Saturday, December 15, 2007

Las Vegas Bowl Predictions

On the surface, this year's bowl game is easier to predict than was last year's. Last year, there were real questions as to whether BYU would win the game, due to the potential for Oregon to score a lot of points despite having struggled the last half of the year. This year, the initial reaction of many to the re-match with UCLA was one nearing disdain because of the Bruins' plethora of injuries and extreme underperformance at times during the season, coupled with the firing of head coach Karl Dorrell.

There are, however, still some variables to consider. The first is that BYU lost to UCLA earlier in the season, and the Cougars have never beaten the Bruins since their first meeting with future Hall of Famer Steve Young leading the way; despite the different directions the respective seasons have taken, there has to be at least a small amount of psychological uncertainty regarding playing UCLA again. Also, DeWayne Walker showed last year the ability to put together a defensive scheme capable of beating USC. Ben Olson, who will start against BYU, undoubtedly has an unspoken desire to not lose to the Cougars and thus perhaps be regarded inferior to Max Hall, who is frankly at BYU only because Olson left. Finally, this game will be viewed as Coach Walker's audition for a head coaching position, whether at UCLA or elsewhere. He surely recognizes that his ability to motivate his squad to perform under adverse circumstances will be closely correlated to the quality of job offers he receives going forward.

It is with this backdrop that I see BYU sputtering somewhat to begin the game. I can even see a scoreless first quarter unfolding. I do see the Cougars beginning to warm up after that, though, finding a rhythm, and starting to put points on the board. Meanwhile, the relatively-unsung BYU defense also continues to seek to prove itself. I expect them to hound Ben Olson, perhaps even knocking the injury-prone quarterback from the game as it becomes apparent the Bruins cannot effectively run the ball on their opponent and Olson is asked to do more.

In the second half, as the Cougars build their lead, I anticipate them running more effectively, and relying increasingly on that ground game to control the clock and methodically put points on the board. I look for at least 80 yards and 120 yards on the ground from Taufui Vakapuna and Harvey Unga, respectively, with a very real possibility for both to go over 100, depending on how much Vakapuna is used--and how often passes are thrown to both instead of being handed the ball. I believe Fui is back and hungry to show that he is a punishing runner along with his partner-in-crime Unga.

On the other side of the ball, I think the UCLA offense is in for a long night. I can see Mendenhall's charges holding them without a touchdown, regardless of who gets the most time at quarterback.

In the end, it may not be a very exciting game, with regard to the score. My heart says BYU 34, UCLA 3, but my mind takes one touchdown off that score: BYU 27, UCLA 3. Perhaps they will be in position to score again late in the game, but Brendan Gaskins takes a knee on consecutive posessions to run out the clock.

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