WHEN THE BRONCOS HAVE THE BALL
Foot on the gas: It’s what fans want to see all the time, but seldom is it easy to accomplish. The Broncos have outscored teams 177-47 in the first three quarters this season, but have been outscored 69-35 in the fourth quarter.
Some of those games were never in doubt, but in some, it made the outcome far too interesting.
Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said this week, “I think everybody’s going to be a lot more on point” in late-game situations.
If the Broncos have a late lead against BYU, look for them to try to slam the door any way possible.
“When we can put those teams away, we need to put those teams away,” junior running back Jeremy McNichols said.
Look deep: Boise State has slowly found success throwing downfield, aided by the rise of junior wide receiver Cedrick Wilson. On Saturday, he was no more than a decoy with an ankle injury, and Harsin expects him healthy Thursday.
Wilson’s 18.8 yards per catch lead the Broncos. The Cougars are allowing 270 yards per game through the air. With stopping McNichols likely a focus, it could open up one-on-one opportunities for Wilson and company to produce in what could be a close game (combined score of the last five meetings is 135-134, in favor of the Cougars).
“In the back end, they’re doing a very good job in coverage. ... From the early games to where they are right now, you see some changes. And they’re hard to run against,” Harsin said.
13BYU (16, tied for seventh in FBS) has 13 more takeaways than Boise State (three, tied for last) this season.
WHEN THE COUGARS HAVE THE BALL
Height advantages: BYU’s leading receiver, Nick Kurtz (28 catches, 294 yards, 1 TD), is 6-foot-6, and sophomore Moroni Laulu-Pututau (17, 186, 2) stands at 6-4. Against a Boise State cornerbacks group all under 6-foot, this could be a mismatch.
“They’re still going to take their shots with their length on the outside,” Boise State defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said.
The Cougars spread the ball around, with five players having between 16 and 28 catches. Though Washington State did not have the rushing attack BYU does, it spread the ball around to great success in a 31-28 loss to the Broncos on Sept. 10.
“We’ve opened it up a little bit. We started really conservative at the beginning of the season,” BYU quarterback Taysom Hill said.
“(Coordinator) Ty (Detmer) is getting more comfortable and trusting us, and making sure we do take some shots or get tricky, that if we don’t have something there that we don’t turn the play into a negative one. I think that trust has been developed.”
Push ’em around: Boise State’s four starting defensive linemen check in at 256, 268, 276 and 239 pounds. BYU’s offensive line could have all five starters weigh at least 295 pounds.
Last week, Colorado State’s veteran, big offensive line got some movement against the Broncos and ran for 184 yards, sustaining drives late.
The Cougars will try to take advantage with Jamaal Williams and their rushing attack.
“It’s probably the biggest front we’ve seen so far,” Avalos said.
Corral that ball: The Broncos have twice muffed punts this season, and Colorado State twice recovered onside kicks in Saturday’s game. In what likely will be another close game, this could make a huge difference.
“It comes down to fixable moments, and that’s what we’ll concentrate on this week,” Harsin said.
Be disciplined: BYU ranks 22nd nationally in kick return defense, allowing 17.6 yards per return, a long of 36. The Cougars are 21st in punt return defense, yielding 3.0 yards per return.
The Broncos have not been terribly successful returning the ball and face a test against BYU.
“They do have very good speed on special teams, and we’re going to have to be able to come out there and play fast as well, a lot faster than we’ve been playing,” Harsin said.