I don’t think there’s anybody in the country that we can’t stay in the game with. I’m proud of our guys. —BYU defensive lineman Sae Tautu
BOISE — BYU has played six teams from Power 5 conferences over the first seven weeks of the season.
The Cougars, who have won three consecutive games, are done playing Power 5 foes in 2016.
But BYU is facing its first ranked opponent, and perhaps its most difficult test of the season, Thursday (8:15 p.m., MDT, ESPN) when it visits No. 14 ranked Boise State.
For the Cougars (4-3), it’s an opportunity to pull a big upset on the road against the undefeated Broncos (6-0). It's BYU last shot to make a statement on a national stage this season.
Coach Kalani Sitake knows it won’t be easy against Boise State coach Bryan Harsin’s squad. BYU has never beaten the Broncos on the blue turf — in three tries — and it has posted a 7-16 record against ranked teams since 2005.
“Coach Harsin is a great coach. They’re efficient on offense and tough on defense. They get the most out of their players and they recruit really well,” Sitake said of Boise State. “They have a lot of great athletes and they have a great run game and the quarterback is really efficient. They have a tough O-line. They’re a tough opponent. We’re going to have to play our best. We look forward to playing our best and seeing if we can get that done on Thursday.”
So far this season, BYU has matched up with teams from five different conferences — the Pac-12, Big 12, Mid-American, Big 10 and Southeastern.
What has Cougar defensive lineman Sae Tautu learned about his team to this point?
“I’ve learned that we can hang with anybody,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anybody in the country that we can’t stay in the game with. I’m proud of our guys.”
Now the Cougars are squaring off against the best of the Mountain West.
The Broncos will be looking to avenge last year’s heartbreaking loss in Provo. Cougar quarterback Tanner Mangum threw a game-winning Hail Mary touchdown pass with 45 seconds remaining to give BYU a 28-24 lead. Then safety Kai Nacua’s interception return for a touchdown put the finishing touches on the Cougars’ 35-24 victory.
The loss bumped Boise State out of the rankings while with the win BYU jumped into the top 25.
This season, two of the Cougars’ three losses have come against teams that are currently ranked — No. 12 West Virginia (5-0) and No. 19 Utah (6-1). The margin of those defeats were a combined four points.
One of BYU’s other losses was at the hands of UCLA, which opened the season nationally ranked, while one of the Cougars’ wins was against a team that had also been previously ranked, Michigan State. BYU drubbed the Spartans in East Lansing, 31-14, before edging Mississippi State of the SEC in double overtime in Provo last week, 28-21.
Boise State held off Colorado State last week at home. The Broncos led 28-3 early in the fourth quarter before the Rams recovered two onside kicks in the final six minutes and scored three consecutive touchdowns to cut the deficit to five with 3:35 remaining.
Boise State recovered CSU’s third onside kick attempt before closing out a 28-23 victory. The Rams became the first team to take on the Broncos this season in the first quarter, snapping the Broncos’ FBS record of 306:36 without trailing.
For BYU, every outcome has been in doubt until the fourth quarter — or even the final minute. After running a tough gauntlet of games against Power 5 competition, are the Cougars ahead of schedule?
“No, ahead of schedule would be undefeated, right?” Sitake said. “I’m pleased with the way the guys play. We have not seen a letdown in the effort. When you have guys that are willing to do everything they can to help the team win, you can really build on stuff like that We’ll keep trying to put ourselves into positions to win games. Eventually, it will turn where we can put more big plays together in all three phases of the game and find ways to win games easier than these nail-biters that we’ve had.”