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What you need to know: BYU vs Boise State

With the Broncos seeking revenge from last year, the Cougars must travel to face them on the daunting "Smurf Turf"

Craig Bills makes a tackle against Boise State in 2013
Craig Bills makes a tackle against Boise State in 2013
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The History:

With a convincing win in Provo last year, the BYU Cougars finally broke through and beat the Boise State Broncos. With a current record of 1-3 against the Broncos, the Cougars are looking to win their second straight, and first on the famous "Smurf Turf". The Cougars have had their chances in the past, but a missed field goal and a failed two-point conversion has kept BYU winless in Boise.

Boise, ID 2012 (6-7)

In 2012, BYU traveled to Boise to face a ranked Broncos team and failed to make the plays needed for their first win in Boise. The defense played outstanding as it kept the Broncos offense scoreless. After a scoreless first half, the Broncos intercepted Riley Nelson and took it back 36 yards for a defensive touchdown and the only BSU points of the game. Unfortunately, the Cougars couldn't help themselves as they turned the ball over five times. Freshman QB Taysom Hill replaced Nelson in the fourth quarter, leading the Cougars on a 95-yard scoring drive and giving them a chance to either tie or win the game. After losing confidence in the kicking game early in the year, the Cougars' coaches opted to go for the win with a two-point conversion that ultimately failed and cost the Cougars a chance at overtime. Hill ended up leading the team in rushing yards with 72 yards on 12 attempts

Provo, UT 2013 (37-20)

The Broncos started out moving the ball well, but missed an opening drive field goal after a 4th down stop by the BYU defense. The defense would continue to play tough as they only allowed two yards on the next Bronco drive. Taysom Hill would put the Cougars on the board shortly afterwards with a 20-yard scramble to give the Cougars a 7-0 lead. On the first play of the second quarter the Cougars increased their lead with a Justin Sorensen field goal from 28 yards out. Boise State would score next as they hit a 33-yard field goal with just under five minutes left in the half. BYU would answer back with a four-play drive that ended with a 37-yard pass from Hill to Ross Apo for the 17-3 lead. After a Bronco turnover, Cody Hoffman became the all-time touchdown reception leader at BYU and the Cougars went into the locker room with a 24-3 lead.

Boise State came out of the locker room and drove 61 yards on their first drive, but stalled in the red zone and settled for a field goal from 34 yards out. With a 24-6 lead the Cougars were not ready to stop and Hill hit Mitch Mathews for a 40-yard touchdown pass and a 31-6 lead. Boise State would score its first touchdown of the game late in the third quarter and BYU would add a field goal to give the Cougars the 34-13 lead after three. In the fourth quarter, the Broncos would add one more touchdown and Sorensen would hit his third field goal of the game to provide the final score, 37-20. Uani' Unga would end the game with 15 tackles for the fifth time on the season and Hill finished 27-41 for 339 yards and three touchdowns.

The Outlook:

After another tough loss, the Cougars are looking to rebound on a field they have never walked off with a victory. The Cougars third loss in a row comes after putting 35 points on the board and racking up over 600 yards of offense. The struggles on defense continue as backups are being asked to play at the same level as the starters and it hasn't happened yet. The same concerns that have been around for the last four weeks, are still haunting the team today. Something needs to change or the skid will continue.

The Positives

One of the most exciting things to come out of the game is the improvement of Christian Stewart. With a game and a half under his belt, Stewart has started to build timing with his receivers, although improvement is still needed. Stewart continued to have a number of overthrows, but compiled 408 yards passing and four touchdowns. Even though he threw 63 passes, he was able to locate his passes where either only his receiver could get to them or nobody could and was able to avoid throwing a single interception.

With Williams and Hine out for the game, the Cougars had to rely on Paul Lasike and Algernon Brown to carry the rushing game. Unfortunately Brown was injured after one rush and BYU had to dig even deeper to find a replacement. The Cougars turned to the relatively unknown RB Nate Carter to run alongside Lasike. Carter shouldn't be unknown anymore as he led all rushers with 87 yards on only seven rushes. Yes, that comes out be 12.4 yards per rush. The rushing game seems to be moving along with Stewart adding 47 yards and Lasike adding 46. As a team the Cougars ended up with 193 rushing yards on the day.

The Negatives

Turnovers once again cost the Cougars and led to another loss. BYU lost the turnover battle 0-3, coughing the ball up three times. The first came late in the third quarter when the Cougars were in field goal range and Terenn Houk lost the ball on the sideline. Nevada promptly capatilized on this turnover, turning it into a 48-yard touchdown drive to tie the game at 28. Two drives later the Wolf Pack wrapped up Stewart, and a loose ball, in the backfield when the Cougars were on their own 20. Nevada once again capatilized, this time with a 20-yard touchdown drive that gave the Wolf Pack a two touchdown lead. The final turnover came as BYU was driving to tie the game, with under a minute left and inside the Wolf Pack 40. Stewart was running, holding the ball loosely, and as he was trying to make a play when the ball was swiped by a defender and put on the turf to end the Cougars chances. Turnovers have played a critical part in the last two games and will continue to do so if not corrected.

Not getting third and fourth down stops are a killer for the defense. When the defense can't get the stop and force the offense off the field, the momentum swings and the defense tires. Even with long third downs, the Wolf Pack managed to convert 7-17 on third down and did even better on fourth down, going 4-4. The killer may have been on a third and 18. The BYU defense quickly put pressure on Fajardo, but missed three tackles before Nevada gained 15 of the 18 yards, went for it on fourth down and ended up scoring a few plays later. The defense must find a way to get off the field and force the momentum back into the Cougars favor in those situations.

The Match-ups:

Boise State's third down offense vs BYU's third down defense

The Cougars defense has struggled to get off the field and third downs have been critical in allowing the opposing offense to drive down the field. Currently the Cougars are ranked 53rd in the country in third down defense as they are allowing a conversion on more than 37 percent of the opponents attempts. The Boise State offense on the other hand is converting on almost 45 percent of its attempts on third down. If the Cougars want to have any chance to win the game, the defense must keep the Broncos below their average, while making sure that they don't allow conversions on third and long.

BYU rush game vs Boise State rush defense

The Broncos rush defense is ranked 24th in the country, allowing only 120.4 yards per game on the ground. The Cougars will be looking to rough up these numbers a bit as they are averaging 208.1 rushing yards per game. Somebody will end the game disappointed and the Cougars success running the ball will be a big reason. If the Cougar runners can take out their frustration on a strong rush defense, it will lead to points being scored. However, if the Broncos can stuff the likes of Williams, Lasike, Brown, and even Carter, then the Cougars will struggle to move the ball consistently. This should be a great match up to watch as it may determine the winner.

The Keys to Watch:

When the Broncos have the ball:

Watch for the Grant Hedrick and Jay Ajayi show. Hedrick is completing almost 72 percent of his passes on the year and will look to pick apart a struggling BYU defense. Although his top receiver Matt Miller is out for the season, Hedrick has plenty of targets. Shane Williams-Rhodes leads the team in receptions, with 45 for 343 yards. Ajayi comes in next with 10 fewer receptions, but 317 receiving yards. Ajayi also comes in as the Broncos' leading rusher with 172 attempts, double the next closest (Hedrick), and 867 rushing yards. With 12 passing touchdowns and 13 rushing touchdowns, this Broncos team will take whatever is given and find a way to score.

BYU will continue working on getting pressure on Hedrick. If the Cougars can pressure Hedrick, it may accentuate the one flaw that is seen in Hedrick, the interception. Hedrick has thrown 10 interceptions to his eight touchdowns this year and this will be where the Cougars will fight to make a difference. The Cougars will look to stop Ajayi as a ball carrier and will put their fifth ranked rushing defense to the test.

When the Cougars have the ball:

Watch for Stewart and Mathews to pick up where they left off after Nevada. Mathews' 16 catch, 182 yard receiving performance shows the chemistry the two players have built and it will only get better. This should allow other receivers to step up as more attention is given to stopping Mathews, leaving favorable match-ups that can be exploited. Watch for Williams to get back on track as he has missed the majority of the last two games. BYU will use both Williams and Lasike to open up the field for the passing game.

Watch for Boise State to force the Cougars away from the rush. As the Broncos work to stuff BYU's running backs, they will also drop players back in to coverage to try and take advantage of a still green Stewart. With Williams being a proven commodity, the Broncos will take their chances with Stewart through the air. Look for limited double teaming of the receiver unless the Cougars begin to thrash the secondary, leaving a number of opportunities for the receivers to make plays.

Interesting Tidbit:

New head coach Bryan Harsin is trying to keep to keep the Broncos traditions alive and one way he did this was to continue the "Bronco Olympics" in fall camp. This tradition includes various activities such as bowling, free-throw shooting, tennis, home-run derby and even a chili cook-off. This year the event started with a team viewing of "Lone Survivor" on the blue turf after which the team stayed the night in preparation of their Wednesday morning practice. The team is divided into groups of 10 in order to compete against each other. For more information on this event, click here.

Next Meeting:

The next game between the schools will be in Provo at Lavell Edwards Stadium on September 12th, 2015.

The Forecast:

The temperature should be in the mid-high 50s with a 20 percent chance of rain.

The Broadcasting Details:

Time: 7:00 pm MDT

Where: Albertsons Stadium-Boise, ID


Internet: WatchESPN

Radio(BYU): KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM, BYU Radio-Sirius XM 143

Listen Live via Internet(KSL): Click Here

Radio Links (Boise State): Click Here