by Celso Chamochumbi - 12/09/2005
Line: Cal -6
In a match-up that features two prolific passing offenses, the outcome of the game may very well hinge on which team is able to impose its running game. Regardless, offensive firepower will be plentiful, and on full display as the California Bears (5th in Pac-10) and the BYU Cougars (2nd in Mountain West Conference) tangle in the 2005 Las Vegas Bowl.
The Cougars will trek into Las Vegas by virtue of a strong 5-3 mark in conference play, but it should be noted that they only managed a 1-2 record against foes outside the MWC. The Bears, meanwhile, breezed through the early part of their schedule, peaking at 5-0, before dropping four of their last six games to finish at 7-4. This year marks the fifth time that the Pac-10 and the MWC have faced off in the Las Vegas Bowl, with each conference prevailing twice.
In recent years, motivated and hungry MWC teams like Utah (2001) and Wyoming (2004) have upstaged Pac-10 giants USC and UCLA, respectively, and the Bears better be careful. In the instances where the Pac-10 team has entered this game on a good note, however, the outcomes have not been in question.
Notably, Oregon State RB Stephen Jackson scored five touchdowns, while netting 200 all-purpose yards, to lead the Beavers to a 55-14 victory over the New Mexico Lobos in 2003. In 2002, interim coach Ed Kezirian rallied the Bruins to a convincing 27-13 victory over the aforementioned Lobos in a game which also drew attention because of the play of New Mexico's place kicker, Katie Hnida. Will this year's game resemble the close, hard fought battles edged out by the MWC underdogs, or will the Pac-10 use this game to propel itself into the bowl-season win column?
The two squads have not faced each other since 2001, but that does not mean that Cal players and fans have forgotten the 55-14 drubbing they endured in Berkeley four years ago. They will find solace in the fact, however, that the head coach (Tom Holmoe) they perceived responsible for such an embarrassment is now the athletic director at BYU. Beyond 'curious' or 'interesting', the Tom Holmoe connection has no bearing, and the public should undoubtedly be much more concerned with the actual protagonists.
Both offenses average more than 30 points per game (BYU 33.5, Cal 32.7), but each school relies upon a different focal point of attack. BYU QB John Beck and RB Curtis Brown have teamed to help generate 463.9 yards of total offense per game for the Cougars. Brown rushed for 1,095 yards this season and is merely one of the many playmakers available to execute BYU's spread offense.
The Bears have been forced to rely on the legs of Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett for offensive production this season. Known for his development of NFL QBs Trent Dilfer, Joey Harrington, and Kyle Boller, California Head Coach Jeff Tedford has been hard pressed to explain the lack of production from the QB position this year. For the bowl game, Tedford has committed to sticking with quarterback Steve Levy, a player who last season got some reps as a fullback and most recently played well in his first start at QB, engineering a 27-3 shellacking of Stanford.
While the passing game underachieved for Tedford, the running game exceeded all expectations. Lynch entered the season with high hopes after averaging nearly 8 yards/carry last year, but the numbers that he and Forsett (2,000 yards combined) have posted this season are truly remarkable considering that defenses game planned exclusively to stop the Bear ground attack. The Bears finished the season averaging 234 yards per game, while BYU grinded out 158 per contest.
The defenses of each team have played well enough to generally not blow many games. Although UCLA torched Cal for 47 points in a come-from-behind win in Los Angeles, and the Cougars allowed 51 and 41 points, respectively, in home losses to TCU and Utah, this game should not result in a blow out. Both teams will likely try to take the ball out of the other's hands, and attempt to control the clock via the ground game. Whichever team seizes control of the line of scrimmage, wins this game.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's football picks service.