SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl – Utah vs Northwestern

SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl – Utah vs Northwestern

This December 23, 2023 College Football Bowl Game SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl Bowl

SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl
Utah vs Northwestern
Las Vegas, NV
12/23/2023 – 7:30 PM EST

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Las Vegas Bowl: Northwestern Wildcats vs. Utah Utes

Two programs that are on and have been on opposite end of the spectrum for quite some time.Coming into the season, the expectations were high for Utah. Injuries quickly crushed thoseexpectations and now they are down to a 3rd string quarterback. Despite that, Kyle Whittingham guided this team to 8-4 and a top five finish in the Pac-12. Historically, Whittingham has been dominant in bowl games (11-5) but has failed to win a bowl game since 2017. Can the streak end in Las Vegas on December 23rd?

On the other side, we have a team nobody expected anything from. Northwestern was slated to be the laughing stock of the B10 with the firing of longtime coach Pat Fitzgerald. In steps David Braun who the players wanted and rallied behind. They finished 2nd in the B10 West with a 7-5 record after being picked to finish last among most polls. Even Vegas (no pun intended) had their win total at 2.5 which pretty much tells the story what the expectations were. Through all of this, Braun turned this season into one of the best they’ve had in a while and their first bowl berth since 2021.

Who’s in the bowl game from a player perspective? Who’s Out?

Knowing who is in and who is out is vital when picking a winner in office pools or if you are betting. In these lower profile bowl games, we can expect the more elite players to sit out. For this game there are a few key opt outs on each side. Utah is more effected by them with the absence of safety Cole Bishop, Safety/Running Back Sione Vaki, and WR Devaughn Vele.

On the Wildcats side, the only significant player is their best offensive lineman, Josh Priebe. Starting quarterback Bryson Barnes has entered the transfer portal but has stated that he will be playing in this game, which is a huge deal because if he was to not play, the Utes would be on a likely 4th string quarterback with minimal experience. Barnes split reps with Nate Johnson but will be asked to do a little more now that Johnson has entered the transfer portal.

Game Analysis & Breakdown for the 2023 Las Vegas Bowl

As mentioned in the open, both of these teams come into this game from two totally different perspectives. Although 8 wins is good, Utah was hoping for more this year. On the flip side, Northwestern has overachieved in every aspect. The physicality of the B10 West helps the Wildcats in this matchup. Utah is a power team on both sides of the ball, especially in the trenches.

The Utah passing attack is a non-factor, and the weakness of the Wildcat defense is indeed, their secondary. The key to success is putting the Utes behind the chains and in known passing situations. The Wildcats have a solid front led by two all B10 linebackers who each tallied 100 tackles this year. Will they shut down the run game? No, but I do think they can give them problems with their ability to contain the run game.

Utah also struggles in the RedZone, ranking outside the top 100. With a total set at 41.5, points will be at a premium and holding the Utes to three instead of seven is going to be key. Offensively, the Wildcats are balanced and have the ability to throw the ball with Ben Bryant who is extremely accurate and has mobility to evade that Utah pass rush. They don’t run the ball efficiently (outside top 100 in EPA per rush) but Cam Porter is a more than capable back that is going to have to get going so the Wildcats are not one dimensional.

Field position is going to be vital in this game as well, and that is something the Wildcats struggle with but Utah thrives. Utah is top 40 in both offensive and defensive field position while Northwestern is outside the top 100 defensively and just inside the top 90 offensively. Creating long fields for a non explosive offense like Utah is vital if Northwestern wants to win this game. Special teams and field position go hand in hand, and both teams will need to be discipline and mistake free to not give the opposition short fields.

Who Wins the Las Vegas Bowl in 2023? Why?

I’m going to ride with the underdog here. Thus far, underdogs in bowl season are 4-3 (5-2 against the spread). I think the Wildcats are fired up to be here and ready to give their new coach his first bowl victory. Utah’s inept offense added to being without two key pieces in the secondary is an issue. Ben Bryant has the ability to find his trio of weapons on the outside and take advantage of that weakness.

My concern is can they contain the pass rush and give him time to dissect the secondary. Another concern of mine is turnovers. Bryant has had 3 interceptions in his last two games. While extremely accurate, he does get a bit erratic at times. Turning the ball over is going to get you beat against a team as well coached and buttoned up as Utah, regardless of who is on the field. Teams who have had success against Utah took care of the ball and forced them to play from behind. That starts with plugging the run, in which Northwestern ranks inside the top 70 in rush success rate allowed.

Momentum coming in is on the side of the Wildcats, finishing the year winners in four of their last five. Utah (at full strength) limps in as losers in three of their last five. There is not going to be many possessions, so it’s vital that Northwestern capitalizes and is efficient when they do have the ball. If I was a betting man (which I am), I would take the +6.5 and sprinkle on the money line. If you are not a betting man (or woman), I do think picking Northwestern in an office pool is a good move


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