Monday, December 21, 2009

What to Watch for Against Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl

With three weeks since the last game, the storylines of this game have been covered multiple times each by the local Oregon, Utah, and Vegas media. The national media have picked up on the highlights. The commentating crew (an A team from ESPN) will likely mention each of these again as well during the course of the game. But here is a brief summary of the storylines:

Game Storyline Recap

Bronco vs. his alma mater. When BYU last played Oregon State, in 1986, Bronco was a linebacker for OSU as they defeated BYU in Provo 10-7.
Cousin connection. Havey Unga has two Unga cousins (twins Kevin and Devin) that play for the Beavers—both are linebackers and primarily see the field on special teams.
LDS connection.  There are 8 LDS players on the Beavers squad according to DL Sioeli Nau.  Four of them are RMs (the two Unga brothers, Nau, and linebacker Walker Vave).
Shawn Doman, BYU linebacker, is from Oregon and was first recruited by Oregon State and coach Mike Riley.
The story of two good senior quarterbacks—Max Hall and Sean Canfield
Mental Preparation. OSU’s will need to be able to get up for the game after missing out on a Rose Bowl bid and PAC-10 championship by 4 points against their rival Oregon in the last game of the season.
Ranked teams. First time the Vegas Bowl has paired two ranked teams, #14 BYU (14th BCS, 15th AP, 14th USA Today) and #18 Oregon State (18th BCS, 16th AP, 20th USA Today). BYU is the highest ranked team ever to appear in the game.
The point spread. OSU is a 2.5 point favorite, despite being lower ranked.
Mountain West vs. the PAC 10. BYU is 2-2 in the Vegas Bowl vs. the Pac 10. They are 5-3 in the last three seasons. The Cougs went 2-1 last season (beating UCLA and Washington, losing to Arizona). They were 2-1 in 2007 (beating UCLA and Arizona, and losing at UCLA). They were 1-1 in 2006 losing to Arizona and beating Oregon). With TCU and Boise paired together in a cowardly move by the BCS, this game will be the highest profile matchup of AQ BCS vs. non-AQ BCS. The eyes of America will be watching.
Hall’s last game as a Cougar, going out as winningest quarterback in BYU history.  Also looking to put his Utah post game comments behind him.
Dennis Pitta, a consensus All-American, was snubbed by the Mackey Award—how will he respond?  He needs just two catches to pass Louisville's Ibn Green (1996-99) for most career receptions by a tight end in NCAA history.
The Rodgers brothers, James (Jr) and Jacquizz (So), at 5 foot 7 and 5 foot 6, this talented brother duo lead in receiving and rushing, respectively, for OSU. One of the storylines has been the influence of their father, who is currently in a prison near Houston Texas.  They have been able to overcome tremendous odds to succeed as they have and should be acknowledged for their triumph both on and off the field. 

What to Watch For on the Field:

Max at his best. When Max is having fun and relaxed he is at his best and nearly unstoppable. When he feels pressure and weight of expectations, he tends to play tight, force things, and generally play at a lower level. Watch for him to come out playing loose as he got the monkey off his back by beating Utah and solidified his place as a successful Cougar QB. The rest now is bonus.
Watch for the BYU seniors to have big games. There are several seniors (Hall, Unga, Pitta, Manase Tonga, Andrew George and Jan Jorgensen) on the team with aspirations to make an NFL squad next year. This will be the first time they have appeared on ESPN (a true national audience) since the Tulane game and it is their chance to impress. [Unga is actually a junior, but is likely to declare himself eligible for the draft after the season and forego his senior year.]
Stop the run and limit the pass. The BYU defense has been decent at stopping the run this season. They will have their hands full with Jacquizz Rodgers—a speedy, shifty, short but powerful back. There is a chance that they are able contain him. But, can they contain the run and limit the pass at the same time? This season, when focusing on the run, they Cougs have tended to give up on the pass completely. BYU will need big games from its ends and blitzing linebackers to keep Canfield on the run (an accurate passer, but slow of foot).
Will OSU get pressure on Hall? OSU’s defense is not known for its front line, and has been inconsistent with the pass rush. BYU’s offensive line should be able to keep them at bay. If they don’t, it will mean trouble for the Cougs.
McKay Jacobsen has declared himself 100% for the first time perhaps all season. Watch for him to have a breakout game. The receiving corps has not had a significant impact this season, and the focus of the defense will likely be on the tight ends, leaving McKay open to make a difference.
BYU’s secondary. James Rodgers, is the leading receiver for OSU and will be several steps faster than any of BYU’s DB’s. If the front seven are unable to force Canfield to throw off balance or hurried, no doubt the Beavers will be gunning for the long ball, just as Utah did. The only difference is that Sean Canfield is much more accurate and seasoned than Jordan Wynn and where Wynn consistently overthrew his open receivers downfield, Canfield will hit them. Bradley, Logan, Rich, and Johnson will need to be up to the challenge.
Limit turnovers. OSU is known for holding on to the ball. BYU has been spotty, but improved over the course of the season. It will be important for BYU to limit the turnovers. A minus one might be overcomeable, but should they have a minus 2 or more it will be difficult to win.

I am at the airport now on my way to Las Vegas. I’m looking forward to a good game. I think the BYU offense will be successful with both the run and the pass. I believe that Max will play as relaxed as he has in several games executing the passing game flawlessly. This will open the door for Unga to have a good game as well. The BYU defense, however, will have its hands full with both OSU's running and passing game. It might very well come down to number of possessions and turnovers. I predict a high scoring affair with BYU winning in the end. BYU 38 OSU 31.

Leave your thoughts and predictions below…

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