What do the Advanced Stats Say About the Las Vegas Bowl?
Bryant Conger | December 17, 2019
Chris Petersen takes a program that he didn’t quite get to the national title game and faces a previous program he didn’t quite get to the national title game, amirite? Seriously, though, it’s a testament to Petersen’s capacity as a leader, a developer of talent, and a strategist to watch his final game on the sidelines (for now) feature two programs that are significantly better off because of his involvement.
Storylines aside, the Las Vegas Bowl is an intriguing game. Washington is 7-5, unranked, and is a 3.5 point favorite over one of the best Group of Five teams in the country in Boise State. Beta_Rank agrees with Vegas. The model has Washington as a 7.22 point favorite. Boise can win this game but there is a reason Washington is favored. Petersen, who will coach in this game, and defensive coordinator/incoming head coach Jimmy Lake built a good team, particularly on defense. Washington fields the 9th best defense in the country according to Beta_Rank, the 11th best passing defense, 17th best rush defense, and a unit that places in the top-ten at preventing explosive drives and defensive play efficiency.
Washington’s Pass Defense is Elite, Boise’s Passing Offense is Good
Simply put, the Huskies make you earn every point, particularly through the air. The Huskies don’t allow big plays, a result of talent and a unique scheme that features two very, very deep safeties — so deep that you won’t see them on your screen. Led by first team all Pac-12 corner Elijah Molden and all safety/corner/everything Myles Bryant, Washington’s elite secondary will provide a challenge for Boise. But the Broncos are no pushover. They run an efficient (19th in offensive efficiency) and effective passing offense (37th in effective pass). The production from Boise is even more impressive when considering that their starting quarterback, Hank Bachmeier suffered a midseason injury. But senior Jaylon Henderson has played admirably, completing 63% of his passes for 1,032 yards while passing for 11 touchdowns and two interceptions in four starts.
Keep an eye on the production of Boise wide receiver John Hightower. The 6’2 senior is Boise’s most productive and explosive player, averaging 19 yards per catch while pulling in 963 yards and 8 touchdowns. But UW corner Elijah Molden is a bonafide NFL prospect — he and Kyler Gordon have the talent to keep Hightower and fellow receiver Khalil Shakir (834 yards | 8 td) in check.
Boise’s Ground Attack Faces a Solid UW Front Seven
In addition to an elite pass defense, Washington is also good at stopping the run. The loss of star linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven and defense tackle Greg Gaines from last year’s squad allowed this 2019 team to spread the productivity of the front seven across the full unit. It worked, Washington ranks 17th in effective rush defense and 17th in negative drives. Linebacker Joe Tryon has become a force in the second half of the season (12.5 tackles for loss) and lineman Levi Onwuzurike is probably deadlifting your refrigerator right now.
Boise State’s rushing offense fine, finishing 52nd in Beta_Rank. Freshman George Holani holds tremendous promise and finished the regular season with 979 yards, 7 touchdowns, and averaged 5.4 yards per carry. Boise also fields two solid backups in Robert Mahone and Andrew Van Buren. But the Broncos ground attack shouldn’t blow the doors off of this game and Washington’s strong, fast, and athletic depth chart will be the most talented that Boise has faced.
Washington’s Offense is Gross, But it May be Enough The loss of offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith, whom took the head coaching job at Oregon State, has hurt the Husky program. Without him, Washington’s offense has looked unimaginative at best and disjointed at worst.
The acquisition of blue chip Georgia transfer Jacob Eason was supposed to remedy the problem. Eason launched his Washington career by completing 64% of his passes for 2,900 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. That’s not bad. It’s also not excellent which, basically, sums up Washington’s offense. The Husky offense finished 61st in Beta_Rank with an experienced offensive line, a group of high-pedigree receivers, an NFL tight end, and a running back whom averaged 5.8 yards per carry last year.
A Key Omission in Washington’s Pass Attack Washington’s offense isn’t going to impress with big plays, they rank 66th in explosive drives and 90th (!!!) in play efficiency. But they do keep drives moving (26th in drive efficiency), just not on 3rd down, where they are awful. The decision of tight end Hunter Bryant, however, to forego this game could significantly harm UW’s ability to move the ball. Bryant was Washington’s top pass catcher with 825 receiving yards. Without him, Eason will rely on a decent but inconsistent receiving corps led by Aaron Fuller (673 yards | 6 touchdowns) whose production can vary widely. This is good news for Boise St., whose defense ranks 59th and placed 100th in drive efficiency. Even without Bryant, Washington should move the ball down the field, but in small chunks.
Boise Should Keep UW in Check on the Ground
Washington’s rushing attack finished a disappointing 74th. They do, however, feature two backs with talent. Salvon Ahmed may not have met the hype headed into 2019 but he still crossed the 1,000 rushing yards mark and averages 5.5 yards per carry. Freshman Richard Newton also shows promise, racking up 429 yards and 9 touchdowns in backup duties. Both will face the 51st ranked rush defense led by linebacker Curtis Weaver (18 tackles for loss) who will try to take advantage of UW offensive lineman Trey Adams’s decision to skip the Vegas Bowl to train for the NFL draft.
Don't Bet on This Game Unless You Like Uncertainty The Vegas Bowl be an interesting and likely slow matchup. Don’t expect many points or big plays. It is hard to see a scenario (outside of turnovers and special teams) where Boise State scores more than 30 points. UW’s defense is too good in pass protection and Boise’s rushing attack likely isn’t strong enough to break through Washington’s front seven.
But how many points can an efficient but meandering Washington offense drop on an average defense? Likely enough to win on December 21st. Laying -3.5 looks to be the right call but the absence of Trey Adams and Hunter Bryant adds significant uncertainty.