The last time Boise State played Oregon in football, it kicked off the Chip Kelly era for the Ducks. However, the ending to that 2009 season opener in Boise, a 19-8 victory for the Broncos, could not have been more ignominious as Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount punched Broncos defensive end Byron Hout, then went after a teammate and fans.
For the 26th Las Vegas Bowl, happening December 16, Ducks drama continues. When one-and-done coach Willie Taggart, 41, took the Florida State gig December 5, it marked the third time in his career that he had guided a team to a bowl only to not coach it in the postseason; that was his script a year ago, at South Florida. The Ducks promoted co-offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal to head coach.
Boise State and head coach Bryan Harsin (41-12 at Boise, 2-1 in bowl games), meanwhile, have been business as usual in preparation for the program’s 16th consecutive bowl game, and one that it won in 2010, ’11 and ’12.
Here’s what you need to know about the matchup.
Beware the Statue of Liberty, a bedrock of their postseason success. They relish gadget plays, especially the statue, deception they ran to perfection in that thrilling upset of Oklahoma in the Fiesta on the first day of 2007. Amos Alonzo Stagg, its 1908 inventor, would be proud. QB Brett Rypien, a 6-foot-2 junior from Spokane, is seasoned—as the nephew of two-time Super Bowl-winning QB Mark Rypien and as the offensive MVP of the Poinsettia Bowl as a freshman. He’s thrown for 2,249 yards this season, with 14 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Rypien’s favorite target—he wears No. 1 for a reason—is 6-foot-3 senior Cedrick Wilson, a former NJCAA All-America who has tallied 1,290 receiving yards (6th in the NCAA) as a senior, averaging 17.7 yards per nab. Alexander Mattison, a 5-11, 214-pound sophomore, has run for 1,024 yards and scored 11 times. Junior LB Leighton Vander Esch is a handful, registering among NCAA leaders with 129 total tackles (6th) and 81 solos (T-4th). Redshirt freshman Curtis Weaver’s official position is STUD, and the hybrid player showed it’s a worthy title with nine sacks, tying him for 13th in the nation. Oregon’s punting unit had best be vigilant about Avery Williams, one of only nine national players with multiple returns for a score. The 5-9 redshirt freshman and former walk-on averages 24.9 yards per kickoff return and 12 on punts, one of which he broke for an 81-yard TD. He will be the difference.
Their fortunes took a nosedive when QB Justin Herbert sustained a broken collarbone early in the season, but his return infused life back into the offense in home victories over Arizona and Oregon State. A 6-foot-6 sophomore from Eugene, Herbert owns a sterling 10.3 yards-per-attempts average, which would rate him third in the nation (behind Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma and McKenzie Milton of Central Florida) if he qualified. The game will showcase the fine career of Royce Freeman, the 5-11, 238-pound senior from Brawley, Calif., who has run for 5,621 yards over four seasons; only USC’s Charles White (6,245, 1976-79) tallied more in Pac-12 history. Freeman’s 60 rushing TDs are the most in league history. He has 1,475 yards (8th in the NCAA) and 16 TDs this season. We’re predicting tricks, so Boise better watch Freeman’s arm—as a freshman, he completed his only collegiate attempt, for a 26-yard scoring strike. When Freeman rests, Tony Brooks-James and Kani Benoit have combined for more than 1,000 yards on the ground. Arrion Springs, a 5-11 senior DB from San Antonio, has batted away 41 career passes, tying him for third on the all-time but relatively young NCAA chart. Jalen Jelks, a junior DE from Phoenix, is the disruptor, with a team-best seven sacks and 16 tackles for loss. They’re eighth in the nation, averaging 268 rushing yards a game.
Prediction: Boise State 31, Oregon 30
Las Vegas Bowl
Boise State (10-3) vs Oregon (7-5)
Sam Boyd Stadium
Saturday, Dec. 16, 12:30 p.m.
The Spread: Oregon -7½
Money Line: Oregon -300, Boise State +250
Tickets: $35-110, visit unlvtickets.com or call 702.739.3267/866.388.3267
History: Boise State leads, 2-0