BYU-Utah brings rivalry to the Las Vegas Bowl
While BYU and Utah will probably come to the Las Vegas Bowl with relatively different feelings, the instate rivalry between the two programs will make sure that both teams are equally motivated.
The Utes had to be somewhat disappointed about how their season turned out in the end. At one point they seemed to provide the best chance for the Pac-12 to represent itself in the College Football Playoff; however, due to a couple late season losses, Utah could not even reach the Pac-12 Championship Game.
On the other hand, BYU is preparing for its last game with coach Bronco Mendenhall, who will leave the program after more than 10 years to become the head coach of Virginia. Although they had several convincing wins over the course of their season, BYU lost three of its four games against teams from Power-5 conferences, so at this point it is safe to assume that a win over Utah would be the highlight of the Cougars’ season.
Previewing the matchup
Like a real rivalry game, this bowl game is expected to be decided in the trenches. Both teams are built around their strong front sevens that can be disruptive in the passing game and stout against the run. Not only do these teams have quality players along the defensive front, they also have depth. Utah has nine different defensive linemen and linebackers who graded out above +5.0 this season, while BYU has eight different players on the defense with at least two sacks.
Players to watch
Utah’s J.J. Dielman
Dielman has been one of the best right tackles in not only the Pac-12, but also in the entire nation as he earned the sixth-highest overall grade at his position. Although he surrendered two sacks, two hits and ten hurries and was only slightly above average in pass protection; his run blocking helped him stand out from the pack. His run block grade of +17.2 was the 12th highest for all tackles.
Utah’s Viliseni Fauonuku
Fauonuku can create a lot of problems for the BYU offensive line as he has been the tenth-best pass rushing defensive tackle in the nation this year. He was able to record 29 total pressures, including four sacks and six hits, on 274 pass rush snaps, leading to a pass rushing productivity rating of 8.3. In addition, he was solid against the run as well, highlighted by the fact that he missed only one tackle the entire year.
BYU’s QB Tanner Mangum
While Washington’s Jake Browning and UCLA’s Josh Rosen got the most media attention, it was actually Mangum who earned the highest passing grade among the three true freshmen quarterbacks. Although he had a slow start to the season, Mangum earned a positive grade in seven of his last eight games. Keep an eye on his passes outside the right numbers as he passed for 917 yards in that area of the field compared to only 652 yards outside the left numbers.
BYU’s Bronson Kaufusi
Kaufusi has been our fourth-highest graded 3-4 defensive end in college football this season. His 25 run stops were the fourth most among 3-4 defensive ends from Power-5 conferences or independent programs. He recorded a run stop on 10.2 percent of his run snaps, which was tied for fifth-best among these players. While he has been good against the run, Kaufusi was even better when rushing the passer. His pass rushing productivity rating of 12.5 led all 3-4 defensive ends in the nation as he recorded 9 sacks, 10 hits and 31 hurries on 317 pass rush snaps. His 50 total pressures are second to only Oregon’s DeForest Buckner.
This might become a breakout game for Mangum if he can make some plays and put together a couple long drives against a stout Utah defense. However, I believe that Utah’s defensive line, featuring Fauonuku, Lowell Lotulelei, Stevie Tu’ikolovatu and Jason Fanaika, will be able to take over the game and win it for the Utes. Utah 24, BYU 21.