BOISE — Since becoming an independent, BYU has begun to develop a bit of a rivalry with Boise State, playing each season since 2012. With games between the two schools scheduled every year until 2023, this could become even more of a showcase in coming years.
The home team has won each game since the long-term, yearly contract was signed, and the Broncos enter the game looking to extend their overall series lead to five wins compared to only two losses on the blue turf at Albertsons Stadium (Thursday, 8:15 p.m. MDT, ESPN).
Here are six things to watch for on Thursday night.
The Broncos enter this game ranked No. 14 in both the AP and coaches polls with a 6-0 record. This will be the first time in 2016 that the Cougars will face off against a ranked opponent, and the first time since week three of the 2015 season (when UCLA was ranked No. 10) that BYU has played a team ranked that high in the polls. Along with a home win against Washington State earlier in the season, this BYU game will be a chance for the Broncos to get a statement win over a big-time program. A win at home could propel Boise to a New Year’s Six bowl game invite and an 11th end-of-season Top 25 ranking in the past 15 years.
The Broncos have enjoyed a home dominance that few teams in college football can match over the past 15 plus years. As the Voice of the Cougars Greg Wrubell mentioned earlier this week on his Twitter feed, Boise State has won 31 consecutive non-conference games on the blue turf.
In the home opener of the 2001 season on Sept. 8, 2001, Boise lost to Washington State 41-20. After that loss, the Broncos didn’t lose at home again until a one-point loss to TCU in November 2011 — a streak of 65 consecutive wins. During that time, the Broncos have never lost more than two home games in a single season (they lost exactly two home games in 2015) and are an astonishing 92-5 at Albertsons Stadium since that loss to the maroon Cougars. This isn’t to say that there haven’t been close calls for the Broncos (a painful for BYU fans 7-6 win 2012 comes to mind), but even in “down” seasons, the Broncos find a way to win at home.
While Boise State has been pretty decent on defense this season (giving up 371 yards per game, good for 48th in the country), the Bronco run defense has been less stout than normal in recent weeks. For the season, the Bronco defense is allowing 142.3 per game; however over the past two Mountain West Conference games, the unit led by defensive coordinator Andy Avalos has given up nearly double its season average. Boise State has given up an average of 283.0 rushing yards per game in its past two MWC games against New Mexico and Colorado State.
These stats may be slightly skewed — New Mexico is averaging only 16 pass attempts per game and had 61 rush attempts two weeks ago while Colorado State was more balanced in its failed comeback attempt on Saturday night — but the BYU offense might be able to exploit this current trend. The BYU rushing game has mainly been Taysom Hill, Jamaal Williams and Squally Canada. Those three have been combining for 200 yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry, and the Cougar offensive line has shown that it can open holes for the runners. That will again be an important part of the game plan on Thursday night.
After replacing starter Ryan Finley due to an injury in the third game of the 2015 season, Brett Rypien went on to win the MWC Freshman of the Year award. The Bronco signal-caller has improved so far this season and is on pace to finish with more than 3,800 yards this year after throwing for 3,353 last year. What is maybe more impressive is the Washington native’s ball security. Last season, he accounted for 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions on 63.5 percent completions. This year, Rypien has thrown three total interceptions — all against Washington State — and has only been sacked once per game. His ability to extend plays and also throw the ball away when needed instead of taking a loss have been a positive for the Bronco offense this season.
The Jamaal Williams watch will continue for the rest of the season. After setting the career rushing yardage record last week in the win against Mississippi State, Williams is still ranked second in the FBS for total rushing yards for the season, but will be hard pressed to catch leader Donnel Pumphrey of San Diego State. Pumphrey has 169 more yards than Williams currently, and possibly has an extra game to earn stats should the Aztecs make it to the Mountain West championship game.
The next records that Williams should earn will probably have to wait until at least the Cincinnati game. With two 100-yard rushing games, Williams will move into first place for career 100-yard games with 16 total. In addition, Williams only needs 40 carries to surpass Harvey Unga’s career rushing attempts mark of 696 and could also pass the single season rushing attempts record of 252 currently held by Ronney Jenkins. To do so, Williams will need 88 carries, so that record should be earned at one of the home games later in November. Finally, Williams needs to average 1.5 rushing touchdowns per game to exceed Luke Staley’s career mark of 41.
Williams needs to average about 107 rushing yards/game in order to best Staley’s single-season record of 1,582 yards set in 2001. The senior will need some help from his offensive line to reach those numbers, but it is definitely doable and is something that BYU fans should watch for as the season winds down.
Another Cougar who probably deserves some more national attention is senior captain Kai Nacua. Nacua has been towards the top of the rankings for interceptions for most of the season. Currently, Nacua is tied for first with five total interceptions this season. Nacua could also write his name in the Cougar record books with some big performances throughout the rest of the season. With five interceptions, Nacua would move into first place for total interceptions in a season, surpassing Dave Atkinson’s record set in 1971. The ball-hawking safety has been a major contributor on defense this year and could cause Boise some issues on Thursday.
Landon Walters studied history and political science at Salt Lake Community College. He is an avid sports fan and loves writing. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org