2008 Las Vegas Bowl Preview - BYU vs. Arizona

Posted Dec 19, 2008

The Mountain West has owned the Pac 10 this year going 6-1 in head-to-head play. The Saturday night battle between Austin Collie's BYU and Mike Thomas' Arizona in the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl should be a wild shootout. Check out the CFN Preview & Prediction of one of the better early bowl matchups.

2008 Las Vegas Bowl

BYU (10-2) vs. Arizona (7-5)

Dec. 20, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN

$1 million   Location: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, NV

2008 Las Vegas Bowl History, Player Profiles, Best Bowl Moments, & More

- 2006 CFN Las Vegas Bowl Preview | 2007 CFN Las Vegas Bowl Preview

National Rankings
Arizona BYU
Total Offense
34th  401.25 ypg 17th  444.83 ypg
Total Defense
20th  302.08 ypg 58th  124.48 ypg
Scoring Offense
16th  37.08 ppg 19th  35.33 ppg
Scoring Defense
36th  21.33 ppg 19th  35.33 ppg
Run Offense
48th  164 ypg 71st  135.92 ypg
Run Defense
42nd  132.33 ypg 65th  144.42 ypg
Pass Offense
40th  237.25 ypg 7th  308.92 ypg
Pass Defense
14th  169.75 ypg 59th  206.50  ypg
Turnover Margin
27th  0.50 50th  0.17
Idaho W 70-0
Toledo  W 41-16
at N Mexico L 36-28
at UCLA W 31-10
Washington W 48-14
at Stanford L 24-23
California W 42-27
USC L 17-10
at Wash St W 59-28
at Oregon L 55-45
Oregon St L 19-17
Arizona St W 31-10
No Iowa W 41-17
at Wash. W 28-27
UCLA W 59-0
Wyoming W 44-0
at Utah St W 34-14
New Mexico W 21-3
 at TCU L 32-7
UNLV W 42-35
at Col St W 45-42
SDSU W 41-12
at A Force W 38-24
at Utah L 48-24
Position Ratings
relative to each other
A 5 highest
1 lowest
4 Quarterbacks 4.5
4 RBs 3.5
4.5 Receivers 5
3 O Line 4
3.5 D Line 3
4 Linebackers 3.5
5 Secondary 3.5
4 Spec Teams 4
3 Coaching 4.5

BYU and Arizona will be meeting for the third year in-a-row, but have never faced off in the postseason. While this is a good matchup as is, it’ll carry bigger overall implications for the reputation of the two representative conferences.

The Cougars will be looking for their third straight bowl victory, while further raising the profile of the Mountain West, which has gone 6-1 versus the Pac-10 in 2008. The Wildcats, on the other hand, are about to end a decade-long bowl drought that nearly cost head coach Mike Stoops his job. This breakthrough season, which was narrowly missed the last two years, was an absolute must for the program to gradually begin turning the corner.

No matter the game or the opponent, Arizona had to show its fans and prospective recruits that tangible progress was being made. Plus, those 15 extra practices this month will be a boon to the younger players and a program that still needs all the work it can get despite Stoops having his stamp fully on the program now. The ‘Cats were an inconsistent bunch, especially away from Tucson, where they lost to New Mexico and Stanford, and went just 2-3. As expected, Sonny Dykes’ offense has been the catalyst, averaging 37 points a game and looking nothing like the unit that generated just 100 yards when these two schools last met in the 2007 opener.

Since 2005, BYU has spent nearly as much time in Las Vegas as Wayne Newton. The last three years, the trip to the desert was a reward for winning the Mountain West championship. Since Utah is playing in the Sugar Bowl, however, this year’s invitation has more of a consolation prize feel to it. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. The Cougars were the favorite to be this year’s BCS buster, rising to No. 9 in the polls before getting exposed on Oct. 16 by TCU. They’d go on to get routed by the Utes in the regular season finale, squandering any of the goodwill that was left from beating Washington and UCLA in September as part of a 6-0 start. Now that it’s fallen short of expectations, BYU is looking to avoid a second straight loss that’ll make for a very long and empty offseason.

When BYU and Arizona met in 2006 and 2007, the winning team failed to score more than 20 points in either game. That won’t be the case Saturday night. With two of the nation’s top 20 scoring offense squaring off at Sam Boyd Stadium, the Las Vegas Bowl has the potential to be the most exciting game of the bowl season’s opening weekend. And for Pac 10 and Mountain West fans looking to debate the merits of their respective leagues, this will be among the most important.

Players to watch: The most intriguing—and important—battle to watch is the one between the quarterbacks, BYU’s Max Hall and Arizona’s Willie Tuitama. Both are having solid seasons as the leaders of their respective offenses. Hall has thrown for 3,629 yards and 34 touchdowns, but is coming off the worst game of his career, a five-pick clunker in the loss to Utah. Plus, he might be without prolific TE Dennis Pitta, who’s working his way back from a sprained MCL, and will be going up against one of the nation’s better pass defenses.

Arizona is No. 16 nationally in pass efficiency defense, thanks to the development of a couple of juniors, CB Devin Ross and S Cam Nelson. If Hall has any problems navigating the airways, he can always hand the ball to bruising RB Harvey Unga, who’ll be running behind one of the nation’s most physical offensive lines. Dallas Reynolds, Ray Feinga, and the rest of the Cougar line will be able to maul an undersized interior of the Arizona front on running downs.

Tuitama is poised for a big night. Not only is he surrounded by a slew of playmakers, but the BYU defense is suspect against the pass and had just five sacks in the final six games. With time, he’ll be able to locate both of his All-Pac-10 targets, WR Mike Thomas and TE Rob Gronkowski. While just a sophomore, Gronkowski is already a next-level tight end, who’s caught 43 passes for 645 yards and 10 touchdowns in just nine games.

Tuitama will also have the benefit of balance, courtesy of backs Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin, who’ve combined for almost 1,600 yards and 22 touchdowns on the ground. While Grigsby is the starter, Antolin has been a revelation as a true freshman. Like trying to grab a leaf in the wind, he’ll cause nightmares for a defense not known for its scary athleticism.     

BYU will win if... it’s balanced on offense. The Cougars cannot rely solely on Hall and WR Austin Collie to move the chains, especially against a quality pass defense. They’ve got to get Unga at least 20 carries in order to dent the Arizona defense and take advantage of a big edge in the trenches. If he gets rolling early, it’ll wear down the Wildcats by the second half, making Hall that much more effective when he does drop back to pass.       

Arizona will win if... the offensive line protects Tuitama. If Eben Britton & Co. does their jobs up front, Tuitama will carve up a BYU back seven that allowed 12 touchdown passes and picked off just three in the final six games. Arizona has too many weapons for the Cougars to handle if Tuitama is allowed to sit in the pocket and locate one of them without feeling any pressure. It’s been a long time since BYU made an opposing quarterback feel uncomfortable. It’s up to the Wildcat blockers to keep it that way.  

What will happen: When BYU was challenged this year by TCU and Utah, it caved in by a combined score of 80-31. Now, Arizona isn’t as good as the Frogs or the Utes, but it does have enough on offense to keep the Cougars from playing up to its ranking in the polls. While both schools will have success on offense, the ‘Cats have the better running game and the healthier tight end, which could be the difference. Gronkowski will catch a pair of touchdown passes and Antolin will introduce himself to a national audience with a couple of dazzling bursts into the secondary. However, BYU will be better on the lines and will thunder away in the fourth quarter to pull out the win.
Line: Arizona -3 ... CFN Prediction: BYU 38 … Arizona 34

2008 Las Vegas Bowl History, Player Profiles, Best Bowl Moments, & More