The Holy War resumes in Sin City as No. 20 Utah (9-3, 6-3) takes on Brigham Young (9-3) in the Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium on Saturday.
The Utes were ranked as high as No. 3 and had early College Football Playoff aspirations as they started the season 6-0 beating teams like Michigan, No. 13 Oregon and No.23 California. Those hopes were mostly dashed in their first defeat, a 42-24 loss to USC, but Utah bounced back with two wins. However, the back-to-back losses at 8-1 proved to be more costly to the Utes than they could have imagined. In a 37-30 double-overtime loss to Arizona, Utah lost senior running back Devontae Booker to meniscus surgery that kept him out of the team’s final two games and now the Las Vegas Bowl. In just 10 games, Booker accumulated 1,261 rush yards, 11 touchdowns and seven games eclipsing the 100-yard mark.
He has been replaced by Joe Williams, who rushed for 308 yards and a touchdown on 60 carries the last two games with Booker out. Whether it was Williams or Booker in the backfield, Utah’s game plan against the Cougars was always going to heavily feature the run. In its three losses this season, BYU has allowed 246.6 rushing yards on average. Dual threat Utah quarterback Travis Wilson has thrown for 2,024 yards but also ran 467 yards and six scores.
The Cougars won games against Nebraska and No. 20 Boise State to start the season but lost road contests at Michigan and No. 10 UCLA to even up their record. But BYU turned it on and didn’t look back as they won seven out of their last eight games, including five wins by multiple scores. In the final two games of the year, BYU scored 103 points and gained 878 yards of offense against Fresno State and Utah State.
BYU quarterback Tanner Magnum closed out his regular season by throwing six touchdowns and no interceptions over the last three games. Magnum finished the season with 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions while throwing for 3,062 yards after taking over for the injured Taysom Hill. Mangum will have to be careful against a Utes pass defense that was the third most-efficient unit in the Pac-12 and lead the conference with 19 total interceptions.
Algernon Brown led BYU on the ground with 697 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, all in the final seven games while Mitch Mathews reeled in 52 receptions for 729 yards and 11 touchdowns of his own. The Cougars will attempt to end a four-game losing streak against the rival Utes in Bronco Mendenhall’s last game on the sidelines for BYU.
The Utes played in last year’s Las Vegas Bowl, winning 51-10 over Colorado State. BYU lost its second straight bowl game when they fell 55-48 to Memphis in double overtime of last year’s Miami Beach Bowl. The Holy War has taken place 95 times with Utah leading 57-34-4 but this is the first time the two will meet in a bowl game. In the most recent Holy War in 2013, Wilson threw for 273 yards and two touchdowns in a 20-13 Utes victory in Provo.
TV Channel: ABC
Start Time: 3:30 p.m.