Boise State Football

Who has the edge and players to watch as Boise State hosts Wyoming

WHO HAS THE EDGE?

When the Broncos run the ball

True freshman George Holani posted career highs in rushing yards (126) and rushing touchdowns (four) against San Jose State, and physical running and a 32-yard touchdown equated to the game sophomore Andrew Van Buren “needed to have,” according to Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin.

Add the 236 rushing yards the Broncos racked up after halftime to the fact that Harsin said on Monday that he expects junior Robert Mahone back from injury, and it seems Boise State is poised to eat the clock on Saturday with a punishing rushing attack. Except, of course, for the fact that Wyoming’s defense is giving up just 98.4 rushing yards a game, which ranks No. 3 in the Mountain West Conference and No. 14 in the country. The Cowboys are allowing opponents just 2.8 yards per rush.

“A lot of that starts up front,” Wyoming football coach Craig Bohl said Monday during his weekly press conference. “When you can establish the line of scrimmage, you can come up with some tackles for loss.”

The Cowboys are led in the front seven by 242-pound defensive end Garrett Crall, who has a team-high four sacks, and active linebackers Logan Wilson, Cassh Maluia and Chad Muma. Strong safety Alijah Halliburton doesn’t mind helping out in run support, either. He leads the team with 76 tackles and is tied with reserve defensive end Solomon Byrd with a team-high eight tackles for loss.

“You look at the identity of the team. They run it and they’re good at stopping the run,” Harsin said Monday during his weekly press conference. “I think they do a really good job of coaching it. I think their players do a good job of playing the run game with their techniques.”

Edge: Push

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Boise State quarterback Hank Bachmeier warms up before the San Jose State game. John Kelly Boise State University

When the Broncos pass the ball

In addition to taking snaps in one of Boise State’s many wildcat packages, wide receiver John Hightower nabbed five passes for 129 yards last weekend against San Jose State. His only better performance of the season was seven catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns against Hawaii.

Hightower is one of the fastest receivers in the Mountain West, and facing the conference’s 11th-ranked pass defense, he is poised for another big night. Wyoming is giving up 288.8 passing yards a game, which ranks No. 121 nationally.

The Broncos need more out out of the rest of the receiving corps, though. Against BYU, CT Thomas, Khalil Shakir and Akilian Butler combined for three catches for 25 yards. Thomas caught four passes against San Jose State, but Butler hauled in just one for 5 yards and Shakir was limited to two for 25.

True freshman quarterback Hank Bachmeier is another week removed from a hip pointer suffered against Hawaii. He’s completing 63.2 percent of his passes, and his 251.4 passing yards a game ranks No. 25 nationally.

“He’s just an exceptional quarterback,” Bohl said. “He was a heavily recruited player, and I can see why. He’s mobile, he can make all the throws and he’s got great poise.”

Edge: Boise State

When the Cowboys run the ball

Wyoming leans heavily on a physical rushing attack, which continues to take hit after hit this season. Quarterback Sean Chambers led the team with 10 rushing touchdowns when he went down with a season-ending knee injury on Oct. 26 against Nevada.

Freshman running back Titus Swen was the Cowboys’ second-leading rusher when he suffered a knee injury that has kept him out since Wyoming’s loss to San Diego State on Oct. 12. Trey Smith — a graduate student who was expected to shoulder much of the load this year — has been out since he suffered an ankle injury on Sept. 21 against Tulsa.

The offensive line hasn’t been in much better shape. Guards Gavin Rush and Zach Watts have been out since they suffered injuries in the spring. Left guard Eric Abojei has been out since he went down with a knee injury against San Diego State.

Bohl said that Watts and right tackle Alonzo Velazquez (knee) returned to practice this week, but he wasn’t sure how much either would play on Saturday.

Despite the injuries, Wyoming ranks No. 14 in the country with 239.4 rushing yards a game and sophomore Xazavian Valladay put up career highs in rushing (206) and receiving (74) yards on Oct. 26 in the Cowboys’ 31-3 win over Nevada.

“The No. 1 thing with them is stopping the run, there’s no doubt about it,” Boise State defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding told the media Tuesday. “They’re a big, physical group. … They have a very good tailback, and they have a big, physical O-line that will try to maul you.”

Edge: Push

Wofford Wyoming Football.JPG
Wyoming quarterback Tyler Vander Waal (18) ranks 10th of 11 qualifying quarterbacks in the Mountain West Conference in passing efficiency rating. Josh Galemore AP

When the Cowboys pass the ball

Wyoming’s offense will take on a distinctly different look without Chambers at quarterback. His replacement, sophomore Tyler Vander Waal, is much less likely to turn a scramble into a long touchdown run. He’s more of a pocket passer, and he is going to do a lot more turning and handing the ball off than creating plays with his legs.

The flip side of that argument is he may be a more polished passer than Chambers. In nine starts last season, Vander Waal completed 48 percent of his passes for 1,310 yards and five touchdowns. Last fall against Boise State, he threw for 214 yards and a touchdown.

The Cowboys don’t throw the ball very much, but Wyoming’s leading receiver has famous bloodlines. Raghib Ismail Jr. is the son of Raghib “Rocket” Ismail, who finished second in Heisman Trophy voting in 1990 while at Notre Dame and played for the NFL’s Raiders, Panthers and Cowboys in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Ismail Jr. leads Wyoming this fall with 11 catches for 203 yards and two touchdowns. Fellow senior Austin Conway has 11 grabs for 153 yards.

Edge: Boise State

Special teams

The Broncos were in a 14-0 hole after San Jose State opened last weekend’s game with back-to-back scoring drives. But Avery Williams’ 66-yard punt return for a touchdown gave them just enough momentum to get by until the running game started clicking. It was his third career punt return for a touchdown, and the Spartans were so wary of Hightower’s speed that every kickoff was high and short just to keep the ball out of his hands.

Boise State kicker Eric Sachse is 10-of-12 on field goals with a long of 41, but punter Joel Velazquez has been wildly inconsistent. He had a punt cover just 20 yards against San Jose State and sent a kickoff out of bounds with the Broncos’ clinging to a four-point lead late in the game.

Wyoming kicker Cooper Rothe is 10-of-15 on field goals with a long of 47, and punter Ryan Galovich is averaging 43.5 yards per punt, and he has sent nine farther than 50 yards. Conway leads the Mountain West with 12.3 yards per punt return.

Edge: Push

PLAYERS TO WATCH

BOISE STATE

Andrew Van Buren, RB

Offensive coordinator Zak Hill wanted to see Van Buren “run like the big back he is” last weekend at San Jose State and that’s exactly what he did. Van Buren ran through a couple of tackle attempts on his 32-yard touchdown run.

With junior Robert Mahone expected back on the field this weekend, Van Buren may not see many carries, but with how he ran against the Spartans, he seems like a safe bet for short-yardage situations.

“I just go in, week in and week out, and just try to do my best to be that physical back that we need,” Van Buren told the media Wednesday.

Avery Williams, CB

After his first punt return for a touchdown of the season last weekend at San Jose State, Williams now has four career special teams touchdowns. He struggled at times in coverage against the Spartans, though, so he may feel like he has some making up to do. Normally he wouldn’t get much of a chance against Wyoming’s rush-heavy offense, but with sophomore Tyler Vander Waal filling in for Chambers, the Cowboys may test the skies a little more.

“Avery is an absolute stud. We know that,” Boise State defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding said. “He’s a guy that studies the game and then comes in and makes an unbelievable play on special teams.”

Riley Whimpey, LB

Fellow linebacker Benton Wickersham capped last weekend’s second-half comeback with his first career interception. On Tuesday, Whimpey said he had chances at two interceptions earlier in the game, one of which was tipped and bounced off his hands and his helmet.

Whimpey won’t be on the field because of his hands on Saturday, though. Given Wyoming’s physical, downhill running game, he’ll be busy taking on blockers and chasing down ball carriers.

“Every week, we try to be physical and we have a standard as to how we play here at Boise State,” Whimpey said. “We need to come out and just continue to do what we do, just be physical and execute the plan that’s been laid out in front of us.”

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WYOMING

Logan Wilson, LB

Wilson is the only semifinalist for the Butkus Award from the Group of Five, and he entered his senior season with 39 consecutive starts and 316 career tackles, which ranked No. 2 among FBS players at the beginning of the season. He has been the Cowboys’ leading tackler in each of the past two seasons, and he’s second on the team this fall with 62 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss.

“There’s not a more humble guy that doesn’t toot his own horn,” Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said Monday during his weekly press conference. “Here’s a guy that is from Casper, Wyoming, and if I had a quarter for every time some of my colleagues around the country told me ‘you can’t win with Wyoming players,’ I’d be a very rich man.”

Tyler Vander Waal, QB

Following Monday’s announcement that Sean Chambers will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury, Vander Waal is back under center after starting nine games for the Cowboys last season as a redshirt freshman. He finished the season with 1,310 passing yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions, and after getting benched a couple weeks earlier, he stepped in for an injured Chambers and led the Cowboys to a win over Air Force.

“Tyler has really played well when he has been in,” Bohl said. “We’re excited about Tyler. He’s been working, and he’s certainly a more experienced player than he was last year at this time.”

In last season’s 34-14 loss to Boise State, Vander Waal completed 15-of-25 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown, and he was sacked five times.

Xazavian Valladay, RB

With the running backs expected to carry the load this season on the sideline with injuries, Valladay — a 6-foot, 196-pound sophomore — has been the Cowboys’ workhorse the past two games. Against New Mexico, he carried the ball 33 times for 127 yards and a touchdown. Last game against Nevada, he posted a career-high 206 rushing yards on 26 carries and caught two passes for 74 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown pass.

Valladay also posted 118 yards and a touchdown on the ground in Wyoming’s season-opening win against Missouri.

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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.)

WYOMING DEPTH CHART

Quarterback

18 Tyler Vander Waal, 6-4, 214 (So.)

15 Levi Williams, 6-5, 208 (Fr.)

Running back

6 Xazavian Valladay, 6-0, 196 (So.)

24 Brett Brenton, 5-10, 195 (Fr.)

Fullback

35 Skyler Miller, 5-11, 226 (Jr.)

45 Jaylon Watson, 6-0, 241 (Sr.)

Wide receiver

25 Austin Conway, 5-10, 183 (Sr.)

8 Dontae Crow, 5-9, 178 (Jr.)

Wide receiver

17 Raghib Ismail, 6-0, 170 (Sr.)

11 Wyatt Wieland, 6-1, 191 (R-Fr.)

Wide receiver

13 John Okwoli, 6-2, 210 (Sr.)

19 Ayden Eberhardt, 6-2, 195 (Jr.) or

16 Gunner Gentry, 66-3, 208 (So.)

Tight end

33 Josh Harshman, 6-3, 340 (R-Sr.)

82 Jackson Marcotte, 66-7, 250 (R-Fr.)

Left tackle

62 Rudy Stofer, 6-6, 297 (So.)

77 Gavin Dunayski, 6-6, 261 (So.)

Left guard

57 Patrick Arnold, 6-3, 296 (So.)

74 Blayne Baker, 6-5, 262 (Fr.)

Center

73 Keegan Cryder, 6-4, 297 (So.)

58 Latrell Bible, 6-4, 262 (Fr.)

Right guard

79 Logan Harris, 6-3, 304 (Jr.)

74 Blayne Baker, 6-5, 305 (R-Fr.)

Right tackle

75 Frank Crum, 6-7, 300 (R-Fr.)

77 Gavin Dunayski, 6-6, 261 (So.)

Defensive end

53 Josiah Hall, 6-1, 236 (Sr.)

49 Teagan Liufau, 6-3, 232 (R-Fr.)

Nose tackle

97 Mario Mora, 6-3, 264 (R-Fr.)

94 Cole Godbout, 6-4, 262 (R-Fr.)

Defensive tackle

86 Javaree Jackson, 6-5, 267 (Jr.)

44 Victor Jones, 6-4, 243 (R-Fr.)

Defensive end

88 Garrett Crall, 6-5, 242 (Jr.)

51 Solomon Byrd, 6-4, 243 (R-Fr.)

Linebacker

30 Logan Wilson, 6-2, 250 (Sr.)

48 Chad Muma, 6-3, 220 (So.)

Linebacker

46 Cassh Maluia, 6-0, 248 (Sr.)

43 Ben Wisdorf, 6-1, 221 (Sr.)

Nickel

18 Keyon Blankenbaker, 5-10, 175 (So.)

47 Blake Harrington, 5-11, 180 (R-Fr.)

Cornerback

9 Tyler Hall, 5-10, 190 (Sr.)

6 Jordan Murry, 5-10, 150 (Fr.)

Safety

3 Alijah Halliburton, 6-2, 190 (Sr.)

5 Esaias Gandy, 6-1, 193 (Jr.)

Safety

8 Rome Weber, 5-11, 186 (R-Fr.)

26 Braden Smith, 5-10, 184 (Jr.)

Cornerback

20 Azizi Hearn, 6-1, 193 (So.)

6 Jordan Murry, 5-10, 150 (Fr.)

Kicker

40 Cooper Rothe, 5-11, 178 (Sr.)

42 Luke Glassock, 5-10, 170 (Fr.)

Kick returner

25 Austin Conway, 5-10, 183 (Sr.)

8 Dontae Crow, 5-9, 178 (Jr.)

Punter

41 Ryan Galovich, 6-0, 192 (Sr.)

27 Tim Zaleski, 6-5, 221 (Jr.)

Punt returner

25 Austin Conway, 5-10, 183 (Sr.)

8 Dontae Crow, 5-9, 178 (Jr.)

WYOMING AT NO. 21 BOISE STATE

When: 8:15 p.m. Saturday

Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,367 turf), Boise

TV: ESPN (Roy Philpott, Kelly Stouffer, Lauren Sisler)

Radio: KBOI 670 AM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)

Records: Boise State is 7-1 overall, 4-0 Mountain West; Wyoming 6-2, 3-1

Series: Boise State leads 12-1 (last meeting: Boise State won 34-14 in 2018 in Laramie, Wyoming)

Vegas line: Boise State by 13 1/2

Weather: 45 degrees, partly cloudy, 2 mph wind at kickoff

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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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