Boise State Football

Who has the edge and players to watch as Boise State travels to rival BYU

WHO HAS THE EDGE?

When the Broncos run the ball

Boise State’s running game hasn’t been all that consistent this fall, but the Broncos are coming off one of their best rushing performance of the season. Against Hawaii, running backs Robert Mahone and George Holani combined for 138 yards and they scored two of the Broncos’ three rushing touchdowns. Holani averaged 7.1 yards per carry and caught two touchdowns.

“He’s just got a way about him to be able to slip tackles and find open space and find his way into the end zone,” Boise State offensive coordinator Zak Hill said. “He’s just a natural football player.”

BYU is giving up 224.5 rushing yards a game, which ranks No. 123 in the country. Last week against South Florida, the Cougars surrendered 243 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in a 27-23 loss.

If mobile quarterbacks Chase Cord and Jaylon Henderson handle the majority of the snaps, Boise State will have even more of an advantage on the ground. But Mahone knows better than to trust stats heading into a game at BYU.

“Even though their rank is that low, when they play us it’s going to be another level,” he said. “I expect those guys to come out and play hard and play better than their ranking.”

Edge: Boise State

When the Broncos pass the ball

John Hightower worked hard this offseason to be able to do more than run a “nine route,” which is also known as a fly or go route and simply asks the receiver to go deep. The problem is he’s the fastest player on the field more often than not, and he’s so good at getting vertical.

He’s averaging 18.5 yards per catch and he has gone over 100 receiving yards in each of the past two games, including 141 yards and two touchdowns last week against Hawaii.

“He is in an elite group amongst the country with that kind of speed because it’s real game speed,” Boise State wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau said.

Hightower’s top competition in a footrace may also wear Boise State colors. Receivers CT Thomas, Khalil Shakir and Akilian Butler are all elusive and they’ve combined for eight total touchdowns this season (six receiving, two rushing).

Edge: Boise State

When the Cougars run the ball

BYU lost its leading rusher when graduate transfer Ty’Son Williams went down in the Toledo game with a torn ACL. His 264 yards and three touchdowns are both team highs.

Quarterback Jaren Hall led the Cougars with 83 yards and a touchdown on the ground against USF, but his status is uncertain after suffering a possible concussion. The Cougars also got 73 yards and 6.6 yards a pop out of redshirt sophomore Lopini Katoa and converted more than one third-and-short with a handoff to 225-pound senior Emmanuel Esukpa.

“We drive the field really well, we’ve done it week in and week out. We just need to score,” Katoa said Monday during the Cougars’ weekly press conference.

The Broncos are giving up 125 rushing yards a game, which ranks No. 5 in the Mountain West Conference and No. 42 in the nation.

Edge: Boise State

When the Cougars pass the ball

Zach Wilson is out with a hand injury. Hall may be out with a concussion. The Cougars might be down to their third quarterback Baylor Romney, who completed 6-of-10 passes last week and moved the Cougars down the field on a couple drives that stalled in the red zone.

“From what I saw from him on Saturday, I was super impressed,” Katoa said. “He came in with confidence and he was relaxed. I looked him in the eyes when we were driving down the field and it felt like he had been playing the whole game.”

If Romney does get the start, he’ll be throwing to his brother, Gunner, who caught four passes for 47 yards last week against USF. Slot receiver Alevo Hifo (23 catches, 303 yards, two TDs) and tight end Matt Bushman (23 catches, 297 yards, TD) lead the Cougars’ receivers.

Boise State gave up 325 yards and four touchdowns through the air last week against Hawaii, but this season, the Broncos are giving up 202.7 passing yards a game, which ranks No. 2 in the Mountain West.

Edge: Boise State

Special teams

Hifo has returned just five punts all season, but averages a respectable 19.2 yards per return. Katoa leads the team with 26.5 yards per kick return, but the kickoff coverage team gave up 151 return yards last week to USF’s Bentlee Sanders, including one that covered 61 yards.

“There are things where we give a lot of credit to the other team for making plays, but we can definitely help out on our end,” BYU coach Kalani Sitaki said Monday during the Cougars’ weekly press conference. “That’s something that we’re looking to get better at.”

BYU kicker Jake Oldroyd is 13-for-17 on field goals and 2-for-2 from beyond 50 yards. His season long is 54.

Aside from a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Hightower against Portland State, Boise State isn’t getting much out of the return game. And the Broncos’ kickoff and punt return units have been plagued by penalties.

Kicker Eric Sachse is 8-for-9 on field goals, and punter Joel Velazquez averaged 42 yards per punt last week against Hawaii.

Edge: Push

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Boise State defensive STUD Demitri Washington flexes after a hard tackle on Hawaii wide receiver Cedric Byrd II in the third quarter on Saturday at Albertsons Stadium in Boise. Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

PLAYERS TO WATCH

BOISE STATE

Demitri Washington, STUD

Washington, a 6-foot-3, 254-pound redshirt freshman, saw the most playing time he has seen this season last week against Hawaii. The Broncos put him on the field in an effort to disrupt the timing of Hawaii’s passing game, and though he didn’t record a sack, he did force Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald out of the pocket a time or two.

“When he comes to practice, he probably has one of the greatest mentalities and mindsets on and off the field,” fellow STUD Curtis Weaver said. “So, just seeing him out there making plays was great.”

DeAndre Pierce, S

Last Saturday’s win over Hawaii marked Pierce’s first action since the season opener against Florida State. His return added another layer to a secondary that is already the Broncos’ deepest unit, and many of Pierce’s teammates see him as a coach on the field.

“Just playing different positions and stuff, you know having a guy like DP that already knows everything, I can easily just go to him with a question if coach is busy,” said safety Tyreque Jones, who filled in for Pierce while he was injured.

George Holani, RB

Last weekend against Hawaii, Holani — a 5-11, 192-pound true freshman — became the first Boise State running back to catch two touchdown passes in a game since Dan Paul caught three in 2009 against Nevada. Holani dived over a tackler and stretched for the pylon on the first and dropped his shoulder and ran through a defender on the second. He capped his performance with a 40-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

“George is explosive, shifty, strong,” Boise State running back Robert Mahone said. “Like I said before the season started, you guys will be hearing about him.”

BYU

Lopini Katoa, RB

Katoa, a 6-1, 210-pound redshirt sophomore, led the Cougars last season with 423 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. After Ty’Son Williams went down against Toledo, Katoa was thrust back into action last weekend and put up 73 yards on 11 carries. On Monday, he said the offense is going to have to be more productive to compete this week.

“I’m sure everyone feels the same way, we know that there’s work to be done,” Katoa said. “I guess the best way to say it is we’re just unsatisfied right now.”

Chaz Ah You, LB

Ah You — a 6-2, 206-pound sophomore outside linebacker — nabbed his first career interception last week against USF. He posted a season-high seven tackles against Toledo and his first career sack in the second game of the season against Tennessee.

“I was hoping it would be happier circumstances after that, but I’m glad I was able to provide our offense with an opportunity,” Ah You said of his interception Monday during the Cougars’ weekly press conference. “It felt good but could feel better.”

Matt Bushman, TE

Bushman, a 6-5, 245-pound junior, has been the Cougars’ leading receiver the past two seasons. As a freshman in 2017, he caught 49 passes for 520 yards and three touchdowns. Last season, he hauled in 29 passes for 511 yards and two scores, and this fall, he’s tied with Hifo with a team-high 23 catches and has 297 yards and a touchdown to his credit.

“I know we have playmakers,” Katoa said. “We have players at every position who can get in the end zone and who can win their one-on-one battles.”

BOISE STATE DEPTH CHART

Quarterback

19 Hank Bachmeier, 6-1, 202 (Fr.)

10 Chase Cord, 6-2, 208 (RSo.)

9 Jaylon Henderson, 6-1, 210 (RSr.)

Running back

34 Robert Mahone, 5-10, 218 (RJr.)

21 Andrew Van Buren, 6-0, 223 (So.)

24 George Holani, 5-11, 192 (Fr.)

Wide receiver

16 John Hightower, 6-2, 172 (Sr.)

1 Octavius Evans, 6-1, 209 (Jr.)

Wide receiver

6 CT Thomas, 5-8, 182 (Jr.) OR

2 Khalil Shakir, 6-0, 186 (So.)

Wide receiver

7 Akilian Butler, 5-10, 182 (RSr.)

82 Stefan Cobbs, 6-0, 178 (RFr.)

18 Billy Bowens, 6-1, 187 (RFr.)

Tight end

85 John Bates, 6-6, 255 (RJr.)

5 Garrett Collingham, 6-4, 242 (RSr.)

47 Matt Pistone, 6-3, 246 (RSr.)

88 Tyneil Hopper, 6-2, 231 (RFr.)

Left tackle

76 Ezra Cleveland, 6-6, 310 (RJr.)

73 Nick Crabtree, 6-7, 295 (RJr.)

Left guard

77 John Molchon, 6-5, 318 (RSr.)

72 Dallas Holliday, 6-3, 306 (RFr.)

Center

67 Garrett Larson, 6-4, 303 (RSr.)

55 Kekaniokoa Holomalia-Gonzalez, 6-2, 293 (RFr.)

Right guard

79 Eric Quevedo, 6-4, 302 (RSr.)

68 Jake Stetz, 6-2, 294 (RSo.)

Right tackle

70 John Ojukwu, 6-6, 300 (RSo.)

69 Garrett Curran, 6-5, 292 (RFr.)

Defensive end

93 Chase Hatada, 6-3, 262 (Sr.)

54 Matt Locher, 6-2, 270 (RSr.) OR

40 Jabari Watson, 6-1, 269 (RJr.)

Nose tackle

98 Sonatane Lui, 6-1, 283 (Sr.)

57 Emmanuel Fesili, 6-2, 312 (Sr.) OR

90 Scale Igiehon, 6-2, 306 (So.)

Defensive tackle

55 David Moa, 6-3, 296 (6YSr.)

62 Scott Matlock, 6-4, 283 (RFr.)

STUD end

99 Curtis Weaver, 6-3, 265 (RJr.)

38 Demetri Washington, 6-3, 254 (RFr.)

Weak-side linebacker

44 Riley Whimpey, 6-1, 233 (Jr.)

3 Brandon Hawkins, 6-2, 217 (RFr.)

Middle linebacker

25 Benton Wickersham, 6-2, 230 (R.Jr.)

48 Bruno DeRose, 5-11, 223 (RJr.)

Nickel/strong-side LB

28 Kekaula Kaniho, 5-10, 182 (Jr.)

20 Roman Kafentzis, 6-1, 212 (RSo.)

Cornerback

26 Avery Williams, 5-9, 198 (RJr.)

8 Markel Reed, 6-0, 176 (Fr.)

Cornerback

15 Jalen Walker, 6-0, 179 (RJr.)

22 Tyric LeBeauf, 6-2, 180 (RFr.)

Boundary Safety

10 Kekoa Nawahine, 6-2, 207 (Sr.)

33 JL Skinner, 6-4, 213 (Fr.)

Field Safety

4 DeAndre Pierce, 5-11, 180 (RJr.)

21 Tyreque Jones, 6-2, 201 (RSo.) OR

5 Evan Tyler, 6-2, 195 (RSr.)

Kicker

36 Eric Sachse, 5-10, 198 (RSr.)

46 Joel Velazquez, 6-0, 225 (RJr.)

Kick returner

16 John Hightower, 6-2, 172 (Sr.)

26 Avery Williams, 5-9, 198 (RJr.)

Punter

46 Joel Velazquez, 6-0, 225 (RJr.)

36 Eric Sachse, 5-10, 198 (RSr.)

Punt returner

26 Avery Williams, 5-9, 198 (RJr.)

2 Khalil Shakir, 6-0, 186 (So.)

BYU DEPTH CHART

Quarterback

3 Jaren Hall, 6-1, 205 (R-Fr.)

16 Baylor Romney, 6-2, 193 (R-Fr.)

Running back

33 Emmanuel Esukpa, 5-11, 225 (R-Sr.)

4 Lopini Katoa, 6-1, 210 (R-So.)

Wide receiver

21 Talon Shumway, 6-3, 210 (R-Sr.)

86 Keanu Hill, 6-4, 210 (Fr.)

Wide receiver

13 Micah Simon, 6-1, 195 (R-Sr.) OR

18 Gunner Romney, 6-3, 188 (So.)

Wide receiver

15 Aleva Hifo, 5-10, 187 (Sr.)

82 Dax Milne, 6-0, 187 (So.)

Tight end

89 Matt Bushman, 6-5, 245 (Jr.)

17 Moroni Laulu-Pututau, 6-5, 240 (R-Sr.)

Left tackle

67 Brady Christensen, 6-6, 295 (R-So.)

59 Thomas Shoaf, 6-5, 300 (R-Sr.)

Left guard

77 Chandon Herring, 6-7, 310 (R-Jr.)

74 Kieffer Longson, 6-7, 319 (R-Jr.)

Center

66 James Empey, 6-4, 300 (R-So.)

73 Caden Haws, 6-2, 300 (Fr.)

Right guard

69 Tristen Hoge, 6-5, 310 (R-Jr.) OR

56 Clark Barrington, 6-6, 310 (R-Fr.)

Right tackle

61 Keanu Saleapaga, 6-6, 310 (R-So.) OR

76 Harris LaChance, 6-8, 310 (R-Fr.)

Defensive end

99 Zac Dawe, 6-4, 265 (R-Jr.)

90 Devin Kaufusi, 6-7, 257 (So.)

Nose tackle

95 Khyiris Tonga, 6-4, 321 (Jr.)

62 Atunaisa Mahe, 6-1, 307 (R-Fr.)

Defensive tackle

93 Bracken El-Bakri, 6-3, 290 (R-Jr.)

55 Lorenzo Fauatea, 6-4, 300 (R-So.)

Defensive end

52 Trajan Pili, 6-2, 255 (R-Sr.)

58 Uriah Leiataua, 6-4, 262 (R-Jr.)

Linebacker

53 Isaiah Kaufusi, 6-2, 215 (R-Jr.)

49 Payton Wilgar, 6-3, 235 (R-Fr.)

Linebacker

41 Keenan Pili, 6-3, 224 (R-Fr.)

34 Kavika Fonua, 6-0, 210 (R-Jr.) OR

49 Payton Wilgar, 6-3, 235 (R-Fr.)

Linebacker

3 Chaz Ah You, 6-2, 205 (So.)

17 Matthew Criddle, 6-1, 205 (R-So.)

Cornerback

11 Isaiah Herron, 6-1, 175 (R-Fr.)

16 D’Angelo Mandell, 6-1, 205 (R-So.)

Safety

27 Beau Tanner, 6-0, 189 (R-Sr.)

28 Sawyer Powell, 6-1, 200 (R-Sr.)

Safety

2 Austin Lee, 6-0, 200 (R-Sr.)

12 Malik Moore, 6-1, 186 (So.)

Cornerback

5 Dayan Ghanwoloku, 5-11, 200 (R-Sr.)

32 Shamon Willis, 5-10, 180 (R-So.)

Kicker

39 Jake Oldroyd, 6-1, 195 (R-Fr.)

20 Skyler Southam, 6-0, 200 (So.)

Kick returner

4 Lopini Katoa, 6-1, 210 (R-So.)

82 Dax Milne, 6-0, 187 (So.)

Punter

39 Jake Oldroyd, 6-1, 195 (R-Fr.)

19 Danny Jones, 6-4, 245 (R-Jr.)

Punt returner

15 Aleva Hifo, 5-10, 187 (Sr.)

5 Dayan Ghanwoloku, 5-11, 200 (R-Sr.)

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Ron Counts is the Boise State beat writer for the Idaho Statesman. He’s a Virginia native and spent that past three years covering University of Virginia.
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