SQ Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl Preview
It's time to go bowling! College football's bowl season promises to bring some of the most interesting and entertaining match ups we've seen all year. The first weekend of bowl games pits BYU against Utah in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl on December 19th at 3:30 p.m. EST.
Storylines Heading Into the Game
Bronco Mendenhall's Last Holy War: Mendenhall has done a great job since taking over the BYU program in 2005. Since becoming head coach of the Cougars, Mendenhall has led the team to a record of 99-42 overall with two Mountain West titles to his credit. It's been a great ride for him thus far, and BYU would love nothing more than to send him on to Virginia with career win No. 100 and his first win over Utah since 2009. This storied rivalry hasn't been kind to Mendenhall in the past, as he's just 3-6 in his career against the Utes.
Tanner Mangum, Freshman Sensation: When Taysom Hill went down with a season-ending injury in the first game of the season, no one knew what to expect from Mangum who had just returned from serving his two year religious mission. As time expired in that first game against Nebraska, Mangum threw a Hail Mary that was magically caught in the endzone to win the game. Mangum wasn't a one-game wonder, and has impressed all season long, being named Freshman of the Year by the Touchdown Club of Columbus. His 21 touchdown passes were a freshman record for the Cougars this year.
Rivalry Renewed: As alluded to in the aforementioned section on Mendenhall, this matchup is a rebirth of a rivalry that hasn't seen the gridiron since 2013. The rivalry came to a halt when Utah AD Chris Hill decided it was necessary to take a two-year hiatus. Although the Holy War was scheduled to resume again in 2016, this bowl game kickstarts the rivalry once again. While Utah has won the past four meetings, three of those have been decided by a touchdown or less.
3,062 - The number of passing yards that BYU signal caller Tanner Mangum has thrown for this season. Not only does that number rank second in the nation among true freshmen, it's also a BYU freshman record. Mangum was rated as four-star recruit coming out of high school, and he's only starting to scratch the surface of the talent that he possesses. You can definitely expect him to be airing it out this game.
0 - Utah's turnover margin over the past four games. This stat may be a little bittersweet though. While on one hand the Utes have done a great job of forcing 10 turnovers in that span, they've turned it over just as many times. Looking at this from the optimist's point of view, Utah has only surrendered six points off of those turnovers. However, the Utes shouldn't continue to play dangerously like that.
5 - The number of sacks that BYU has allowed over the past three games. BYU's offensive line struggled mightily early on in the season and allowed 12 sacks in its first three games. Utah has one of the better pass rushes in the country and has notched 33 sacks this season. In order for Mangum to do well in this game the offensive line needs to continue to improve.
Kylie Fitts, DE, Utah - Fitts is a dynamic pass rusher who has caused nightmares for opposing QBs all season long. He's explosive off the edge and is on top of the QB before he even has a chance to get rid of the ball. But even when they do have a chance to get rid of the ball, he can still use his long arms to deflect it, as evidenced by the 10 pass breakups he has. Fitts may have just six sacks and seven tackles for loss, but his presence alone is enough to get opposing QBs off their game.
Tanner Mangum, QB, BYU - BYU cannot win this game if Tanner Mangum doesn't have a good game. Utah has one of the best rush defenses in the nation (allow just 111.75 rush yards per game), so the Cougars are going to need Mangum's arm to account for most of the yardage. Mangum has big play ability (61 completions of 15+ yards), and can also make plays when he's flushed out of the pocket. He may find himself on the run a little more in this game due to Utah's potent pass rush. If he can avoid the sacks and hit his receivers in stride, Mangum could pull out the win for the Cougars.
Why Utah Wins
Utah can win this game with their defensive line wreaking havoc in the backfield. If Kylie Fitts isn't contained, it could be a long game for Mangum and the BYU offense. BYU's lack of a run game makes Utah's pass rush all the more effective since they can pretty much key in on the pass a majority of the time. Utah has a knack for forcing turnovers, 29 this season, and if they can get the right amount of pressure on Mangum, it may be enough to get him to make some mistakes.
Why BYU Wins
BYU can win this game in a combined effort from its defense and offense. Mangum has done a great job as a freshman signal caller and has pulled a few rabbits out of his hat already this year. He's got a multitude of weapons to throw to, and each of his top five targets this year is averaging at least 13 yards per catch. On the defensive side of the ball, BYU has quietly had one of the best pass rushes in the nation with 37 sacks and 90 tackles for loss. Utah QB Travis Wilson has only completed 44% of his passes over the past two games, and if BYU can make him feel uncomfortable, then they can force the Utes to run the ball more than they'd like.
This has the makings to be the best game to watch in the first week of bowl games, after all it is a rivalry. It's Bronco Mendenhall's last game with BYU before he departs for a gig in the Power Five, and he's looking to go out with a bang. The Cougars are just 1-3 against Power Five teams this season, but that goes out the window when you play in a rivalry game.
Keep your eye on Utah QB Travis Wilson, as he will be the x-factor for the offense since Devontae Booker is sidelined with a torn meniscus. Wilson hasn't played great as of late, but he has the potential to be lethal when he's on. BYU's solid pass rush should challenge him throughout the game, and don't be surprised if Bronson Kaufusi knocks him down a couple times (has recorded 10.5 sacks so far).
This game is going to come down to who makes the least amount of mistakes, and which QB can step up to the challenge. Expect this game to be hard-fought and close throughout its duration.
Final Score: Utah 24 - BYU 21