In what will likely prove to be the biggest test of the regular season for BYU, the Cougars are set to face the Boise State Broncos in Albertsons Stadium — where they are 0-5 all-time. BYU pulled off an upset victory against the13th ranked Broncos last season in Provo, but this will be the first time both teams are ranked heading into the matchup.
The Broncos are in their seventh season under head coach Bryan Harsin who has a 66-17 record in Boise. They have won the Mountain West Conference title three times during Harsin’s tenure and have made the championship game every season except for 2015. BYU is 3-5 against the Broncos since 2010.
Hank Bachmeier emerged as a promising quarterback prospect as a freshman last year but was sidelined by injury for much of the season. He played in the Broncos’ first game this year — a 42-13 win over Utah State on Oct. 24 — but was sidelined again the following week against Air Force. Junior quarterback Jack Sears took over for Bachmeier last week and was impressive with 291 yards and 3 touchdowns on 19-of-23 passing attempts. Sears transferred from USC, where he threw for 235 yards and two touchdowns in 2018. Regardless of who starts against BYU, the Cougars will have to prepare for two dynamic passers with a host of weapons at receiver and running back.
Junior wide receiver Khalil Shakir is a household name in Boise after racking up 872 receiving yards and six touchdowns last season, but he isn’t the only threat BSU has on offense. C.T. Thomas already has two receiving touchdowns this year, including a 75-yarder on the first play from scrimmage last week against Air Force.
The Broncos have two competent running backs in sophomore George Holani and junior Andrew Van Buren. Holani rushed for over 1,000 yards last season and will likely get the bulk of the carries but Van Buren is a good change-of-pace back who already has three touchdowns this season.
The strength of this Boise State team is their offense, they rank 3rd in the nation in yards per play and 5th in yards per pass and points per game. They rank 17th in the nation according to Football Outsiders efficiency ratings and 4th according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. Boise State has a variety of weapons on offense and Harsin won’t be afraid to try to convert on fourth down, forcing the Cougars to remain vigilant and focused defensively.
THAT IS HOW YOU GET A GAME GOING!!
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) October 31, 2020
Although not as prolific as their offense, BSU’s defense is a solid unit. The Broncos have a lot of experience at the linebacker position, led by senior Riley Whimpey who led the team in tackles last season. Junior Ezekiel Noa showed a lot of promise early on last season before suffering a season-ending injury four games into the season. Noa leads the Broncos in solo tackles this season and is expected to be a major part of their defense if he can stay healthy this year.
The Broncos didn’t return a single starter from their defensive line last season and suffered another setback this week when defensive end Demetri Washington was ruled out for the season after suffering a knee injury against Air Force. Sam Whitney and Shane Irwin are both experienced at the defensive end position, but Washington accrued 4.5 sacks in limited playing time last season and BSU will miss his pass rushing ability.
BSU has two seniors at cornerback, Jalen Walker and Avery Williams. Williams has four career interceptions as a Bronco, although all of them came during his freshman and sophomore seasons. The Broncos’ secondary hasn’t been tested much this season as they faced the triple-option offense run by Air Force last week.
As experienced as BSU is on defense, they have allowed 4.8 yards per rush and 263 rushing yards per game this year — both rank among the worst in college football. Although they will likely be the best defense BYU has seen this year, they don’t look to be significantly better than other teams on BYU’s schedule. They rank 45th according to Football Outsiders and 66th according to FPI.
Like BYU, Boise State has yet to face any high-quality opponents so it’s hard to say exactly what we will see on Friday night. The Broncos have been exceptional on offense so far, and although it has only been through two games, there is little reason to believe their offensive success won’t continue.
On paper, BYU has the better defense and should be healthy enough at key positions to give them the edge. If history tells us anything, this rivalry game will most likely be decided in the final minutes (or seconds) of the game and one mistake here or there could change the outcome.
BEAT BOISE STATE!! pic.twitter.com/zIXApkHyuT
— BYU FOOTBALL (@BYUfootball) November 6, 2020
BYU (9) at Boise State (21)
Date: Friday, Nov. 6, 2020
Time: 7:45 p.m. MT
Location: Albertsons Stadium, Boise, Idaho
Weather: Partly Cloudy, 58 degrees
Where to Watch: FS1
Where to Listen: KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM
Spread: BYU -4
Written by Bridger Beal-Cvetko
Bridger is a student at Utah Valley University where he studies journalism and mass communication. He is the sports editor of the on-campus newspaper, The Review. Bridger is a life-long Cougar fan and college football enthusiast.