Broncos: Broncos fans generally knew what to expect out of Joe Southwick this season. With Grant Hedrick, there’s a greater range of possible outcomes. He has both a higher ceiling and a lower floor than his senior predecessor. Nick Patti is Hedrick’s only legitimate back-up with true freshman Ryan Finley done for the season, so don’t expect any Patti packages.
Cougars: Sophomore Taysom Hill is among the league leaders in total yards and rushing and passing attempts. He can run by and through defenders in the open field, and has gotten considerably more accurate the last four weeks. With concerns over his workload, it will be interesting to see if Bronco Mendenhall tried to balance the offense out more this week.
Broncos: Sophomore Jay Ajayi is 16th in the country in rushing yards and tied for first in rushing touchdowns with 12. With his 224 yards on 22 carries last week against Nevada, Ajayi upped his career yards per carry average back over six. With his six carries for 48 yards last week, Derrick Thomas appears to have won the second string running back job over Jack Fields, showing wiggle in the open field.
Cougars: Two-hundred-pound sophomore Jamaal Williams (a Chris Petersen recruit) suffered a hip pointer in last week’s win against Houston, but will play today despite missing practice this week. Williams is 33rd in the country in rushing yards, and is a dangerous compliment to Hill in the option game – strong and elusive in the hole and open field.
Broncos: Right tackle Rees Odhiambo went down in the second quarter against the Wolf Pack, as the Boise State offensive line had one of its worse performances of the year in the first half last week. Facing a team that ranked near the bottom of the country in multiple defensive metric, starting two new players up front, the Broncos offensive line often failed to protect Hedrick and open up running lanes. They turned it around big-time in the second half, and played great without Odhiambo in Logan, but on Friday will face their stiffest test since Washington to start the season. Expect some tight-end help for redshirt freshman Steven Baggett on the right side.
Cougars: BYU played musical chairs up front early in the season, but found stability y of late with a starting group of juniors or younger (though older than most coming off Missions.) The Cougars have struggled in pass protection, however, giving up eight sacks last week against Houston and 22 on the year. Part of that is the high amount of plays the Cougars run.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Broncos: How long will it take for Hedrick to develop chemistry with the Broncos receivers? Given the likelihood that Hedrick’s practice snaps came with second unit receivers, do Troy Ware and Dallas Burroughs play more prominent roles in the offense? Could Hedrick’s running ability create better situations in the secondary for a group that hasn’t made as many big plays as they were expected to? More questions than answers at this point. Gabe Linehan’s return is one again a question mark, as is the tight-ends contribution to the passing game.
Cougars: Hill has spread the ball around in 2013, as five different Cougars targets have ten or more receptions, a large number at this point in the season for a predominately running team. Pre-season All-American (Phil Steele) Cody Hoffman leads the group with 25 grabs despite missing time this year because of a suspension and injuries. Hoffman had 156 yards last week against Houston, and had over 100 receptions as a junior. He’s considered by many draft sites to be among the top 10 NFL prospects at the position. He’s better than anyone on BSU’s roster, but the Broncos have better depth.
Broncos: Demarcus Lawrence won Mountain West Conference Player of the Week honors against Nevada with 3.5 sacks, numerous pressures and seven tackles. Despite a suspension and some mediocre performances in big games, Lawrence is tied for the conference lead in sacks. He has 5.5 of those the last three weeks. The Broncos first defensive line rotation has at times dominated. But there appears to be a significant drop-off to the second, evidenced by the Wolf-Pack easily running off the left side (the Broncos right) in the second quarter. With as many plays as BYU runs on offense, all seven rotating lineman will see plenty of snaps, and there can’t be such a dramatic drop-off.
Cougars: BYU runs a 3-4 defense, utilizing three gigantic two-gap defensive lineman each play, from 6-goot-7 287 pound Bronson Kaufusi, to 305 pound nose guard Eathyn Manumaleuna and 312 pound end Merrill Taliula. Slighter lineman Remington Peck leads the group with two sacks, which has a primary responsibility of occupying blockers. While the Cougars have just 12 sacks on the season, they rank 33rd stopping the run, giving up just 3.5 yards per carry.
Broncos: Freshman Ben Weaver is tied for eighth in the conference for tackles, a stunning number for a guy who didn’t start early in the season. No other BSU ‘backer ranks in the top 50 in the conference in tackles – signs of mediocre play and injuries. Freshman Tanner Vallejo impressed in his first start, showing more speed and agility replacing the injured Blake Renaud. With Darren Lee also in the mix at middle linebacker, the Broncos bring three freshmen to the linebacker spot against a powerful and relentless BYU running game. That could be trouble. If the Broncos ‘backers pass this week’s test, you’ll know they’re for real.
Cougars: Senior weakside linebacker Kyle Van Noy has 26 career sacks coming in, with four in 2013. He also has 11 tackles for loss. Chris Petersen said last year’s third team All-American “makes it look effortless,” but made just two tackles last year in Boise. Uani Unga leads the team in tackles. The Cougars are 37th in the country in total defense and the linebackers are their best group.
Broncos: Cornerback Bryan Douglas is healthy and playing like one of the best cornerbacks in the conference – a far cry from where the seemingly limited junior was earlier in the season. You could say the same thing about every rotational player in the secondary, whether it be an improvement based on health, confidence or experience.
Cougars: Their seven interceptions don’t stand out, but opposing quarterbacks – and BYU has faced some good ones – have posted a 116.28 passing efficiency, good for 19th in the country. Starting safety/nickelback Craig Bills will likely play after suffering a concussion. Dannie Sorenson leads the unit with two interceptions and nine passes defended.
Broncos: Dan Goodale keeps kicking the ball either out of the endzone or near it, and the Broncos return game continues to set up the offense with better-than-average field position. Shane Williams-Rhodes and Dallas Borroughs are a threat to change each week’s game.
Cougars: Adam Hine averages 32 yards per kick return, much of it coming on a 90 yard run. Offensive starter J.D. Falslev has punt return touchdown, while Justin Sorensen has made 11 of 13 field goals, getting touchbacks on 22 of 46 kick-offs. Punter Scott Arellano has had a better season than either of the Broncos punters.