Boise State heads to Provo looking to stay undefeated against the reeling Cougars
There's no such thing as rebuilding seasons at Boise State these days. The Broncos head to Provo to face BYU on Saturday with the inside track to be the Group of 5 qualifier for a New Year's Six Bowl.
No. 14 Boise State has faced little resistance up to this point in racing out to a 6-0 start for the second time in four seasons. The Broncos lead the Mountain West in total offense with 488.2 yards per game. They also rank third in total defense, allowing just 327.7 yards per contest. Their strength on both sides of the ball has led to a 23.3-point per game margin of victory over the last four.
BYU (2-4) is mired in a three-game losing streak after losing fourth-quarter leads in back-to-back games against Toledo and South Florida. The Cougars are a mess on both sides of the ball and suddenly worrying if they can get the necessary six wins to become bowl eligible. They will have to win at least one of three contests against Mountain West opponents — Boise State, Utah State, and San Diego State — to reach that plateau.
Boise State holds a 7-2 lead in the series between the budding rivals. BYU has lost three straight in the series since upsetting the then-No. 20 Broncos 35-24 in 2015.
Boise State at BYU
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 19 at 10:15 p.m. ET
Spread: Boise State -7.0
When Boise State Has the Ball
Anyone who expected the Broncos to take a step back on offense this season has quickly been proven wrong. Boise State has created a true quarterback factory that helps the Broncos remain the Mountain West's flagship program season after season.
Hank Bachmeier is the latest quarterback fresh off that factory assembly line. Bachmeier may be a true freshman, but he has produced like a veteran. Through six games, Bachmeier has thrown for 1,547 yards and nine touchdowns while completing 62 percent of his passes. He ranks third in the Mountain West in total passing yardage. The Broncos are third as a team in passing offense (321.7 ypg). Bachmeier's status for Saturday's game is still undetermined after he injured a hip against Hawaii on Saturday. If he can't go, backup QB Chase Cord will likely get the call.
John Hightower, CT Thomas, and Khalil Shakir are Bachmeier's favorite targets who will test the BYU secondary regardless of which quarterback has the reins. Each member of this trio has at least 20 receptions through the first six games. They have combined for 1,213 yards and 11 touchdowns on 91 catches.
Robert Mahone will be the biggest concern for BYU's porous run defense. Mahone is averaging 5.0 yards per carry. The Cougars are allowing 224.5 rushing yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry. The numbers don't favor BYU's ability to contain Mahone for any significant stretch.
When BYU Has the Ball
The injury bug has attacked BYU's quarterbacks in a big way. Zack Wilson is sidelined with a thumb injury he suffered in the final minutes against Toledo. Jaren Hall had to leave the game after a hard hit to the head late in the fourth quarter against USF. Hall is day-to-day this week, which means third-string QB Baylor Romney could get the start against Boise State.
Romney showed some promise on his two drives against South Florida. The redshirt freshman threw for 73 yards on 6-of-10 passing, although he was unable to convert a pair of fourth downs to get a potential go-ahead touchdown. BYU has generated at least 200 passing yards in each of its first six games. Romney seems capable of stretching that streak to seven games.
The Cougars will need to get greater production out of the backfield to take pressure off of Romney and the receivers. Emmanuel Esukpa and Lopini Katoa combined for 116 yards on 24 carries against USF. With Romney being less of a dual-threat QB than Hall, Esukpa and Katoa will need to shoulder a bigger load to keep Boise State's potent offense off of the field as long as possible. Running some ball-control offense gives BYU its best chance for success against the Broncos.
Boise State is a better football team right now than BYU. There's no other way to look at it. The Broncos are clicking on both sides of the ball and rolling toward another NY6 Bowl. The Cougars, on the other hand, are caught in the rapids and struggling to stay above water. Injuries at key positions have taken away what depth BYU had. It would take a miracle for the Cougars to get their first win in the series since 2015.
Prediction: Boise State 30, BYU 17
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.