Boise State with the ball
Crank it up: Boise States new fast-paced offense has sparked significant improvement this season. And it should be on display against Wyoming, which admittedly isnt built to handle an onslaught of quick snaps. We dont have enough depth to play 95 plays and play at a high level, coach Dave Christensen said. The offense has to be executing, putting points on the board and not giving the defense poor field position.
Watch for Yarbrough: Wyoming sophomore defensive end Eddie Yarbrough is one of the Mountain Wests most productive linemen. He has 4.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss and leads all Mountain West linemen with 7.8 tackles per game. Boise States Demarcus Lawrence is second with 6.1.
Wyoming with the ball
Balanced approach: The Cowboys fast-paced attack features a potent, three-pronged approach. Quarterback Brett Smith averages 5.2 yards per carry, tailback Shaun Wick averages 6.5 yards per carry, and leading receivers Dominic Rufran (11.9 yards per catch) and Robert Herron (14.9) provide punch in the passing game. So whether Smith keeps, hands off or throws, big plays are common. Dominic and Robert, theyve really stepped up and helped me, Smith said.
Who will play? The Broncos two starting safeties, top two middle linebackers, starting weak-side linebacker and top defensive tackle have missed time recently. With the bye last week, its unclear who will be ready to play Saturday.
No. 1 in the land: Boise State leads the nation in punt returns with a 19.4-yard average. Shane Williams-Rhodes averages 18.5 yards and that number has been increased by his backups, who have delivered returns of 48 (Donte Deayon) and 21 (Bryan Douglas) yards.
Booming punts: The Broncos have climbed to 10th in the nation in net punting. Co-starters Trevor Harman (67 yards) and Sean Wale (63) each have drilled a 60-yarder this season.
Field-goal failures: Wyomings opponents are 5-for-12 on field goals this season. The Cowboys have blocked two kicks. Meanwhile, Wyoming has hit just three field goals in five attempts. Boise States Dan Goodale is 10-for-11.
WYOMINGS DEFENSIVE BACKS VS. BOISE STATES WIDE RECEIVERS
Boise States wide receivers had not lived up to their advance billing until the Nov. 2 game at Colorado State, when they repeatedly made difficult catches and generated long gains after the catch. They combined for 17 catches for 296 yards (17.4 yards per catch) and five touchdowns.
Now the group, which could get Kirby Moore back this week if his troublesome foot cooperates, gets a shot at a Wyoming defense that ranks 93rd in passing yards allowed (244.9 per game) and 107th in pass-efficiency defense (153.84).
The catches the Broncos made against Colorado State could have a lasting effect. Backup quarterback Grant Hedrick took a few chances and they rewarded him.
A lot of it is giving Grant confidence to give us those balls to go make those plays, said Matt Miller, who made two tough catches in the end zone.
The Cowboys have allowed 14 touchdown passes in the past four games, including nine in the past two.
All good defenses bounce back, Wyoming safety Marqueston Huff said. Weve got to go execute our game plan. Ive been proud of the effort weve given. You cant take that away. Were not always in the right position, but were going to give 100 percent.
Boise State players to watch
MATT MILLER, WR
Miller, who tied for the team lead with 62 catches in 2011 and was first with 66 in 2012, is second with 53 catches this year.
He made six catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns in the Broncos last game, Nov. 2 at Colorado State. That followed an October in which he caught 12 passes for 116 yards and no touchdowns in three games and prompted a pledge from coach Chris Petersen to get him the ball more.
You can move guys around (the formation) to where the percentages probably go up where he has a better chance to get it, Petersen said. At the end of the day, thatll help.
Said quarterback Grant Hedrick: Were just putting him in different spots to go make plays. He needs to get more touches.
Miller did not say one word to the coaches about his lack of action, Petersen said. Still, the unassuming junior noticed his dwindling stats.
I was kind of getting a little frustrated for a while, he said. The ball wasnt bouncing my way. A lot of it is on my shoulders, just getting open and making sure Grant has enough time and sees me being open.
TROY WARE, WR AND ROBERT ASH, DT
Ware and Ash, both sophomores, are among the players who have emerged from oblivion to fill injury voids this season.
Ware has seven catches for 84 yards and two touchdowns. Ive enjoyed it a lot, he said. Im starting to get more playing time. They see what I can do on the field. Theyre getting more trust in me, really.
Ash, who has moved to the offensive line and back this year, made two of his five tackles this season against Colorado State, when he took 40 snaps. Hopefully I can stay in the rotation, he said. Im going to try my best.
Wyoming players to watch
BRETT SMITH, QB
The junior needs 208 yards this week to break the school record for career total offense. He has 9,368 yards rushing and passing, and has accounted for at least one touchdown in a Mountain West-record 32 straight games every game of his career.
He has helped the Cowboys generate 491.8 yards per game, within reach of the school record for a season (498.9).
Smith has struggled in two starts against the Broncos 115 yards, one TD as a freshman and 225 yards, two TDs as a sophomore but hes got their attention.
Hes as troublesome as anybody thats out there, Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. Hes one of those guys who sometimes when its all not just right is at his best. Those guys are extremely scary for coaches.
Smith ranks 13th in the nation in total offense this season but is 57th in pass efficiency.
I base my performance off wins, he said. Im a little disappointed weve struggled the last few weeks.
SHAUN WICK, RB
Wick ranks fifth in the Mountain West with 823 yards, and his 6.5-yard average is second-best among the running backs in the leagues rushing top 10. The sophomore has helped transform Wyoming from one of the Mountain Wests worst rushing teams into one of its best.
Its huge having him back there, Smith said. Hes such a special player. He works so hard. Hes such a tough, physical runner.
JORDAN STANTON, LB
The junior middle linebacker ranks third in the nation with 12.2 tackles per game in his first season at this level, after beginning his career at Los Angeles Pierce Community College. He has reached double digits in tackles six times, including 17 last week against Fresno State.
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398; Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat