When thinking and researching who I thought could have a big game against Boise State this weekend, the obvious choice was Tanner Mangum. We were introduced to the freshman quarterback very quickly when Taysom Hill got hurt in the first half against Nebraska, and then later when Tanner thrust himself into BYU football folklore when he completed the 42 yard Hail Mary to win the game.
As much as I wanted to choose Tanner for this week's breakout player, especially since we saw that BYU was lacking in the rushing department, I just couldn't do it after watching the stout defense that Boise is bringing to Lavell Edwards Stadium. I hope that Tanner can make just enough plays to move the ball and score enough points, which brings me to who I think could ultimately win the game, the defense.
Ultimately I settled on Sione Takitaki and Fred Warner because the blitzing from the linebacker spots are so prevalent in BYU's defensive playcalls under Bronco Mendenhall. Warner seemed to live in the Nebraska backfield while racking up a good stat line of 5 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 1 forced fumble (which he also recovered). His speed off the line of scrimmage and his instinct to make plays shows that if he continues, he could be a huge playmaker on this years defense.
I also think that Takitaki could have a huge impact on this game. Like Warner, he has shown flashes of his playmaking ability in his playing time last year where he had 3 sacks on the year, including two against Central Florida. Takitaki is explosive as a passrusher also, but weighs a little more than Warner which should help him fight off blocks from lineman or backs who try to pick him up.
After Travis Tuiloma went down with a knee injury, the defensive front of the Cougars looked much less dominant. Now a powerful rush on the outside won't hide the fact that the middle needs to be solidified, but I think that if the two outside linebackers can hold the edges, and force Boise to stay in the middle of the field, it will allow the very good inside linebacking core (Manoa Pikula, Harvey Langi, Jherremya Leuta-Douyere, among others) to step up and fill the gaps that the nose tackles should be holding on their own.
Obviously the other part of the game that Warner and Takitaki could help will be the pass rush. Boise is starting sophomore Ryan Finley who is making his first start on the road. He looked pedestrian at best against Washington completing 16 of his 26 passes for 129 yards and an interception. If BYU can find a way to force Boise into passing situations when they can unleash their two stud OLB's, on top of having to account for DE Bronson Kaufusi, it could bode very well for the success of the Cougars overall game plan.
So, buy your tickets, find something white to wear (white out game!), and come watch these two linebackers make the Bronco backfield their home and wreak havoc with the Boise State offensive gameplan!