In case you haven’t heard, BYU plays a pretty big game against No. 21 Boise State on the blue turf Friday night.
This is the first time in the series history where both teams are ranked and No. 9 BYU is coming into Boise ranked for the first time ever. This is BYU’s biggest game since (insert big BYU game of the past here), some say since the 1996 Cotton Bowl, the 2008 matchup with TCU or way back to the 1984 Holiday Bowl when a national title was on the line.
A lot is riding on this game. BYU can validate their status as a top team in the country and silence doubters about the schedule. Zach Wilson can further entrench himself as a Heisman finalist candidate and possible NFL first round pick. BYU will continue on their path towards their first ever BCS/NY6 bowl bid in school history. Plus, it would be BYU’s first win against Boise State on the blue turf in six tries.
If they lose, a lot of the luster wears off on this magical season and BYU is likely bound for another ho-hum, mid-tier bowl game and Wilson’s Heisman campaign becomes wobbly at best. The doubters will be validated in thinking BYU is fool’s gold.
Vegas does not view this as an upset if the Cougars win, as BYU is favored by three points at the moment. Either way, to most fans, this is a massive roadblock in the way of what could be one of the best seasons in BYU history.
So how does BYU pull it off? Below are three keys for BYU to come out on top over the Broncos.
#1 Ferocious pass rush
Boise State’s quarterback position is very much in flux right now. Hank Bachmeier is the regular starter, but he missed the Broncos’ game against Air Force and his status for Friday is clouded due to COVID processes. However, the talent drop off to the backup doesn’t seem to be much with USC transfer Jack Sears. If he was good enough to play for the Trojans, he isn’t a scrub and he showed that in his start against Air Force, throwing for 280 yards and three scores without a turnover. BYU needs to harass whoever is back there.
The Cougars are 15th in the country with 18.0 sacks. A more realistic look with how many games BYU has played compared to the rest of the country is their 2.6 sacks per game, which is 43rd out of 115 teams currently playing. The Broncos have allowed three sacks in the first two games. BYU must pressure the quarterback to throw the Broncos off of their rhythm. BSU is currently averaging 279.5 passing yards per game, good enough for 28th in the country. BYU is 19th in pass defense.
#2 Win the turnover battle
Whenever teams are looking to beat a ranked team on the road as the Cougars want to do, one of the first places you need to look is the turnover margin. BYU cannot afford to be negative in the turnover margin and must take advantage of any and all opportunities Boise State gives them. Jack Sears has only played in three games in three years and the Cougars could force him to make errors if he is the one who gets the nod over Bachmeier. Bachmeier is prone to turnovers, as he threw six picks in eight games last season.
Boise State has not turned the ball over in two games thus far this season. However, it’s fair to say BYU is the best defense they will have faced to date. BYU has nine takeaways in seven games and they will need to maintain this pace to beat Boise State on the blue.
On the flip side, BYU is 15th in the country in giveaways per game. Zach Wilson is the new BYU record holder for most consecutive passes without an interception in team history, though that number just got reset against Western Kentucky. If the trends on offense and defense both hold true for BYU, they should be in a position to win.
#3 Win the third down battles
At times, BYU’s play calling and execution can be a bit erratic on third and short. In this game, they need to focus on moving the chains instead of getting too greedy. The Cougars are 15th in third down conversion percentage at 50.6 percent and will need to be efficient in Boise on Friday to win. Part of that battle is to, as the coaches say, “stay on schedule.” That means avoid getting pinned into 3rd and 8 or longer scenarios. A solid run game will aid in this and the Cougars should be able to establish the run against a Boise team who gave up 415 yards on the ground to Air Force. Zach Wilson continuing to play like a Heisman finalist would certainly help. Converting third downs at 50 percent or better will put BYU in good positions to score points.
On defense, the Cougars need to get off the field after forcing third downs. BYU is 18th in third down conversions allowed and has been relatively solid in that department. Boise State’s offense is a little less successful on third downs than BYU’s at 46.7 percent, which is 29th. BYU should win the game if they can out-convert Boise State on third downs.