LAS VEGAS — Gary Andersen is a no-nonsense guy. The USU football coach doesn't yuk it up in press conferences or read the Top 10 list on Letterman. You won't see him leading a Conga line, either.
Most of the time, he's as serious as an eviction.
Still, he's as close to a Utah-Boise State expert as it gets. He coached 10 years as an assistant at Utah and played there, too. Meanwhile, his Aggies have lost by a combined score of 102-35 to the Broncos in the two years he's been in Logan.
Thus, he's the natural person to answer one basic question: If you were Utah, how would you stop Boise State in Wednesday's Las Vegas Bowl? Slash the bus tires?
The Utes are expected to lose by two-and-a-half touchdowns. They're missing their starting quarterback, who happened to be MVP of last year's bowl game. Most of their mojo left as soon as TCU stepped inside Rice-Eccles Stadium; the rest evaporated the instant they saw the Golden Dome of Notre Dame.
Now they have to stop Boise State. (Good luck on that.)
"It's going to be an interesting match-up to watch," Andersen said.
Maybe — in a Christians vs. lions sort of way.
Andersen is careful not to take sides. No reason to offend a conference colleague. Besides, why poke the giant? And since his ties to Utah go way back, he wouldn't want to upset anyone there, either.
"No predictions," he said. "I'm just going to sit on the couch and enjoy the game."
As long as he's watching, what steps could Utah take to ward off a Bronco rout? His answers:
Keep BSU from going on extended scoring runs. Andersen pointed out that when the Aggies played the Broncos, it was one-possession game, looking manageable, and suddenly it was a blowout.
"Seemed like only three or four minutes ran off the clock," he said.
Not exactly, but BSU did go from an eight-point lead at the end of the first quarter to a 36-point lead at the end of the third.
Time flies when you're getting creamed.
Respect Boise's defense. "People have known it for its tremendous offensive power for years. But they're a very good defensive team, very athletic," Andersen said. "You can't look and say they're an OK rush but they don't cover well. They're very well-rounded, they do everything well. So you have to respect their defense."
Translation: Don't throw into coverage and don't expect to run over them, either. Make it a deliberate, varied, consistent attack.
Pounce on turnovers. That sounds obvious, but since BSU rarely coughs up the ball, it's mandatory. BSU had only 15 turnovers this year, compared to 23 for Utah. So if by chance star QB Kellen Moore gets antsy, the Utes need to be on top of it.
Run the ball well. "At some point," said Andersen, "Utah needs to establish the run against Boise State."
That point would be, oh, 30 seconds into the game.
But since the Broncos are the sixth-best rush defense in the country, it won't be easy. It's not even likely. Still, it's the Utes' best shot.
Lastly, Andersen said, is for Utah to draw on its bowl history.
"Utah expects to go to bowls and win," he said of the Utes' nine-game bowl streak, "so they prepare very well, so that's a positive for Utah. But Utah is going to walk into any bowl game and expect to win."
It's half the battle.
The other half, of course, is talent. In that area, Andersen said the teams are "very close."
This, then, is the Utes' key to an upset: Limit Boise's scoring flurries, respect the defense, capitalize on turnovers and establish a run game.
At least if the Utes lose, they can't say nobody gave them a blueprint.
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