The Boise State and BYU football programs built their national reputations with innovative offenses, but their rivalry has been defined more by defense.
In nine meetings, Boise State has scored 30 points just twice — although both times the Broncos actually hit the 50 mark. BYU has scored 30 points three times — including in both of the Cougars’ wins — but has been held to fewer than 20 four times.
Over the past four meetings, Boise State has outscored BYU 97-85 while winning three times. Last year, the Broncos escaped 21-16 when they tackled Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson at the 4-yard line on the final play.
All this defense has caught the attention of a particular side of the No. 14 Broncos’ locker room going into Saturday’s matchup in Provo, Utah (8:15 p.m., ESPN2).
“We haven’t really scored much points against them in the past,” sophomore wide receiver Khalil Shakir said, “so that’s kind of a goal for us going into this game, to put numbers on the board.”
1. Quarterback play: This was supposed to be a marquee showdown between the two programs’ young stars at quarterback — true freshman Hank Bachmeier at Boise State and true sophomore Zach Wilson at BYU. Adding to the intrigue was the idea that Wilson decommitting from Boise State perhaps opened the door for Bachmeier to join the Broncos a year later.
That combination should play to the Broncos’ advantage because they can insert sophomore Chase Cord, who is 20-for-35 for 295 yards and six touchdowns without an interception this season (184.51 rating). Cord also has 47 rushing yards and a touchdown. If he starts, the Broncos can give Bachmeier three weeks between hits on that hip because of the upcoming bye.
BYU freshman backup quarterbacks Jaren Hall and Baylor Romney are a combined 25-for-40 for 279 yards and one touchdown without an interception. They have rushed for 88 yards and a touchdown. Hall was knocked out of last week’s loss to South Florida and has been in concussion protocol, putting his status in doubt, too.
Regardless of the quarterback, the Cougars have struggled to score this year. They average 22.3 points per game.
2. Defensive consistency: The Broncos rank 27th in the nation in scoring defense (19.5 points per game) and 34th in total defense (327.7 yards per game) — lower than you’d expect as well as they’ve played.
The problem? A lack of half-to-half consistency.
The Broncos allowed 31 points in the first half to Florida State and none in the second half. They gave up some big plays in the first half to Marshall and Portland State, then nothing in the second half. They played close to a complete game against Air Force but gave up a late touchdown drive. UNLV scored its 13 points in the second half, including another late TD drive. Hawaii scored 23 of its 37 points in the second half, including yet another late TD.
“Now the challenge we just talked about (Tuesday) morning is a full, four-quarter game,” defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding said. “We’ve been great in second halves, we’ve been great in first halves — let’s put the whole thing together.”
3. It’s time to impress: Boise State’s 59-37 win against red-hot Hawaii grabbed some national attention. The Broncos (6-0) need another impressive performance against the Cougars, who despite their 2-4 record are one of the best teams left on the schedule.
Boise State is off next week and plays at San Jose State on Nov. 2, so this is the last chance to make a statement before the College Football Playoff committee begins its rankings that will determine if Boise State or a team from the American Athletic Conference holds the inside track to a New Year’s Six bowl berth.
Boise State is a 7-point favorite in Las Vegas with an over/under of 45 1/2 total points. The Broncos are 20-9 against the spread in their past 29 games, including four straight covers. However, they are 3-6 ATS against BYU.
BYU is 7-4 ATS in its past 11 games, but the Cougars have failed to cover in three straight.
My pick (5-1 straight up, 3-3 ATS): One of Boise State’s two losses to BYU came when Grant Hedrick made his first start in place of the injured Joe Southwick in 2013. This offense seems better prepared to withstand the loss of its quarterback, and this defense has shown it thrives under duress. Cord, tailback George Holani and wide receiver John Hightower will lead the Broncos to their most complete performance of the season. Boise State 31, BYU 10
BYU perspective, from Jared Lloyd of the Daily Herald (opponent view is 2-3, 2-3): “BYU has crumbled in the second half of two straight disappointing road losses, allowing opponents to run all over them. Both the Cougars and Boise State have question marks at quarterback, which can change the dynamics of the game. Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Broncos have been far more consistent in their 6-0 start than BYU has been in going 2-4. The Cougars will hang tough once again but won’t have been able to fix all their issues, and Boise State will stay unbeaten.” Boise State 31, BYU 22
Betting expert Lee Sterling of Paramount Sports, who appears weekly on KTIK (4-1, 3-2): “People around the country love BYU. ... For BYU, the difference from playing South Florida’s defense with a quarterback who just started playing vs. this type of defense, I think they’re in trouble.” Boise State 27, BYU 17
Chadd Cripe is the Idaho Statesman’s assistant editor and sports columnist. Contact him at email@example.com and follow @chaddcripe on Twitter.