BOISE — BYU hosts Boise State on Friday night at LaVell Edwards Stadium in what looks to be an intriguing matchup. The Broncos eked out a 7-6 win against the Cougars last year in Boise and are intent on leaving Provo with a win.
Boise State is 5-2 on the year and will likely present a more potent offense than last year even with the loss of starting quarterback Joe Southwick to injury. The Broncos have scored more than 30 points in every game since putting up a meager six points against Washington in their first game.
The Cougar offense has found life as well, with quarterback Taysom Hill leading the charge. The resurgence of both offenses should provide a much higher-scoring game than last season, but will it be as competitive?
We caught up with Boise State beat reporter B.J. Rains, who covers the team for the Idaho Press-Tribune, to gain better insight into this year's Boise State team.
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How big of a loss is Joe Southwick for the offense and the team in general? Who replaces him?
Losing a senior starting quarterback is never easy for any team to overcome, but the Broncos may be OK in the long run with the dual-threat Grant Hedrick taking over. Hedrick, a redshirt junior, has seen limited action in relief the past three years but will make his first start Friday night at BYU. He was 18 for 21 passing for 150 yards and an interception but also rushed for 115 yards on eight carries and had two rushing touchdowns. His ability to beat teams with his legs is an added bonus the Broncos haven't enjoyed with a quarterback in several years.
Boise State won a defensive slugfest against BYU last season. How is this team similar to that team and how is it different?
The Broncos have more firepower on offense this year and have been rolling on offense ever since scoring six points in a 38-6 loss at Washington in the season opener. Hedrick's insertion into the lineup could help them even more with his ability to beat teams on the ground. The Boise State defense got off to a rough start but has been better the past three games. The Broncos have young players seeing significant playing time on both sides of the ball but have gotten better as the season has worn on.
Talk about Boise State on offense. Who are the primary playmakers and what type of offense do the Broncos run?
The Broncos switched to a no-huddle, pistol formation offense this year and have gotten more adjusted to it as the season has gone on. They are led by running back Jay Ajayi, who had a career-high 222 yards and three touchdowns last week vs. Nevada. Ajayi is tied for the FBS lead with 12 rushing touchdowns. The Broncos also have skill at receiver in 5-6 speedster Shane Williams-Rhodes, who might be both the smallest and quickest player on the team but can make plenty of players miss in space. Hedrick also provides the Broncos with some big-play possibilities in the run game.
Same question on defense. What type of defense does Boise run and who are the primary playmakers?
The Broncos have plenty of young and inexperienced players on defense but have gotten better as the season has gone on. The defensive line has been playing great of late. After recording four total sacks in the first four games, the Boise State defense has 14 sacks in the past three games. Defensive end Demarcus Lawrence had 3.5 sacks vs. Nevada and was named the Mountain West defensive player of the week. Bryan Douglas also has four interceptions in the secondary, and redshirt freshman linebacker Ben Weaver leads the team in tackles.
How important is this out-of-conference game for Boise State? How does the team regard BYU and the challenges the Cougars present?
The Broncos are hoping to finish the season ranked ahead of Fresno State in the BCS standings so they can host the first Mountain West championship game if they qualify for it. While Friday night's game is a nonconference game, it's a huge game and could go a long way in helping Boise State gain some points in the polls moving forward. The Broncos are rarely underdogs, and they enter Friday's game as a seven-point underdog to BYU. Coach Chris Petersen said it will be one of the toughest challenges they've faced since he took over as head coach in 2006.