Can BYU save its season by upsetting Boise State when the two rivals face off on Saturday?
Winning for just the second time ever on the Smurf Turf seems like a near-impossible task for the Cougars. BYU (4-5) is in the throes of a four-game losing streak and needs two wins in its final three games just to become bowl eligible. East Carolina secured a 27-24 victory over the Cougars last weekend after Andrew Conrad made a 33-yard field goal on the game's final play. BYU turned the ball over on downs on consecutive fourth-quarter drives, opening the door for the Pirates to steal a win.
The Broncos (6-2, 5-0 Mountain West) are on a roll after a rough start. Boise State extended its winning streak to four games after beating Colorado State 49-10 last weekend. The Broncos totaled a season-high 514 yards against the Rams. Defensively, Boise State held Colorado State to six first downs while piling up nine tackles for a loss — including five sacks. The Broncos have held their opponents to 20 or fewer points in all six of their victories this season.
Boise State leads BYU 8-4 in the series between the two rivals. The Broncos upset the No. 10 Cougars 26-17 in Provo last season.
BYU at Boise State
When BYU Has the Ball
Injuries have taken a toll on the Cougars at the skill positions.
Several of BYU's top receivers have been in and out of the lineup while battling injuries. Gunner Romney has played in just two games since lacerating his kidney in fall camp. Puka Nacua has battled ankle injuries that have limited his explosiveness. BYU was dealt another huge blow when leading receiver Kody Epps suffered a season-ending shoulder injury against Liberty. Epps tallied 459 yards and six touchdowns on 39 catches in eight games.
Health hasn't been much better at running back. Christopher Brooks, Lopini Katoa, and Miles Davis all missed games in October while battling injuries. All three backs have had 100-yard games this season, so getting them back at full strength would provide a major boost to BYU's sagging offensive attack. Katoa is coming off his best performance of the season after churning out 116 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries against East Carolina.
Between dealing with a porous defense and a shorthanded offense, Quarterback Jaren Hall has operated under tremendous pressure during BYU's four-game skid. Hall's efficiency as a passer has declined in that stretch. He has been held under 200 passing yards in three of his last four contests after passing for more than 260 yards in each of his first five starts this season. Hall completed 72 percent of his pass attempts against East Carolina but averaged only 5.8 yards per attempt against the Pirates.
When Boise State Has the Ball
Taylen Green enjoyed a career day against Colorado State. Green threw for 305 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 24-of-30 passing. It was the redshirt freshman's first 300-yard game and came a week after his first 200-yard passing game against Air Force. Green has shown steady improvement over his last three contests and could pose some problems for a BYU defense that has given up at least 240 passing yards in three of its last four games.
The Broncos are likely to do most of their damage on the ground. George Holani had his fourth 100-yard game of the season, finishing with 108 yards and three rushing touchdowns against Colorado State. When Holani is fully healthy he is tough to stop. The junior is averaging 93.9 rushing yards per game and is on pace for his first 1,000-yard season since his freshman campaign in 2019. Injuries limited him to 677 total yards over the past two seasons.
Stefan Cobbs and Billy Bowens are coming off their best performances of the season. The receiver duo combined for eight catches and 164 yards against the Rams. If they can continue to emerge, it will give Boise State's offense some much-needed balance and explosiveness.
Boise State and BYU face one another for the final time in the immediate future. This rivalry series was scrapped to clear schedules ahead of the Cougars joining the Big 12 in 2023. The Broncos aren't likely to let BYU part with pleasant memories. The Cougars are suffering a complete meltdown and Boise State will find plenty of ways to add to their misery.
Prediction: Boise State 34, BYU 17
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– Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports journalist based in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.
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