Utah Utes, Broncos plenty motivated for epic bout

Who will land knockout punch?

Published: Monday, Oct. 5 2015 11:00 p.m. MDT

Sam Brenner (74) will start for the Utes in the Las Vegas Bowl. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Sam Brenner (74) will start for the Utes in the Las Vegas Bowl. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

LAS VEGAS — Perhaps it's only fitting that Boise State and Utah square off in MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.

If the original and most successful Bowl Championship Series busters can't tangle on a stage as grand as the Fiesta, Orange, Rose or Sugar bowls, the city that has hosted so many main events over the years may be just the venue.

Although the 10th-ranked Broncos (11-1) are the well-established favorites to deliver a knockout, the 19th-ranked Utes (10-2) are dangerous underdogs in bowl situations. Just ask Alabama.

Considering the recent histories of both programs, the so-called "Battle of the BCS Busters" has all the makings of an intriguing bout.

Both head coaches — Boise State's Chris Petersen and Utah's Kyle Whittingham — have acknowledged such. Each has noted that their teams will have their hands full.

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All the talk will stop, however, when the game kicks off this evening at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Ding. Ding.

That's when the only non-automatic qualifying programs to win two BCS games — let alone one — will clash for the first time since accomplishing such tasks.

And though it lacks the punch of a BCS game, there is still a lot on the line.

"It would be huge," Whittingham said when asked about the potential impact of a victory over the Broncos. "I think there's a lot of upside if we're able to come away with a win."

For starters, Utah is seeking its 10th consecutive bowl victory — the longest active run of success in the nation and tied for the second-best in history.

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A triumph would also give the Utes their 11th win of the season, a milestone only accomplished by the undefeated teams of 2004 and 2008.

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Then there's the redemption factor. A victory over highly touted Boise State could ease the sting of a 47-7 loss at home to a comparable TCU team.

The Utes, thus, have plenty to play for and they know it.

Senior captain Zane Taylor acknowledged preparation is ongoing and that "the hay is never in the barn." They'll keep working to get ready.

"It's a constant thing with preparation. We are nowhere near preparing because we prepare up to the kickoff of the game," Taylor said. "But we are right where we need to be. We are getting ready the way we need to. We are going to be ready to show up and play a great football game."

And that, he added, is why the Utes traveled to Las Vegas in the first place.

"Ultimately we're here to play a football game," Taylor said. "And it's a very big and important football game against a great team."

The Utes will play it, however, without two injured starters on offense — quarterback Jordan Wynn and left tackle John Cullen. They'll be replaced by Terrance Cain and Sam Brenner.

Much of the focus, obviously, will be on Cain. The senior is 9-1 as a starter at Utah, but is coming off a poor performance against BYU. Both drives he led ended with interceptions.

Cain is eager for another opportunity to play and Whittingham said the Utes have a good game plan in place to emphasize the quarterback's strengths.

That, however, isn't enough.

"There is no game plan if you can't execute," Cain said. "If you have a great game plan and you can't execute, it's pointless. So you've got to execute."

The Utes are doing so in practice, he added, but it's the game that counts.

"I think we had a good week of preparation," Utah receiver DeVonte Christopher while noting the good practices in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. "We got a lot of things done. We've still got some little things to clean up, but overall we're ready."

MAACO Bowl Las Vegas

No. 20 Utah (10-2) vs. No. 10 Boise State (11-1)

Wednesday, 6 p.m.

Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas

TV: ESPN Radio: 700 AM

e-mail: dirk@desnews.com

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