BYU (2-1) at (24) Boise State (1-1)
Thursday, September 20, 9:00 p.m. (et)
From The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Back in the national rankings after a brief hiatus, the 24th-
ranked Boise State Broncos have a short week as they prepare for the arrival
of the BYU Cougars on Thursday night.
The Broncos had a tough opener this season as they tangled with nationally-
ranked Michigan State on the road in East Lansing, an outing that resulted in
a disappointing 17-13 loss for head coach Chris Petersen and his crew. The
defeat served to take away enough votes in the AP Poll so that the Broncos
were on the outside looking in for the first time since the middle of
September in 2008.
With more than a two-week break in the action, Boise State was more than ready
to rebound against Miami-Ohio last weekend and did so with a 39-12 victory in
the home opener.
Meanwhile, the Cougars know a little something about being bumped out of the
national rankings as they had that happen last week following a bizarre ending
to a 24-21 loss at Utah. BYU, which had won decisions against Washington State
and Weber State by a combined 75-19 and was ranked 25th in the country as a
result, had more than just one chance to get over on the Utes, but an unusual
set of circumstances saw the squad miss field goal attempts from 51 and 36
yards at the end of regulation for their first loss of the season.
"Our team didn't play clean enough football today to win the game," head coach
Bronco Mendenhall said after the loss. "I really liked their heart, how they
fought back, how they played until the last second and gave us a great chance
right until the very last play."
The Broncos have won both of their previous matchups with the Cougars,
although the most recent one in 2004 was decided by just a single point,
28-27. This game marks the first in a 12-year series between two schools that
are separated by less than 400 miles.
BYU trailed 24-7 heading into the fourth quarter against rival Utah in Salt
Lake City last weekend and had a chance to send the game into overtime in the
final moments, but it simply wasn't meant to be. Quarterback Riley Nelson had
his ups and downs as he converted 17-of-35 passes for 206 yards and two
scores, but was sacked four times and intercepted once.
The signal-caller was able to move the ball down the field in the final drive,
close enough for a 51-yard field goal attempt. But that try was missed in what
should have been the final play of the game. However, the Utes were assessed a
15-yard penalty for Utah fans storming the field and that gave the Cougars one
more shot. Unfortunately for the visitors, that brief reprieve was met with a
failed 36-yard try by Riley Stephenson which bounced off the upright.
From a defensive standpoint, the Cougars limited Utah to just 245 yards of
total offense, marking the ninth straight BYU opponent that's been held below
300 total yards. Having held the Utes to just 49 yards on the ground, BYU is
now sixth in the nation in run defense with a mere 53.0 ypg allowed. As far as
total defense is concerned, the Cougars are ninth in that category with 241.0
ypg permitted through the first three games of the season.
Nelson is again the focal point of the offense for BYU, converting 60 percent
of his pass attempts for 245.0 ypg and a total of five touchdowns, but for now
the key to the team's success lies on the defensive side of the ball where the
squad is seventh in the nation in tackles for loss (9.0 per game) and fifth in
BYU might be one of the best in the nation when it comes to sacking
quarterbacks, but the squad will have its hands full this week because Boise
State is one of four teams in the country (Air Force, Middle Tennessee and
Oklahoma State) that has yet to allow a sack.
Last weekend, BSU signal-caller Joe Southwick had a very strong outing as he
closed out the meeting with Miami-Ohio by connected on all but one of his 17
pass attempts, finishing 24-of-31 overall for 304 yards and two touchdowns,
and yet he knows the offense can still perform at a higher level.
"It was good," Southwick said of the performance by the offense. "We were
moving the ball. Still have to clean up some things, each week we have to keep
getting better ... Week two to week three we need to see some improvement and
same thing down the road. I think we got some things done and again, we have
to keep getting better."
Taking some of the pressure off Southwick was D.J. Harper who rushed for a
career-high 162 yards and three touchdowns, adding a fourth score through the
air on a 21-yard reception to begin the affair.
"I've waited a long time for this," Harper said of being a primary
contributor. "I'm really excited for the opportunity, and when an opportunity
presents itself you want to make the most of it. I feel like today the
offense, the line, the receivers blocking, they helped me do that."
Possessing a staunch defense for several seasons, the Broncos may have taken a
step back in that department given how few returning starters the unit has
this year. Against Michigan State the team gave up 213 rushing yards, which is
uncharacteristic of a Petersen-coached squad, but against Miami the unit was
able to pull it together and allow just 49 yards.
It is still a little too early to tell where BSU really falls when it comes to
stopping the run, but it is presumably somewhere in the middle of the last two
efforts that when combined have the Broncos ranked 52nd in the country.
Perhaps even more startling is the fact that BSU is averaging just 3.0 TFL per
game, last in the conference and 116th in the nation this week and barely half
of what they averaged all of last season (6.23).
Southwick is still a work in progress at quarterback, converting 62.9 percent
of his pass attempts for two touchdowns and the same number of interceptions,
but as long as he can refrain from making awkward mistakes that prove too
costly, he'll be the one in the huddle calling the shots.
Boise State has won 18 consecutive September home games, and under the
direction of coach Petersen the squad is an impressive 19-1 overall in the
month no matter where they perform, so the Cougars will have to put together
the perfect game plan in order to be in the hunt this week.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Boise State 31, BYU 14
09/19 10:34:31 ET