We look ahead to the keys to the game for the No. 20 Utah Utes (9-3) to come out victorious over the BYU Cougars (9-3) in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. The Holy War got restarted a year early due to the bowl matchup. It is the first time the two teams have met in a bowl game and at a neutral site.
1. Establish the offense
BYU runs a bend but don't break defense. Utah will need to establish a balanced offense against BYU. In their three losses, BYU gave up at least 190 yards rushing in each game. Getting the rushing attack going with running back Joe Williams and quarterback Travis Wilson will be key in this game. Williams has the speed to run by BYU defenders. Utah will also need to get the throw game established as well. If Utah does not get the passing game going, it could cause BYU to stack the box to sell out to stop the run. Utah has not shown they can move the ball through the air this season (ranking 100th in the nation in passing offense). They have been especially poor in their final two games, only throwing for 218 total yards against UCLA and Colorado. Utah may be missing their two best pass catchers in the bowl game: Kenneth Scott and Britain Covey. Wilson is a senior playing in his final game at Utah. He has had an up and down career at Utah. He will need to play well, especially if Covey and/or Scott cannot go to give Williams room to run. The offense will also need to take care of the football (see the third key to the game).
2. Rattle Tanner Mangum
Tanner Mangum has played well as a true freshman (ranking 30th in yards and 37th in passer rating), but he is still a true freshman. In BYU's three losses, Mangum had his three worst performances in terms of passer rating. BYU does not have much of a rushing attack (No. 108 in the nation) with starting running back Jamaal Williams suspended for the year. BYU wants to throw the ball with Mangum to their big wide receivers. If Utah can pressure Mangum, they can hopefully force him into bad decisions and turnovers (see the third key). Utah faced two other talented true freshmen quarterbacks this season, Washington's Jake Browning, and UCLA's Josh Rosen. Utah held both quarterbacks below their season average in passer rating. BYU is not a team you want to blitz a lot, but I would not be surprised to see a few well-timed exotic blitzes from the Utah defense in an effort to confuse the true freshman.
3. Win the Turnover Battle
Utah lost the turnover battle three times in 2015. They only won one of those games, beating Fresno State. They lost the other two, falling to USC and UCLA. In Utah's other loss of the season, against Arizona, the Utes were even in turnover margin. In a heated rivalry game like this, a big turnover could cause the game to swing in one team's favor. Utah has won the turnover battle in each of the last four Holy War games. The last time they lost the turnover margin, in 2009, they also lost the game. If Utah succeeds in the second key, rattling Mangum, they are likely to force turnovers, whether they are interceptions or strip sacks. This season both teams are in the positive in turnover margin, with Utah being +8 (No. 18 nationally) and BYU being +7 (No. 25). Utah is No. 6 in turnovers forced with 29 forced turnovers, but the Utes have given the ball away 21 times (No. 76). BYU was better about taking care of the football than the Utes, only turning it over 15 times (No. 24), but they not as effective at creating takeaways as the Utes, forcing 22 (No. 39). Turnovers were not indicative of wins or losses for the Cougars. In only two games did they lose the turnover margin, and they won both games (against UConn and Cincinnati). In their three losses, the Cougars either won the turnover margin (against UCLA) or were even in the turnover margin (against Michigan and Missouri). Turnover margin is the second most important stat to Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham behind final score. Do not be surprised if this game comes down to a big turnover or two to swing the momentum in one team's favor.