Following last week's game with a bold predictions article is no small task. Winning on a last second Hail Mary is not easy to top. It isn't a prediction one can, or will, typically make. I sure didn't. We won't see the same ending as last week, a play that will be forever immortalized in BYU football lore. But it will be an entertaining game either way.
Just as there were unknowns going into the game against Nebraska, we have some big unknowns again. Injuries on both sides of the ball will play a factor in this game, most notable of course, is the injury to Taysom Hill. A season ending foot injury suffered on a touchdown run and aggravated further on another run paved the way for Tanner Magnum to be the starter. It is impossible to replace a player of Hill's caliber, a Heisman trophy candidate in the minds of many across the nation.
I remember watching the game and thinking I'd never seen him pass the ball like that. He looked like a mix of John Beck and Luke Staley, a lethal combination at quarterback. I would not have been surprised to see him put up Marcus Mariota-type numbers this season on his way to a trip to New York City with other Heisman hopefuls.
Alas, that dream is done, and we move on with true freshman Tanner Magnum as the starting quarterback. This puts three freshman as BYU's top three quarterbacks, Beau Hoge and Koy Detmer, Jr. being the others. That is not a common sight around the nation, in fact, I don't think anyone is in that situation.
Another big loss that is overshadowed by Hill's injury is the loss of nose tackle, Travis Tuiloma. Getting strong play is crucial to running an effective 3-4 defense, as BYU has seen in the past with Romney Fuga and Eathyn Manumalaeuna. It looked the like Cougars had figured out how to stop the Huskers offense in the second quarter and looked set to run away with the game in the second half. But then Tuiloma went down and the defense noticeably struggled. That spot will be an important position to keep an eye on going forward.
Those two injuries will play a role in how this season progresses. Here are some bold predictions that have a chance at happening anyways.
Tanner Mangum will throw for 275 yards and 3 touchdowns
This is a tall order for a true freshman to reach in his first start at the FBS level, a recently returned missionary no less. The last true freshman to start at BYU was Taysom Hill and he ran all over Hawaii at Lavell Edwards Stadium. He also threw for 112 yards in a 47-0 victory. The last true freshman to start before that was Jake Heaps. His first start was a loss in Provo to the Nevada Wolfpack led by Colin Kaepernick. Heaps was 24-45 for 229 yards and no touchdowns.
I think Mangum's first start will go much better. When he was thrust into the game in the middle of the second quarter, he looked much more comfortable than one would expect. A guy who returned home from his mission 3 months ago, and hadn't played in an organized football game in almost 5 years, was stepping in to replace one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. No big deal, right? It would appear that is the approach Magnum took going into the game.
He looked cool, calm and collected when he stepped on the field. In one of his first plays he immediately rolled out to his right and fired a bullet for a first down. The entire game he looked comfortable and that culminated in the game winning play as time expired. Boise State has a pretty solid defense but Magnum showed he has the ability to get things done.
BYU will force 3 turnovers
The defense didn't look great against Nebraska. The secondary was picked apart for most of the game, though it did appear to show improvements down the stretch. The Cornhuskers don't have a juggernaut of an offense, but Nebraska had 445 total yards of offense. Tuiloma being out with an injury will be a big hit to the defense, particularly getting pressure up front.
Luckily for the Cougars this time around, Boise State doesn't have Grant Hedrick and Jay Ajayi. The Broncos have a much weaker offense, at least it appears that way, after only putting up 16 points against the Washington Huskies. Sophomore quarterback Ryan Finley threw for 129 yards and ran 11 times for 30 yards with no touchdowns. He was also sacked twice and threw one pick. This does not sound like the type of quarterback that is going to pick apart the BYU defense, with or without Tuiloma.
The secondary is inexperienced but has athleticism. Michael Davis is a very solid boundary corner, Kai Nacua is back and Micah Hannemann shouldn't be as lost as he was last week. He has the athleticism to be a very good field corner, he just needs to get up to speed. This game should be a good one to help break him in. The defense has a lot of playmakers on it. They will no doubt make some mistakes but they'll also force some mistakes by the young Boise State signal caller. I like the Cougars' chances in this one.
The running backs will have over 100 rushing yards
Outside of Taysom Hill, the Cougars rushed for 60 yards. The backs weren't getting very far, there were a lot of stops in the backfield. Part of that can be contributed to the offensive line not getting any push, some of that can also be attributed to the Nebraska defense trying to stop Hill from running all over them. I still like what Algernon Brown and Nate Carter bring to the running game. I expect to see a bounce back from them this Saturday night.
Even though Mangum played very well against Nebraska, he's still going to need to lean on the running game. Beating the Broncos for the second time in three seasons will be predicated on having a balanced offense. Even if it does come down to a shootout, I'd put my money on Mangum to outshoot Finley. However, I don't think we're going to see Bronco and Anae try to get into a shoot out.
Spirits are flying high after the "Miracle at Memorial." It's amazing what a last-second, game-winning touchdown can do to buoy the hopes of a team that just lost arguably its two most important players. There is still cause to be concerned for the Cougars season, but not for this game. BYU looks to be in a good position to win this game against a poor Boise State offense. Mangum may have his struggles this year and he may hit the freshman wall, but he'll be in good shape Saturday night. Cougars beat the Broncos 27-17.