BOISE — The Boise State football team hosts its first regular-season game against an Atlantic Coast Conference program when Virginia takes to the blue turf Friday night.
While the two schools have played just once before — a 56-14 BSU win at Virginia on Sept. 25, 2015 — coaches on both sides know each other well.
Before he took over at Virginia, Bronco Mendenhall was the head coach at BYU for 11 seasons, playing the Broncos four times, including two games at Albertsons Stadium. He also was the defensive coordinator for the 2003-04 games between the Broncos and Cougars.
BYU is 2-5 all-time against the Broncos, and Mendenhall can claim both those victories, but neither of them came on the Blue.
Eleven of the 15 coaches listed on Virginia’s website have BYU ties, giving Friday’s matchup (6 p.m., ESPN2) a familiar feel, at least from the coaches’ perspective.
“I believe one of my first games there at BYU, we missed a field goal to win,” Mendenhall said, referencing the 2004 game. “Another game we went for a two-point conversion and I think lost 7-6. I think there was another close one in there, and then they came to our stadium and we won a couple.
“But the stadium, the turf is one thing, but the style of play, Boise is always really aggressive at the beginning of the game. They prefer to get out in front in kind of shock and awe and gadget or trick or momentum or tempo or something unique and different. They really play hard and play fast at the beginning of the games there.”
Virginia is 2-1 with wins over William & Mary and UConn and a loss to Indiana. The Cavaliers rank 44th in total defense, allowing 327.3 yards per game.
“There’s a lot of similarities (to playing BYU). Obviously this is (Mendenhall’s) defense,” Boise State offensive coordinator Zak Hill said. “We’re going to be ready for whatever. He likes to do a lot of different things with his pressures, and we’ve got to be able to adjust in the game and stick to what we do offensively.”
Virginia ranks 17th in passing offense at 325.3 yards per game. Senior quarterback Kurt Benkert has started 13 career games for the Cavaliers and has thrown for at least three touchdowns in six of those starts.
Benkert is No. 3 in the ACC in passing yards (976) and passing touchdowns (7). His 32 completions per game rank No. 3 in the nation and No. 1 in the ACC.
Virginia’s trip to Boise is the fifth-longest in school history at approximately 2,400 miles. It’s also the Cavaliers’ first road game of the 2017 season.
Traditionally, the Broncos haven’t been easy on visiting teams. Boise State has won 24 straight at home against nonconference foes, with its last loss coming against Boston College in the 2005 MPC Computers Bowl.
Mendenhall knows why it can be so difficult to win on the Blue.
“The initial onslaught is usually — and the crowd especially — that’s usually those two things together kind of make this a unique challenge,” Mendenhall said. “You have to start fast and you have to be resilient, especially early, to play well there.”
VIRGINIA AT A GLANCE
Location: Charlottesville, Va.
Head coach: Bronco Mendenhall (4-11, second year; 103-54, 13th year overall)
This year: 2-1 overall; beat UConn 38-18 on Saturday
The Cavaliers already have matched last season’s win total and have shown some offensive depth along with Mendenhall’s usual tough defense. Three receivers had 100-yard games Saturday against UConn as the Cavaliers amassed 626 yards of offense. Junior Joe Ellis has 219 rushing yards on 54 attempts. Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said the offensive scheme is similar to the Broncos’, employing an array of looks with plenty of shifts and motions.
Virginia has a pair of preseason second-team AP All-Americans in senior linebacker Micah Kiser and senior safety Quin Blanding. Both are in the top 10 nationally with 36 and 33 tackles, respectively. The defense is allowing 20.7 points per game, but opposing passers have completed 63.7 percent of pass attempts. The three-man front that is the hallmark of a Mendenhall defense allows the likes of Kiser (five sacks) to go make plays.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Kurt Benkert, QB: A transfer from East Carolina, the senior earned the starting job last season and has stepped up in a big way this season. He has seven touchdowns to one interception and was 30-of-40 for a school-record 455 yards in the win over UConn. He sports an elaborate tattoo on his left arm. His father, Bruce, was the artist.
“He went off last week against UConn ... three touchdowns, and they were all bombs,” Boise State safety DeAndre Pierce said.
- Dave Southorn
VIRGINIA AT BOISE STATE
When: 6 p.m. Friday
Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf); fans are asked to wear blue
TV: ESPN2 (Adam Amin, Dusty Dvoracek, Molly McGrath)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: BSU 2-1 (beat New Mexico 28-14); Virginia 2-1 (beat UConn 38-18)
Series: Boise State leads 1-0 (beat Cavaliers 56-14 in Charlottesville in 2015)
Vegas line: Boise State by 13
Kickoff weather: Mid-50s, mostly sunny