BYU (4-3) at Boise State (5-2) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Albertsons Stadium (36,387) -- Boise, Idaho. Television: ESPN. Home Record: BYU 2-2, BSU 3-0. Away Record: BYU 2-1, BSU 2-1. Neutral Record: BYU 0-0, BSU 0-1. Conference Record: BYU 0-0, BSU 3-1. Series Record: Boise State leads, 3-1.
GAME NOTES: With their second bye week on the horizon, the Boise State Broncos take a break from their Mountain West Conference schedule on Friday night in order to host the BYU Cougars at Albertsons Stadium.
Despite facing some challenges now that Chris Petersen has moved on to coach the Washington Huskies, Boise State is still one of the top home teams in the nation since 2000. This season the team is 3-0 on the blue turf, thanks in part to a 37-27 victory over Fresno State last Friday night. The win was the second in a row and the fifth in six tries for a squad that is aiming to become bowl eligible with a win this week.
Following the meeting with BYU, the Broncos will break for the second time this month and won't be back on the field until Nov. 8 when they drop in on the New Mexico Lobos in Albuquerque.
As for the Cougars, they were cruising along at 4-0, were nationally ranked and had a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback, but that all changed earlier this month when Taysom Hill was lost for the season with a leg injury. With Hill out of the picture, BYU has dropped three straight decisions, the latest coming during Homecoming last Saturday against Nevada in a 42-35 final.
The Broncos have won three of the previous four meetings with BYU, although the Cougars were the ones who came out on top in last year's clash by a score of 37-20 in Provo.
BYU held a comfortable 28-13 lead at the half against Nevada last Saturday, but then the offense disappeared as the Cougars logged just one more touchdown over the final 30 minutes of play, while the Wolf Pack was putting up 29 points.
Taking over for Hill, Christian Stewart had his best game for the Cougars as he completed 39-of-63 passes for 408 yards and four touchdowns, but he was also under constant pressure, resulting in six sacks. Mitch Mathews was clearly his favorite target, as the receiver set career highs with 16 catches for 182 yards and two touchdowns. Like Hill, Stewart was able to keep the defense guessing as he ran 16 times for a net of 47 yards.
Unfortunately, while the yardage total on the ground for Stewart was the same as Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo, the latter was able to reach the end zone twice and that had a lot to do with the victory for the visitors.
The Cougars managed to limit Nevada to a modest 126 yards rushing, although those yards did result in four TDs. Heading into this week, BYU is fifth in the nation in limiting opponents on the ground to a mere 97.0 ypg, but unfortunately the pass defense is far more forgiving, surrendering 290.6 ypg which is 117th in the Football Bowl Subdivision currently.
Listed as questionable for this week's meeting against the Broncos, running back Jamaal Williams is the player the Cougars need to call on after losing Hill. Williams is averaging slightly better than five yards per carry and has scored three times in six games, more than any other active rusher. As a group, BYU is posting 208.1 ypg on the ground, something it will try to muster yet again this week.
Defensively, the visitors are dealing with several key injuries, as Alani Fua's ankle issues could keep the linebacker out of action yet again, which means the Cougars need to find someone to replace him in the middle of the field where he has logged 30 tackles and a team-high three sacks in five appearances. Safety Craig Bills, the top tackler for the program with 39 stops, is questionable after suffering a concussion.
The night before the Cougars lost to Nevada, the Broncos were taking care of business versus Fresno State with a 10-point victory. Boise State owned a double-digit lead a number of times on the night, but heading into the fourth quarter the team found itself tied with the Bulldogs at 27-27. The Broncos pulled out a little trick play early in the frame as quarterback Grant Hedrick actually caught the go-ahead TD, capping a 17-play, 75-yard drive that consumed close to eight minutes.
Hedrick converted 21-of-30 passes for 190 yards and a score of his own, while running back Jay Ajayi continued to fight for the tough yards on the ground with 30 carries for 158 yards and a pair of scores.
On the other side of the ball, every time the Broncos seemed comfortable, they had to deal with Marteze Waller who ran for a game-high 164 yards and two TDs on just 18 attempts. Tyler Gray helped stop the bleeding with a game-high 11 tackles and two of his team's five sacks, while Donte Deayon had a sack, an interception and a forced fumble.
Gray is now second on the team in total tackles with 34, trailing only Tanner Vallejo who not only has 47 stops, but is second on the unit with 8.5 tackles for loss and has recovered a pair of fumbles. Deayon, who was named the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts against the Bulldogs, is tied for the team lead in interceptions with four, the squad as a whole coming up with 13 picks and recovering four fumbles.
However, as well as the Broncos have done in forcing turnovers, they've given the ball away just as many times, which can be an issue when the defense needs a rest and the offense is giving the ball right back to the opposition.
He may be one of the top rushers in the nation these days with 867 yards and 10 TDs on 172 carries, but Ajayi also has a penchant for putting the ball on the turf. Add to that the 10 INTs thrown by Hedrick, and it's easy to see why this is not the same old Broncos team we are used to seeing.
As long as Hedrick and Ajayi refrain from giving the BYU offense too many bites at the apple, this is a meeting that should fall in favor of the Broncos.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Boise State 31, BYU 27Game Date and Time
Friday, October 24, 9 p.m. (ET).