MAACO Bowl Las Vegas Breakdown:Bronco Pass Game vs. Utah Defense
Boise State Passing Game
It is hard to imagine any secrets left about the Boise State passing attack after 12 games this season. Between the arm of Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback Kellen Moore, and the record setting careers of wide receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Young, the rest of college football is well aware of the potent Bronco aerial attack.
Boise State boasts the sixth ranked passing offense (319.42 ypg) in the nation, which has provided balance for the country's No. 2 scoring offense (46.67 ppg) and No. 4 total offense (519.50 ypg). In fact, the Broncos have been so balanced this fall only 46.1 percent of their total plays have been pass attempts, while just over half (36 of 69; 52.2%) of their offensive touchdowns have come in the air.
But as Boise State prepares to face a Utah defense that has been solid but not dominant against the pass this season, it is the big play aspect of the Bronco attack that could be challenged most by the Utes. Boise State has thrived on capitalizing on momentum changing plays all season long. The Broncos have scored 12 times this year on pass plays over 40 yards with five different players getting in on the action. They have spread those 12 big play touchdowns throughout nine of their games.
Moore (6-0, 191), a redshirt junior from Prosser, Wash. (Prosser HS), has completed all but one of Boise State's 12 touchdown passes of more than 40 yards, and all but two of the Broncos 16 total pass plays of 40 plus yards. Moore's success down field is just a small factor in his individual success this season, which includes also being named Western Athletic Conference Co-Offensive Player of the Year, Associated Press third team All-American and a finalist for both the Maxwell and Davey O'Brien Awards.
Moore finished the regular season ranked second in the nation in pass efficiency rating (185.04) having completed 245 of 345 (71.0%) passes for 3,506 yards, 33 touchdowns with just five interceptions.
Young and Pettis were on the receiving end of a great deal of Moore's throws, combining for 45.9 percent (124 of 270) of Boise State's total receptions. Young (5-11, 175), a senior from Los Angeles, Calif. (University HS), led the Broncos in both receptions (65) and receiving yards (1,151) while tying for first in touchdown catches (nine). Pettis (6-3, 203), a senior from Anaheim, Calif. (Lutheran HS), was second in both receptions (59) and receiving yards (804) and tied Young with nine TD grabs. Young and Pettis both received first team All-WAC honors for their outstanding final seasons.
Despite all of the individual recognition for Boise State's skill position players, they know the offense wouldn't run if it weren't for another highly productive season by the Bronco offensive line. Led by first team All-WAC honorees, offensive tackle Nate Potter and center Thomas Byrd, the Boise State offensive line allowed the third fewest sacks in the country at .58 sacks per game. Potter (6-6, 300), a junior from Boise, Idaho (Timberline HS), and Byrd (5-11, 281), a junior from San Pablo, Calif. (McClymond HS), both started all 12 games this season.
Utah Pass Defense
Utah's defense didn't shut down opposing passing attacks completely throughout the regular season, but the Utes were extremely successful at not allowing big plays down field all year long. While ranking just 59th in pass defense (215.50 ypg) and 81st in pass efficiency defense (134.89), Utah has managed to keep teams from hurting them with the deep ball. Of the 18 total passing touchdowns the Utes have surrendered this season only four came on plays of over 40 yards; including two of over 90 yards.
A big reason for Utah's defensive success down field has been from the consistent play of five all conference honorees. Safety Brian Blechen and defensive backs Brandon Burton and Lamar Chapman have helped solidify the Utes' secondary, as Burton was named second team All-Mountain West Conference and Blechen and Chapman were honorable mention All-MWC.
Burton (6-0, 185), a junior from Houston, Texas (Clear Creek HS), finished the season with a team high 10 passes defended, including two interceptions. He also recorded 46 tackles. Blechen (6-2, 203), a freshman from Moorpark, Calif. (Moorpark HS), led Utah with four interceptions, while recording 61 tackles and five pass breakups. Chapman (5-8, 176), a senior from Compton, Calif. (El Camino JC), rounds out the group with 58 tackles, 5.5 sacks and three passes defended.
Equally important in the Utes' attack is a strong defensive line led by defensive end Christian Cox and defensive tackle Sealver Siliga. Cox (6-3, 250), a senior from Bountiful, Utah (Southern Utah) was named first team All-MWC after finishing with 50 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks. Siliga (6-3, 299), a junior from West Jordan, Utah (Copper Hills HS), received honorable mention All-MWC with 36 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
Cox, Siliga and Chapman have all played pivotal roles on a defense that currently ties for 34th nationally in sacks per game (2.33).
But to understand just how important pass defense will be for Utah against the Bronco offensive attack, just look at the Utes statistics in their two losses this season. In 10 victories this year Utah allowed just 207.6 passing yards per game with an opponent completion percentage of 57.8 percent. In their two losses the Utes gave up 255 passing yards per game with a completion percentage of 74.5 percent. Most importantly, though, seven of Utah's 18 passing touchdowns allowed all season came in its two losses.
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