PROVO — Aside from both being one-point decisions, two BYU games were polar opposites.
Coming off a wild, 47-46 shootout victory last Saturday at Houston, BYU now faces Boise State, the team against which the Cougars fell, 7-6, in a defensive slugfest last September.
There were 80 more points scored at Reliant Stadium a few days ago than were scored at Bronco Stadium 13 months ago.
It’s difficult to predict how any game will go, but both BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall and Boise State coach Chris Petersen are quite confident that it won't be another defensive battle when the two teams meet again Friday (6 p.m., ESPN) at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
"I think it's going to be different," Mendenhall said. "Boise is completely different offensively than they were a year ago — an entirely different system. They're scoring a lot more points, and I think they're more potent. I think we're better offensively as well, so I wouldn't anticipate 7-6. I don't know what the score will be, but it probably won't be duplicated that way."
“It was a strange game, a defensive struggle to say the least,” said Petersen, whose team was ranked No. 24 at the time. “It was a hard-fought game. You always know you’re going to have that with how hard BYU plays. I think it will be different than it was last year. I do think that. I know that they’re playing at a really high level on offense. Taysom Hill is a heckuva quarterback, he’s in a great groove, and he’s hard to stop. So this I know — we’ll have to score a lot more points than we did last year to hang in there with those guys.”
That game last September in Boise featured a breakout performance for defensive lineman Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, who recorded his first career sack in that contest and went on to become the No. 5 overall pick of the National Football League draft.
It featured a memorable goal-line stand midway through the third quarter — a drive that started on BYU’s one-yard line following a fumble. BYU's defense gave up zero points in the game.
It featured five Cougar turnovers and a change at quarterback as Hill, then a true freshman, replaced senior Riley Nelson. The Broncos’ only score came on a pick-six by Nelson early in the third quarter, while the Cougars’ lone touchdown, with 3:37 left in the fourth quarter, came on a four-yard run by Hill, capping an improbable 95-yard drive.
And, of course, there was the controversial decision by Mendenhall to go for two after the TD — and the potential win — rather than kick an extra point to force overtime. The Cougars’ two-point conversion attempt failed on an incomplete pass in the end zone.
For as little scoring as happened in the game, there was plenty going on.
“I remember when I first came out, we struggled initially,” said Hill, a Pocatello native. “Their special teams did a good job and we didn’t have a lot of field position to work with. My first two or three drives started inside our 5-yard line. We played the field position game, then ultimately we led a big touchdown drive over 90 yards and gave us an opportunity to win the game. We came up a little short. I remember that feeling and it’s something I don’t want to feel again.”
Since last year’s game, Hill has gone through a lot of adversity and development.
“The game’s slowed down a lot for me,” said Hill, who completed 29-of-44 passes for a career-high 417 yards and four touchdown passes and rushed for 128 yards against Houston. “It’s been a unique transition going into this year with a new offensive staff and a new offense. That has been unique. It’s taken a little bit of getting used to. But I’ve grown, I’ve matured and I’m a better football player since (Boise State) last saw me.”
The Cougars lost two defensive players for the season due to injuries last year at Boise State — defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna and defensive back Mike Hague.
“It was loud,” Hague recalled about last year's game against the Broncos. “It was a really good atmosphere. I remember Taysom came in and played pretty well in that game."
As for Friday’s rematch, Hague knows what kind of game he’d like to see.
“I like the defensive battles,” he said. “I love being backed up against a corner and not allowing any points. That’s something to be proud of. I’d just love having a 7-6 game like last year. I’d just rather be seven than six.”