Willie Taggart is gone, but Oregon still has enough firepower to handle Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl
As the 2017 bowl season gets underway, the staff at SQ will be taking a look at some of the more interesting matchups. We continue our bowl coverage with the Las Vegas Bowl, featuring No. 25 Boise State and Oregon. This battle between two northwest rivals is slated for December 16 at 3:30 and can be seen on ABC.
Storylines Heading Into the Game
Willie Taggart heading to Florida State - The coaching carousel has started to turn and Florida State came calling for Willie Taggart. He’s an ace recruiter and brings a high-powered offense wherever he goes. Taggart has done a good job of bringing Oregon back to a bowl game after the Ducks finished 4-8 last season, and he should do well in his native state of Florida.
Boise State back to prominence? - Boise State hasn’t finished the season ranked in the top-25 since 2014, the last time they won the Mountain West title. However, the Broncos have a chance to return back to a more prominent spot if they can beat Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl. Boise State was able to defeat Fresno State in the Mountain West Championship this year, and finished the year ranked No. 25 in the last College Football Playoff ranking. If the Broncos are able to win this bowl game, it could put them back in the top-20 and signal a comeback for the program.
Oregon QB Justin Herbert back to full strength - Oregon has always been known for its high-flying offenses and the quarterbacks that lead them. This season has been no different as Justin Herbert has been essential to the Ducks’ success on offense. However, Herbert suffered a broken collarbone that forced him to miss five games. Without Herbert under center, the Ducks went just 1-4 compared to 6-1 with him commanding the offense. He’s been the key factor in making this offense go, completing 66.5% of his passes for 1,750 yards, averaging 10.3 yards per attempt. With Herbert healthy, the Ducks will make this game very competitive.
52 - As mentioned above, Oregon is 6-1 when Justin Herbert is leading the offense under center. And in those seven games, the Ducks average 52 points compared to just 15 points per game in the five he was unable to play in. The passing game was almost nonexistent when Herbert was out, as Oregon attempted just 81 passes and had three touchdown passes. With Herbert back, the offense has scored a combined 117 points in its last two games.
125.8 - One of the strengths of this Boise State defense is its ability to stop the run. The Broncos rank 20th in the FBS allowing just 125.8 rushing yards per game, and have given up over 200 yards rushing just once this season. Although Boise State doesn’t play in a Power Five conference, the Broncos held the two Power Five opponents they did play (Washington State and Virginia) to 189 yards on 67 attempts. Oregon, conversely, loves to run the ball and does a good job of it. The Ducks average 268 yards per game on the ground, so minimizing the damage against the run will be vital to slowing this offense down.
76 - Oregon ranked just 76th in passing defense, middle of the pack in the pass-heavy PAC-12. However, they are really good at breaking up passes, finishing the regular season with 63 pass breakups. Boise State’s strength on offense is passing, having thrown for 3,308 yards already this season (2nd in the Mountain West).
Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon - There has been a lot of speculation as to whether or not Freeman will actually play in this game, mostly as a means to avoid injury before the NFL Draft. However, Freeman could be the difference in this game for the Ducks. Freeman is currently seventh all-time in rushing yards, having rushed for 5,621 yards in his career. On top of that, he’s rushed for 100+ yards in 12 of his last 15 games. Freeman is the one steady factor that kept the offense going this season and should the Ducks be without him, it could throw a wrench into the gameplan.
Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State - Boise State is usually fortunate enough to have an outstanding running back on their team. While Alexander Mattison broke the 1,000-yard mark this season, there’s a chance he won’t see the field against Oregon after he was spotted in a walking boot right after the Broncos won the Mountain West Championship. Instead, the bulk of the offense will fall onto quarterback Brett Rypien, who will look to exploit an Oregon defense that allowed 229.9 passing yards per game this season.
Rypien is in the midst of a down year, having thrown for a career-low 2,515 passing yards. There’s also the fact that he’s had to split time with former Kansas transfer Montell Cozart, who has thrown for 10 touchdown passes of his own and adds a rushing component to the position. However, Rypien’s performance has picked up as of late, having thrown for 250 yards five times in his last six games and 12 touchdown passes in the process. With Rypien heating up, he could turn this game into a shootout.
Why Oregon Wins
When it comes down to it, Oregon has the better and more high-powered offense of these two teams. With offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal moving up to head coach, this offense shouldn’t miss a beat, especially now that Herbert is back at full strength. Although Boise State will look to control the run game, Herbert’s arm will make the difference. The sophomore makes this offense electric and will continue to do so against a Boise State pass defense that has allowed 706 passing yards and six touchdowns to Power Five foes Washington State and Virginia.
Even with the potential of Royce Freeman sitting out this game, Oregon still has two other very good options in the backfield to carry the load. Kani Benoit and Tony Brooks-James combined for 1,085 yards and 12 touchdowns while averaging 6.54 yards per carry. Conversely, the thought of Boise State missing its top running back will make its offense look a little more one-dimensional. Outside of Mattison, the Broncos don’t have a running back that has eclipsed 400 yards. With Oregon having Herbert and a bevy of other explosive options, the offense should be able to put up plenty of points.
Why Boise State Wins
Boise State’s defense is a major reason why it won the Mountain West title this season. The Broncos have allowed just 22.5 points per game this season while forcing 22 turnovers. This defense has done a great job at stopping the run, its lone blemish a 261-yard rushing performance by Colorado State. This is a unit that held one of the nation’s top rushers, Rashaad Penny of San Diego State, to just 53 yards. Against Oregon, Boise State will look to contain Freeman and his fellow rushers.
In addition, Boise State could get some help from the Ducks in the form of penalties. Oregon finished the regular season last in the nation in penalties (112), penalty yardage (1,053), penalties per game (9.3), and penalty yardage per game (87.8). It’s one thing to get called for a couple penalties in a game, but when you repeatedly shoot yourself in the foot, it’s going to come back to bite you.
Committing a lot of penalties would help any quarterback, but when you have a passer with Rypien’s talent, he’ll make you pay. With penalties galore and facing passing defense that allowed over 250 passing yards in eight of its first nine games, Rypien should be able to lead this team down the field enough times to put a good amount of points on the board.
Boise State has a history of beating PAC-12 teams in this bowl, having gone 3-0 against the conference in the Las Vegas Bowl. However, this is an Oregon team that could present too much of a challenge for the Broncos. There’s no question Cristobal is going to have Oregon all fired up and ready to go, and if Boise State can’t slow down the run early on, it’s going to be hard to control the Ducks’ momentum. Although Freeman is still questionable to play, Herbert and the rest of the offense pack plenty of punch to keep the ball moving.
However, if Boise State is able to grind out a couple of long scoring drives, it could be enough to win the game. Oregon doesn’t fly around the field like it did with Chip Kelly or Mark Helfrich, but winning the time of possession and using the clock against the Ducks should slow things down enough for the Broncos to come out with a win.
In the end, it’s going to come down to who has enough talent to outlast the other. With Mattison questionable, it’s going to be tough for Rypien to carry the load all by himself. Rypien is good enough to lead the team on a few scoring drives and Cozart offers a good change of pace in the offense, but this is an Oregon defense that has been very disruptive in the passing game over the last four games (30 tackles for loss, nine QB hurries). All that said, Oregon’s offense will be explosive, while the defense will come up with enough stops to limit the damage.
Final Score: Oregon 35 - Boise State 21
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