring two conditions, we open holes, and we don't call the same play all night. Harper must go over 100, and Ajayi must go over 50. Our passing game must feature a socialistic approach. A lot of guys with a few receptions. We need a night where 9-11 guys have a reception (I am factoring in the punter and back up quarterback catching a pass on a trick play). I expect Matt Miller and Holden Huff to bring us each a TD reception, coupled with two rushing touchdowns and probably a score on special teams or defense.
This should be a good game. UW has a much improved defense from last year. They have a great young staff that features a former BSU assistant and the right hand man to Pete Carroll during the glory years at USC. UW is on track for great things. I have respect for this team and staff, they could very well beat us. It depends largely on what team shows up... the team that beat Oregon State and Stanford? Or the team that got blown out by Arizona and upset by Wazzu? My pick, 38-24 Blue.