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Boise State vs BYU game preview: Broncos defense take on a true freshman QB

The 20th ranked Broncos travel to LaVell Edwards Stadium for Saturday night’s match up with the Cougars

BOISE, ID - SEPTEMBER 20: Michael Alisa #42 of the BYU Cougars tries to evade a tackle by Samuel Ukwuachu #82 of the Boise State Broncos at Bronco Stadium on September 20, 2012 in Boise, Idaho.
BOISE, ID - SEPTEMBER 20: Michael Alisa #42 of the BYU Cougars tries to evade a tackle by Samuel Ukwuachu #82 of the Boise State Broncos at Bronco Stadium on September 20, 2012 in Boise, Idaho.
Otto Kitsinger III/Getty Images

WEEK 2: Boise State Broncos vs. Brigham Young Cougars

WHEN: Saturday, September 12, 8:15 PM MST

WHERE: LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo, UT (63,470)

CONFERENCES: Mountain West Conference - Independent

2015 SEASON: Boise State, 1-0; BYU, 1-0

COACHES: Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin, 2nd year (13-2, 20-7 all time); BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall, 11th year (91-39 all time)


RADIO: Bronco Radio Network: KBOI (670 AM) and KTIK (93.1 FM) in the Boise area; Cougar IMG Sports Network: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM in the Provo area,

SERIES RECORD: Boise State leads, 4-1

WEB SITES: Boise State OfficialBYU official

The BYU Cougars have had ten straight bowl invitations and have regularly been in the top-25 rankings five times in the last six seasons. And this season Cougar head coach Bronco Mendenhall has once again not only set his sights on a top-ranked position but wants to finish with an undefeated season and be in the conservation about the national championship. After a thrilling defeat of Nebraska last week one thing stands in his way: the 20th ranked Boise State Broncos.

BYU’s win last week over Nebraska came with a cost when QB Taysom Hill was lost for the season again. But now enters true freshman Tanner Mangum, 6-3, 210 lbs, a product of Eagle High School near Boise, and one of the most highly touted recruits in the northwest in 2012. He took control of the Cougar offense in the second quarter at Nebraska and completed 7 of 11 passing attempts, and engineered a 76-yard drive in the final 48 seconds before throwing a game winning 42-yard Hail Mary on fourth down to seal the 33-28 victory.

Boise State is also coming into Provo with a win of their own: a victory over Chris Petersen’s Washington Huskies, who tried to mount a last-ditch drive as well but fell short in their second half rally when a 46-yard field goal attempt sailed just outside of the uprights with 21 seconds left in the game. The Broncos won 16-13.

Like BYU, if the Broncos could go undefeated, they should at least be considered by the CFP selection committee for one of the top four playoff spots. Wins over both Washington and BYU would be encouraging, heading for the upcoming game at Virginia.

What to expect when BYU has the ball: The Cougars are fired up coming off a thrilling, last-second win by way of a pass from Mangum to Mitch Mathews, 6-6, 215 lbs.  It was stunning and the momentum behind it will propel BYU into the matchup with the Broncos. With that pass Mangum has shown he can roll with the Cougars. And the takeaway from that performance against the Cornhuskers is that we can surmise what to expect from the BYU offense: more passing. Mangum can run in a pinch, yes, and did so five times against Nebraska for 26 yards, but he is a pocket passer and not the pro-style quarterback Hill was. Hill was the leading rusher on the team and averaged 8 yards a carry. Besides, Bronco will not want to risk injury to the best quarterback left on his roster.

Bronco said as much on his show a few days ago when he mentioned that the absence of Hill and Jamal Williams will change the offense. "(We) might be able to expand in some areas and taper in others," Mendenhall said. "It will take more from everyone."

He specifically mentioned senior WR Mitch Mathews as one of those who the team will expect to step up. Mathews had 3 catches for 69 yards and 2 TDs against the ‘huskers. Five other receivers caught at least three balls with WR Nick Kurtz, 6-5, 205 lbs, grabbing five, averaging 24.6 yards a catch. Ball distribution was part of Mendenhall’s game plan and in the absence of a running game one he is sure to employ again this week against Boise State.

The Cougar offense will be up against a very tough Broncos defense led by LB Ben Weaver, 6-0, 231 lbs, and Tanner Vallejo, 6-1, 228 lbs, who led the team in tackles last season, and further back in the secondary conference interception leader, S Darian Thompson, 6-2, 210 lbs. Thompson has already started this season with an interception against Washington. Another playmaker who will be casing Mendenhall’s offense will be safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner. He had 5 tackles last week (four solo) and just missed an interception of his own.

Last last week the Broncos defense held Washington to just 29 yards on 20 rushing plays, making the Broncos the 10th best rushing defense in the nation after just one game. Those kinds of numbers has to have Mendenhall thinking his own running game. He also has to be aware that Boise State sack-master DE Kamalei Correa, 6-3, 244 lbs, will lurking in the shadows and keeping Mangum worried. Correa and his O-line homies are not going to let Mangum get away with what Hill was good at and that was running the ball. The Mangum will be forced to air it out. Washington passed 22 times for 150 yards averaging 7.5 yards a pass, but they were intercepted once and failed to score on either a pass or run play, and Washington’s lone touchdown came from a punt return. Still, the pass defense is a Boise State weakness if he can get Mangum firing his bullets down field.

What to expect when Boise State has the ball: At first glance you would think QB Ryan Finley, 6-4, 199 lbs, was a mediocre quarterback in his first outing of the season. He was 16 of 26 pass attempts for 129 yards including an interception and failed to score in the entire second half. He also scrambled 11 times for 30 yards and had a tough time picking up some key first downs. But it’s kind of hard to shine when you are buried deep in your own red zone due to poor field position thanks to a poor performance by special teams that exacerbated the situation by personal fouls. To his credit Finley was still able to spread it around with a bunch of short passes to the likes of WR Thomas Sperbeck, 6-0, 173 lbs, WR Shane Williams-Rhodes, 5-6, 158 lbs, and TE Jake Roh, 6-3, 228 lbs.

If the Broncos are able to air it out that could just open up the stingy BYU defense enough to allow a decent running game.  And if not it might be enough to keep the Cougars honest. The Nebraska game attests to that. If the Cougar defense opens up a few cracks you can look for RB Jeremy McNichols, 5-9, 205 lbs, to romp and have fun. He hammered out 89 yards and a couple of TD’s on his outing against Washington.

But the Broncos won’t get it done without the arm of Finley. BYU held Nebraska’s run offense to 126 yards. But the Cougars seem to have a weakness the Broncos could exploit: their pass defense. The Cougars gave up 319 yards and 3 TD’s though the air last week. If Finley gets to throw some of his deep balls to the receivers it could spread out the Cougar defense and keep the Broncos in the game. On the other hand, conservative play calling or a few of key penalties could allow the Cougars to stack their D-line like Washington was able to do and that could spell disaster for the Broncos.

Special Teams: RB Eric Takenaka, 5-11, 205 lbs, is the punt returner and he’s good at it. Micah Hannemann, 6-0, 200 lbs, fields the kick returns. Kicker Trevor Samson, 5-11, 177 lbs, made two field goals and all three extra points last week accounting for 9 of BYU’s 33 total points. Punter Jonny Linehan, a 6-0, 195 pound punter out of New Zealand, booted the ball 5 times last week for 255 yards, averaging 51 yards a punt. One of those was a 77-yarder.

Boise State punter Sean Wale, 62, 185 lbs, had 6 punts for 185 yards last week for an average of 40.2 yards per punt. Kicker Tyler Rausa, 5-10, 195 lbs, made a 24-yard field goal and was 1 of 2 on extra points. Williams-Rhodes and WR Donte Deayon, 5-9, 155 lbs, will handle punt returns while McNichols will handle the kickoffs. Williams-Rhodes was the 6th best punt returner in the MWC last season.

Overview: Boise State needs to mount an aggressive offense and get on top of a very good BYU defense. On the other side of the ball the Broncos defensive secondary needs to be ready for a strong passing game from the new Cougar quarterback. True freshman or not, talented quarterback Tanner Mangum is the real deal and is the face the future for BYU football. Take him lightly and give him time to throw to his big receivers and it could be game over. Turnovers by the Broncos have been key in the past, along with costly penalties. Right now the odds-on favorite is Boise State by 2.5 and that sounds good to me.