From the moment Thursday night’s game vs. BYU kicked off, Boise State nose tackle David Moa knew he had a tough task ahead of him. His group of defensive linemen were at a clear disadvantage.
The Cougars’ starting five offensive linemen average a massive 306.2 pounds. The Broncos’ defensive line checks in at 259.8.
If that wasn’t enough to stress out Moa, a sudden inability to put his shoe on late in the fourth quarter during BYU’s final drive probably didn’t help.
“He couldn’t get his shoe on. That was the most stressful time of the game, is we can’t get David Moa in the game because he can’t get a shoe on,” Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin said. “(That) and being outweighed by X amount of pounds probably caused a lot of anxiety.”
Moa eventually got his cleat on and, despite the all-around disadvantages his defensive front faced, the Broncos held a Cougars’ running game that came in averaging 200.9 yards per game to 66 in the first half and 135 overall.
“We executed the game plan. It goes back to Day 1 of practice, where we have to execute,” Moa said. “Technique, making sure we have all our keys, (and) we’re playing with great eyes.”
The Broncos lived in the BYU backfield all night, finishing with nine tackles for loss and four sacks of elusive dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill. Moa and fellow defensive tackle Elliot Hoyte combined for 2.5 sacks.
BYU played without star tailback Jamaal Williams, who reportedly tweaked his ankle in pregame warmups.
Losing the nation’s second-leading rusher (942 yards) was a huge blow to the Cougars, but in his place was a capable replacement in former Boise State commit Squally Canada. Canada came in averaging 5.2 yards per carry in relief of Williams; he had 88 yards on 21 carries Thursday.
“The credit really goes to the coaches,” Boise State linebacker Tanner Vallejo said. “We did a little movement (up front). (Coaches) were in here until about 2:30 in the morning this whole week, getting us prepared and in the positions to make the plays.”
BYU averaged 3.6 yards per carry against the Broncos, down from its 5.0 season average. In total, the Cougars’ offense amassed 114 yards in the first half and 322 in the game, a far cry from their 405-yard-per-game average.
BYU’s interior offensive line consisted of center Tejan Koroma (295 pounds) and guards Tuni Kanuch (330) and Keyan Norman (305). Boise State countered with nose tackle Moa (268) and defensive tackle Hoyte (276), and the Broncos were able to keep pace with the oversized Cougars’ front by controlling their gaps.
“I think our guys played fast. (BYU is) bigger, but just because a guy’s bigger, it’s still a gap. A gap has to be maintained. A gap has to be occupied by the defense,” Harsin said. “They might be bigger, but we’re still occupying it.”
Harsin also applauded the play of the linebackers, who were able to prevent big plays at the second level the entire night. Ben Weaver, Darren Lee and Vallejo combined for 29 tackles.
“I’ll tell you, Ben Weaver had shoestring, knee tackles that, we all know, you’re just sitting there biting your nails,” Harsin said. “That’s where your linebackers come into play. And they certainly did that.”
Hill, who entered the game as BYU’s second-leading rusher with 324 yards, was held to 18 in the first half and 48 overall. He was forced outside the pocket on several occasions, leading to errant throws and a final line of 21-for-39 passing for 187 yards.
The senior’s final two pass attempts on BYU’s potential game-winning drive came up short partly due to interior pressure.
“The guys up front, with our D-line, we’re probably going to be outweighed (most of the time),” Harsin said. “But we still come up with guys making plays.”