Tuesday, December 19

The Las Vegas Bowl (or why the wheels fell off Oregon's bandwagon and the bandwagon promptly plowed into a tree)

(19) BYU @ Oregon - Las Vegas Bowl, 12/21

How BYU Got Here
It's tough to fault a team that goes undefeated in conference play, as that should be a sign you're at least better than your competition. That's what BYU did. After losing two of their first threee games (@ Arizona, @ BC - while BC was in their Luckiest Team in the Nation phase), they reboudned to go undefeated from then until then end of the year. All of their conference games were played after the first two games, which has quietly given BYU a pretty impressive run.
Best Win: 31-17 @ TCU, 9/28
Worst Loss: 13-16 @ Arizona, 9/2

How BYU Operates
BYU is known for their great passing game - and this year isn't any different. John Beck leads the MWC in passing (and is comfortably 4th in the nation) at just under 320 yards per game. However, it's not all about the passing game; BYU has 2 of the top 12 conference rushers - Curtis Brown (2nd, 74.2 ypg) and Fui Vakapuna (12th, 40.2 ypg) - as well. As a result, BYU is also 1st in the MWC, scoring 36.7 ppg.

Amazingly, BYU's defense isn't nearly as bad as you'd think given the high-octane offense they have. They're only allowing just under 16 ppg and they're about average in the MWC in both rushing and passing D. In addition, they're one of the few teams where turnover margin makes for an appreciable difference; they're +14 on the year, 4th in the nation.

How Oregon Got Here
Sometimes you're on top of the world. And sometimes you fall off the top of the world, land on a tree, fall off the tree, and hit every branch on the way down. That describes Oregon's season pretty well. They started off 4-0, including a 34-33 win over Oklahoma that you might've heard about (at great length, depending on where you were). Cal killed that streak pretty dead and Washington State killed any shot Oregon had of winning the Pac-10. However, they were still 7-2 going into the USC game with a good shot of going 9-3 at worst. Of course, this is when the wheels fell off; the Ducks lost to USC, Arizona, and Oregon State to close out the year. Now they're playing before Christmas - ouch. Is it a coincedence Brady Leaf had a ton of playing time in those three games? That's an exercise left to the reader.
Best Win: 34-33 v. Oklahoma, 9/16 - and if you don't think that's an actual victory, we'll go with 48-13 @ Arizona St., 9/30
Worst Loss: 10-37 v. Arizona, 11/18

How Oregon Operates
Good luck trying to find fault in the offense when it's performing well. It's pretty much the Dennis Dixon and Johnathan Stewart Show - but you could do worse than that; Stewart is 5th in the Pac-10 in rushing (80 ypg) and Dixon is 6th in passing (183.7 ypg). Dixon's a two-way threat as well, rushing for 35.6 ypg. However, there's going to be a weak point in their game, and it's a pretty glaring weak point: they're allowing 25.6 points per game and allowing nearly 150 yards on the ground. However, their pass D is still great - 1st in the Pac-10, 8th in the nation. Another weak point: they're -10 in turnover margin on the season. Of course, this also isn't even remotely mentioning the fact that both Dixon and his backup (Brady Leaf) have spent the last three games sucking.

5 Things to Watch When BYU Has the Ball (or is punting)
1: John Beck's effectiveness against the Oregon secondary. This will be the key matchup for BYU; if they win this, they'll probably win. Otherwise, who knows - it's certainly possible for BYU to win, but it's a lot harder. Food for thought: John David Booty - the leading passer in the Pac-10 - only passed for 176 yards against Oregon. John Beck passed for 313 yards against Wyoming (best pass D in the MWC).
2: Curtis Brown @ Fui Vakapuna vs. the record books. Well, by "record books" I mean "Oregon's front 7", but you get the idea. They haven't been able to stop most teams anyway, and the teams they did stop - Washington and Oregon State - don't have great running games. If Arizona (whose offense sucks) can run up 37 on you, what does that mean when you're facing an offense that can actually normally score that much?
3: Curtis Brown and the two-way effect. Brown is also their leading receiver (in terms of receptions, not yards), which should mean that he'll get his yards. Oregon will probably put a LB on him at all times to limit the damage he can do taking screens out of the backfield (based on his receptions, that'll be 4-5 times over the course of a game), and it'll be up to Brown to shake him and pop a big run.
4: Jonny Harline and the Oregon secondary. Harline is BYU's leading receiver, and it's not even close; he's also their leading TD man. Harline has to make a couple of big plays against the Oregon D in order to have a shot to win; McKay Jacobson is a good secondary receiver, but he's not the possession threat (with deep potential) that Harline is.
5: Kickoffs and punts. Although BYU hasn't run either a punt or a kickoff back for a TD, they've done well in the field position game (not quite the top of the MWC, but close), and if they can do that again here, that'll be another 20-30 yards that their offense won't have to cover.

5 Things to Watch When Oregon Has the Ball (or is punting)
1: Dennis Dixon vs. Brady Leaf. I'll be honest - I haven't been following Oregon much this year. However, it's kind of hard to miss the issues there; Dixon fell off the table against Washington State and hasn't gotten better. Of course, Leaf hasn't been great either. One of them has to step it up.
2: Jonathan Stewart vs. BYU's 8th man. I've got to think that BYU will just shove 8 in the box until either Dixon or Leaf can prove to be a credible passing threat, so it's up to Stewart to consistently make guys miss in the open field in order for Oregon's offense to do anything.
3: Jaison Williams' ability to get open. BYU's pass D isn't great, but since there's some QB troubles, it's up to Williams to force separation. He's Oregon's leading receiver - and it *really* isn't close with him. He's going for nearly 90 yards per game and about 6 catches as well. He needs to do that against BYU as well - and he should be able to.
4: Kent, Rosario, and Paysinger: who steps up? Those three receivers are largely interchangeable for the guy who lines up opposite Williams. Kent has had the biggest games - but both were in losses, Rosario has been the most consistent, and Paysinger had two big games in a row - but those were in the middle of the season. The signs would point to Kent being the most likely to have a true breakout game, but as long as at least one of them emerges as a credible threat, Williams should have a good shot. If two of them can draw BYU defenders, then Stewart should play well as a result (since three recievers will probably draw 4 defenders, leaving Stewart only needing to beat 7 in the box ... you can figure out the rest).
5: The turnover battle. I talked about this briefly earlier, but we'll revisit it here. BYU isn't the best at forcing fumbles, but they're normally good for at least 1 INT a game. Meanwhile, Oregon both coughs it up and lets it rip. Teams that are good at forcing turnovers perform well above their norms against Oregon. As a result, I wouldn't be surprised if Oregon throws a couple of picks and coughs the ball up once over the course of the game. That may be significant.

What to Expect in the Game
When I first looked at this game, I figured Oregon would walk. However, looking a little deeper at the stats and team performances, I'm not so sure of that. If Dixon can return to his early-season form then all bets are off, but I'm not sure that can happen. If that doesn't happen, BYU should carry this; their defense will at least force a couple of turnovers and their running game should at least be decent enough to pull off the win.