Attack The Opponent: Brigham Young University Cougars

I’ve been trying to decide how to write this article for a while. If you follow me on Twitter, you will understand that I am not a fan of BYU. I take delight in the Cougar’s losses, and only root for them when it suits my interests, like for SOS purposes. Watching them lose to Nevada last Saturday night was a wonderful end to an evening. The message board meltdowns are just as amusing as Boise State’s, except much more hair-trigger. I encountered someone online once that referred to Bronco Mendenhall as “the worst man in Utah County.” That is literally the best praise this fan could come up with, and I LOVED the sentiment. Provo is a strange place that I have a complicated history with, and through all this, I realized that I wasn’t going to come to any conclusion about this match-up that is fair without looking at the data.

Boise State and BYU have only played 4 times in the history of both schools. In 2003 and 2004, Boise State won both match-ups. This displeased Cougar fans. Boise State won again in 2012, in a defensive struggle that gave the world this awesome GIF of Bacon running in a TD.

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BYU won last year’s affair, in a game that I have yet to watch all the way through but understand went poorly. (I’m also not willing to watch it for this article because I am a wuss who doesn’t wanna.)

Now, this isn’t to say BYU and BSU don’t have some things in common other than the letters B and LDS. Both schools have had great success in the past. BYU won a national championship in 1984, had a string of all-American quarterbacks who had success in the NFL, and both have rabid fan bases with lots of overlap due to both cities having an abundance of people who grew up in either Boise or Provo and then moved to the other city to go to school, or have extended family in the other area. Both teams are known for toughness and high-powered offenses. Both teams have hard-hitting, opportunistic defenses. BYU had christened themselves a “contender” until their Idaho bred QB Taysom Hill suffered a broken leg against Utah State a couple of weeks ago and the losses started.

This is all much too subjective.

(The data set used here is pulled from sportsreference.com. It’s a pretty nifty site to be able to grab a lot of data quickly, already formatted for Excel.)

I wanted to look at how the season was trending as well as the head to head numbers vs. Nevada, being the most recent common opponent.

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 10.16.18 PMBoise State started out keeping their first four opponents well under 100 yards rushing. This was a spectacular performance, but as the season wore on the option teams hit the schedule, and injuries mounted, that total has increased threefold. However, BSU also isn’t giving up as many passing yards overall, even though in three games, teams have put 250+ yards on the Broncos through the air. Overall, the defense isn’t any worse than it started out, just different, and finding their balance.

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BYU’s defense is improving steadily, overall. Their run defense has held opponents under 100 yards 4 times this season as well, but nobody has put the kind of yards on the Cougars that Air Force put on Boise State. Nick Howell’s defense (whose head is the current subject of removal on Cougar boards everywhere) has allowed a bunch of passing yards, but at least their consistent about it. Boise State can expect to have a good day through the air, especially if Sanford keeps up his living on the edge ways and throws some trick plays at the Cougars.  Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 10.16.32 PM

Boise State has also been improving well since the Air Force game on the ground. If Jay goes mini-Beast Mode because he doesn’t like losing, and Jeremy McNichols can continue finding the corner, it might be too much for BYU. However, they do have a strong run defense and it is more likely that Boise State is going to have to be holy accurate through the air and not turn the ball over. Making the Cougars pay to the tune of over 350 yards will pay great dividends.

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BYU put a TON of yards on Nevada, which got them out of a yardage slump. It wasn’t enough to take down the Wolfpack, who had luck and momentum for a good chunk of the second half. For a team to shut up Lavell Edwards Stadium is quite the feat, and a rarity. This game being on The Blue might be the best thing that could happen for Boise State. Being able to get stops in the right part of the field will allow for good field position which will be necessary to outscoring an offense that can go for 601 yards. Granted, that was a huge performance from BYU, they had been averaging 427 yards prior. Teams that have beaten the Cougars have got them to give up a ton of penalties, as well as taking the ball away a substantial amount of times. Those are going to be keys for the Broncos.

Against Nevada, though, is interesting.

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 10.17.01 PM Boise State didn’t have a great defensive game against Nevada, but the turnovers balanced it out. BYU could be coming into Albertsons Stadium with more defense than we’ve seen out of anybody since Ole Miss. BYU got a ton of penalties against Nevada, but since those guys are a pretty jumpy bunch of players, really, I would hope we wouldn’t see that type of performance from Boise State because that has been corrected finally, but who knows.

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 10.16.45 PM   Nevada does have a pretty good defense, and both BYU and Boise seem to hang on to the ball equally well, but this whole game looks to come down to passing accuracy and turnovers. It would be nice for Boise’s running backs to go off, but shouldn’t be expected. Limiting turnovers is going to be key for keeping the crowd in it, and in Bronco Stadium, with the crowd roaring on national TV on a Friday night in the fall, the good guys seem to run a little faster, hit a little harder, and block a little better. Special Teams play is also huge, not only for the value of a good stop, but also for the crowd and momentum factors.

This game is winnable by both teams. If BYU gets Grant to start throwing picks and stops the run, Boise is in for a long night. BYU could also get a lot of yards through the air in a hurry. Boise State has momentum on their side. BYU has anger on theirs. Cougar fans are miserable right now and it won’t take much for a full on meltdown. If the Fightin’ Brighams start having things go wrong and lose their mojo, it will just make Bronco Nation louder.

So, best case scenario, BYU starts slow, the Jay Train starts rollin’ down that track early and often, the Cougs get desperate and start acquiring penalties and turn the ball over, and this thing snowballs out of Mendenhall’s control and his job flashes before his eyes.

Worst case? Boise State can’t move the ball and they turn the ball over in the red zone a lot. BYU gets their pass game going and all of a sudden Boise State is in real trouble. The crowd gets out of it and leaves in the 3rd quarter and we all get home to the inevitable Twitter freakout that BYU fans just experienced last week.

Let’s hope for the first option. Go Broncos. Attack The Future. We’ve got 9 more meetings with the Cougs on the schedule and I’d like each and every one of them to be the beat-down that program deserves.