Forget the conference, this is the nation’s most narrative-laden bowl game, featuring a head-on collision between Chris Petersen’s past and his present. Even if Petersen had nothing else going on in his professional life, he’d be at the center of every story in this game. Since it’s his last game on the sideline for the foreseeable future, get ready for an episode of “Chris Petersen, this is your life,” chalk full of trick plays, on-field proposals, and commemorative rocking chairs.
Of course, none of that has anything to do with what happens on the field. Boise’s 12-1 record is impressive, even if their strength of schedule leaves a lot to be desired. I give them credit for scheduling Florida State. It’s not their fault that the Noles got Willie’d into oblivion and that win meant very little. What we do know about Boise is that they steadied the ship despite the loss of freshman QB Hank Bachmeier. Senior Jaylon Henderson has been slightly less explosive (7.8 y/a vs. 9.1 for Bachmeier), but also less likely to throw a pick. The Broncos will lean on their running game, where George Holani and Robert Mahone have combined for about 1400 yards on over 5 y/c. Defensively, Curtis Weaver would be a nightmare if the Dawgs had an intact offensive line. Without Trey Adams and Jaxson Kirkland, his pass rush prowess is even scarier.
With injuries and unavailability plaguing both offenses, this looks like a defensive battle to me. The Huskies have trended upwards on that side of the ball since Edefuan Olofoshio plugged the biggest hole at ILB. The Husky offensive line will have to block better than it did in some of the let-down losses this year, but Terrell Bynum and Aaron Fuller should be able to get some separation against a defensive secondary that isn’t as physical as most in the Pac. If Jacob Eason can make smart, quick decisions, I think the Husky offense can score enough to support a solid defensive effort.
Washington- 27, Boise State- 20
With all the news around Husky Football and National Signing Day this week, it’s almost hard to remember the Huskies have a game this Saturday. Hopefully the team has had their eye on the prize because losing this game will really drag a disappointing season even deeper down. Not that a win will do much for the perspective of the season, but sending out Coach Petersen with a 1-5 bowl record is...sub optimal.
Boise State will enter the Las Vegas bowl with a tricky offense that could give UW some problems with its variety and adaptability. The scary thing about Boise’s offense is that they start fast. And putting Washington into a hole early, forcing them to throw and play catch up is not a recipe for success, especially against the Mountain West’s all time sack leader, Curtis Weaver. They are significantly better against the run than the pass, where they can be a bit boom or bust. Terrell Bynum will hopefully get lots of looks in the pass game as he is the next best weapon for Jacob Eason after Hunter Bryant who will be sitting the game out. Cade Otton should get plenty of opportunities, too. As always, getting Salvon Ahmed going early will open things up. Too often this season we’ve been entering fourth quarters and Ahmed has only 8-9 touches - that can’t happen against the Broncos with the Huskies’ next best weapon sitting out (Bryant.)
Defensively, the Dawgs need to be their disruptive best on the DL. Levi Onwuzurike, Joe Tryon, Ryan Bowman, and Tuli Letuligasenoa will have to occupy blockers and get into the backfield. Anything they can do to take the pressure off the LB corps; though I am hopeful Ulofoshio gets the start and is ready after additional practices. Boise State is very multiple and throws a variety of pre-snap shifts requiring the defense to either blow up plays before they can even get going, or stay disciplined and not get fooled.
Ultimately, I have a hard time seeing a Washington victory. Boise State is well coached enough to take advantage of our weaknesses and start fast. Not to mention, mentally this Husky team has been all over the place this year. I hate to say it, but if Petersen himself admitted that he wasn’t as excited and appreciative of the Rose Bowl as he should have been, I am not sure how fired up he will get this team to play in the Las Vegas Bowl against his former team, which is basically his worst nightmare. An offensive line that was already fairly up and down will be missing Trey Adams and Jaxson Kirkland, arguably the best player on the line. They obviously want to send Petersen out on top, but something about this game feels off to me.
Washington- 24, Boise State- 27
So much of this year’s Boise defense reminds me of this year’s UW defense -- good and bad. The main thing that stands out to me is that the Broncos’ run defense is kind of an all-or-nothing situation: you’ll either be stopped at the line of scrimmage or break off a 10-20 yard run. In that way, I could see the Dawgs having a couple three-and outs when Boise’s able to force them into too many passing downs, but Washington should also be equally able to have some very drawn out, extended drives. Their passing defense is interesting in that they’ve become much more opportunistic the second half of the season so, as of now, they’re similarly boom or bust: they’re always in good position, but will still give up their fair share of long throws OR intercept poorly thought out long throws -- there’s seemingly little in between. Combine these things together, and it seems clear that Washington’s offensive success depends on Bush Hamdan having patience in the run game along with Eason playing smart and not trying to press it downfield.
For the Dawgs on defense, I think it’s much less complicated; based on how they’ve played down the stretch, Washington should ~70% of the time be able to get the better of that matchup just playing as they do. That’s not a slam on BSU or anything, just reflective of how similar they are to UW -- including the fact that their offense can crush inferior opponents but isn’t designed to dominate, Oklahoma style, in even matchups where instead they’ll put a pretty equal weight on both sides of the ball.
My guess is a seven point margin and one crying Chris Petersen (not because of the score).
Washington- 28, Boise State- 21
Bowl games are always the worst for predictions. I should clarify bowl games like this one. Everyone tries their hardest for the New Year’s 6 bowls which Washington has been fortunate enough to be a part of for the past 3 seasons. Now we get a return to a relatively minor bowl where effort level and motivation become legitimate factors when trying to decide who will come out on top. Is one team disappointed to be there and so going to play with a general malaise? Or do they instead feel slighted and will come out with a chip on their shoulder?
One thing that is for certain is that Washington is not going to be playing without emotion. This will be the final game (at least for awhile) as a college coach for Chris Petersen and he brought in every single player on the Husky roster. Everyone on the sideline you would hope will be fully motivated to do everything they can to send him out on top. Especially against his former team. Hopefully Washington handles that emotion well and it doesn’t lead to them pressing and trying to do much which causes an error down the line.
If you look at any advanced statistic rather than wins and losses it makes sense that Washington is favored in this game. They’ve lost a lot of close contests and generally performed better on a per play basis than they have from a scoreboard perspective. Washington is no question the more talented team on paper but Chris Petersen got to where he is by winning bowl games at Boise against teams that were more talented on paper.
And Boise isn’t without elite talent. They will almost certainly have the higher selected player in next year’s NFL Draft with edge rusher Curtis Weaver. He put up dominant numbers against the Mountain West this year finishing with 13.5 sacks and could be taken in the middle of the 1st round. That’s especially problematic against an offensive line that suffered serious problems at the end of the year and will be without starters Trey Adams (draft) and Jaxson Kirkland (injury). Add on top of it that Hunter Bryant who has generally been QB Jacob Eason’s security blanket is missing the game as well to preserve his draft stock and I have real concerns about Washington’s ability to score points or avoid sacks.
The Broncos have quarterback questions of their own as true freshman Hank Bachmeier started the season and got off to a fantastic start before suffering an injury. Backup Chase Cord entered in relief for him in game #6 but struggled mightily in Boise’s lone loss to BYU and gave way to 3rd string Jaylon Henderson. Bachmeier came back to make one start against San Jose State but Henderson has been the guy the last 4 games putting up solid numbers and adding a rushing component to the position.
Washington’s run defense has largely been their Achilles heel but they’ve been better with Edefuan Ulofoshio in the starting lineup and Boise’s George Holani is a good runner but a completely dominant one. If Henderson gets the start at QB he has the ability to punish Washington on zone reads similar to Steven Montez in the first half of the Colorado game.
If Washington has their offense completely healthy then I take them in this one but I just worry we’re going to see Boise end up with 5+ sacks including a strip and score which winds up being the difference. Then again the Huskies could come out completely inspired and win this one by 20. No one knows. Welcome to bowl season.
Washington- 17, Boise State- 21
THE FINAL TALLY
Straight Up: Washington-2 , Boise State- 2
Against the Spread (UW -3): Washington- 2, Boise State- 2
Average Score: Washington- 24.0, Boise State- 22.3