The big question marks surround quarterback Riley Nelson’s health and if he’ll prove more effective this week than last. A lot of Nelson’s effectiveness depends on how well BYU’s offense provides protection, particularly against a middle pass rush. Nelson consistently wasn’t able to let patterns develop with pass rushers in his face, forcing him to leave the pocket early consistently last week. That will need to change if BYU hopes to have success through the air against the Broncos.
“They’re good and they’re more athletic than they get credit for by a lot of people,” observed Nelson about Boise’s secondary. “They have a lot of good athletes and they’re a very disciplined defense, so we’re going to have to be at our best to move the ball effectively.”
Nelson should have a bit more time in the pocket this week than he did last week, but Boise will present a stiff challenge nonetheless. Nelson’s key will be spreading the ball around more effectively and looking more on the outside for Apo, who will enjoy a considerable size advantage against some undersized corners.
BYU rush defense vs. Boise State
BYU has proven stout in defending against the run-all season. Utah wasn’t able to mount anything against them this week, but Boise should present its stiffest challenge to date.
DJ Harper (5-9, 205) leads the Bronco running attack. Harper originally beat out star Doug Martin, who is now starting for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but was sidelined with injury. He’s back and running as strong as ever — rushing for 162 yards and three touchdowns last week.
Harper is fronted by an offensive line that returns two starters from a year ago and is providing a 166-yards-per-game average and a 4.8 yards-per-rush average.
Cougar question marks
There aren’t many question marks surrounding BYU’s ability to defend the run. The Cougars have three very good run-stoppers along their defensive front with seniors Eathyn Manumaleuna, Romney Fuga and Russell Tialavea. But newcomers Bronson Kaufusi and Ezekial Ansah are largely unproven in their ability to stuff the run.
“We have to stay assignment-sound and be ready for anything, because Boise State is an offense that throws a lot of different plays at you,” said linebacker Spencer Hadley. “They have a great running back, but I think if we just stay with our assignments and stay disciplined that we’ll be all right.”
DJ Harper and the Boise State running game will present BYU with its sternest test to date. Look for the Cougar defensive front to yield more than its 53 yards allowed per game as a result and don’t be surprised if the Broncos account for 100-plus yards in the game.
BYU pass defense vs. Boise State
BYU has been consistent with its pass defense, but did show some holes on the edge last week against Utah. Overall it’s allowed just 188 yards per game through the air, which is a testament to a much-improved secondary and pass rush.
Boise State lost a lot in its passing game last season with the graduation of quarterback Kellen Moore and some standout wideouts. Joe Southwick replaces Moore and is coming off a game last week against Miami U, where he completed 24 of 31 passes for 304 yards.
The true star of Boise’s passing attack is an offensive line that has yet to yield a single sack on the year. Sophomore Matt Miller (6-3, 215) is Boise’s leading receiver on the year.
Cougar question marks
BYU has proven effective in rushing the quarterback so far this season, but will have its work cut out against Boise State. How BYU chooses to rush the quarterback and how effective it will be in pressuring Moore is certainly a big question mark heading into tonight’s game.
“We just need to come hard and believe we can get to the quarterback,” said Hadley. “We know it’s something we do well and we have to believe that, even though they haven’t given up a sack, we can provide a bigger challenge than anyone has so far this season.”
BYU will need to maintain good pressure and cornerbacks, particularly Jordan Johnson, will have to prove more effective in tackling in the open field as Boise likes to throw a lot of bubble screens out in the flat. Overall BYU should be able to limit the Broncos below their season average through the air.
Even though the team is saying all the right things, recovering from such a devastating loss a week ago to Utah isn't easy. Look for some emotional hangover in this game and for Boise State to take advantage of the Cougar’s current mental state. Boise State isn’t an easy place to play under any circumstances, and BYU will have a tough time coming out of there with a win.
Score: Boise State 24, BYU 13
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