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BETTING

Utah vs. Northwestern Las Vegas Bowl 2023 Betting Analysis: Utes Will Run Over the Wildcats

Miki Suguturaga Utah Utes v Washington Huskies
Miki Suguturaga #47 of the Utah Utes celebrates his touchdown against the Washington Huskies. Steph Chambers/Getty Images/AFP

The top sportsbooks have released their betting odds for the Las Vegas Bowl between Utah and Northwestern.

Northwestern has been a popular bet, and the line has moved in its favor a couple points, accordingly. Don’t be one of those people to lose money to sportsbooks by betting on the Big Ten team.

Top Pick


Utah Utes vs. Northwestern Wildcats

Saturday, December 23, 2023 – 07:30 PM ET at Allegiant Stadium


Key Question

The key to betting on this bowl game is identifying what impact the absence of some Utah players will have on this game. Their absence presumably explains why the line has moved a couple of points in Northwestern’s favor.

People think that the Wildcats gain an edge by their absence, but are this line movement and this betting interest in the Wildcats justified?

Key Players Missing

The noteworthy players who will be missing for Utah are all-around player Sione Vaki, fellow safety Cole Bishop, and wide receiver Devaughn Vele.

The best argument that one can make for Utah missing these players is a bad one. This argument is that, in the one game the Utes played without Bishop, Arizona decimated Utah 42-18.

Bishop’s Absence Doesn’t Matter

Besides the obvious point that a one-game sample is negligible, it is unreasonable to point to Bishop’s absence as a reason why Utah lost to Arizona. This is because, with Bishop, Utah likewise struggled significantly to compete against other ranked opponents.

Moreover, Arizona has a much more potent offense than Northwestern. The Wildcats have good pass protection, for example, and benefited also from the absence of Utah’s top pass-rusher, Jonah Elliss. As a result, they were sacked one time whereas they attempted 33 passes. With ample time to throw, Arizona’s pass attack was able to find great success.

Northwestern’s Pass Attack

The Wildcats differ from Arizona because, even if Utah’s secondary was worse off without Bishop, Northwestern’s pass attack would still struggle. This is because the Wildcats have one of the worst pass protection units in the nation – they rank sixth-to-last nationally at limiting the rate at which they get sacked.

On the other side, Utah boasts a strong pass rush, led by Elliss, who will play in this bowl game and who has amassed twelve sacks this season.

Utah’s Running Game

Vaki would add to Utah’s rush attack if he were available, but the Utes also boast plenty of weapons without him.

Their leading rusher is Ja’Quinden Jackson, who averaged 4.8 YPC this season. Jackson has good vision as a ball carrier and easily accrues big gains with his cut-back ability.

Utah remains deep enough at running back with Jaylon Glover, who exceeded 100 rushing yards in the Utes’ final game of the season against Colorado, backing Jackson up.

Overall, Utah owns the 26th-ranked rush attack in the nation.

Northwestern’s Run Defense

Utah won’t have to pass much, because it can rely extensively on its ground game against Northwestern’s defense.

In its second-to-last game of the season, Northwestern allowed 303 rushing yards to Purdue. While the Wildcats allowed much fewer rushing yards in their final game of the season, against Illinois, they still managed to allow 43 points, to which point total Illinois’ rushing efficiency still contributed.

These games do not represent exceptions: run defense has been a big problem for Northwestern all season. The Wildcats rank in the bottom half nationally against the run, and Utah is just the team to take advantage.

Mobile Quarterbacks

It is all the more true that Utah is built to score a lot of points against Northwestern because its quarterback is a mobile one. Bryson Barnes likes to run the ball, and he’ll be able to run against a Northwestern defense that, for example, allowed 97 rushing yards to Duke’s quarterback.

More recently, the Wildcats allowed 85 rushing yards to Purdue’s freshman quarterback, Ryan Browne.

Barnes’ mobility will help Utah not miss the absence of its top wide receiver, but the Utes also have sufficient depth at the position, for which they’ve exceeded 30 points multiple times when their top wide receiver didn’t contribute much yardage.

Takeaway

Utah’s offensive prowess will create more issues for Northwestern’s offense, especially its pass protection problems, because the Wildcats will to pass to keep up – they won’t be able to run, anyways, against a top-level Utah run defense – and won’t be able to.

As a result, we’ll see the Utes be able to run up the score simply by running the ball, while Northwestern struggles to be productive with its one-dimensional offense.

NCAAF Pick: Utah -7 (-110) at Bet365 (check our Bet365 Review)

*The line and/or odds referenced in this article might have changed since the content was published. For the latest information on line movements, visit OddsTrader’s free betting odds tool.

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