When Boise State and BYU face off on Thursday night on the blue turf, the Broncos will be looking to avenge their 35-24 loss to the Cougars last season, the second time in three games they have fallen to BYU, and the Cougars will be looking to win in Boise for the first time.
The blue turf figures to take a pounding, as both teams boast running backs who are two of the best in the nation. For the Broncos, junior Jeremy McNichols led the way last week with 264 total yards (217 rushing) and two touchdowns in their 28-23 win over Colorado State.
In fact, it was the play he suggested, that lead to an 80-yard touchdown that got the Broncos offense kicked into gear. This was nothing new for Boise State as McNichols has been a man on a mission this season, proving he can stay healthy and refusing to leave yards on the field. His efforts have paid off. His 775 rushing yards are good for ninth in the country. And he is fifth in yards per game (129.2) and second in rushing touchdowns (11).
For the Cougars, Jamaal Williams ran for 76 yards and set the school rushing record with 3,468 for his career in their 28-21 double overtime win against Mississippi State. Because running backs from bigger programs are also having great seasons, Williams broke the record in relative obscurity, but the Broncos will need to take note of him because his 942 yards are good for second in the nation.
Both teams are also riding winning streaks with Boise State sitting at 6-0 and BYU having won three straight to sit at 4-3. There is, however, more on the line for the Broncos. Currently ranked 14th, they are projected to play in the Cotton Bowl on January 2nd, which would mark the first time they’ve played in a New Year’s or post New Year’s Day bowl game since their 2010 victory in the Fiesta Bowl.
While he is clearly the key player, McNichols won’t have to carry Boise State alone. Quarterback Brett Rypien has thrown for over 1,600 yards and 12 touchdowns this season and he leads an aerial attack that averages 300 yards per game. BYU also boasts a veteran signal caller in Taysom Hill and while his numbers aren’t equal to Rypien’s, the college career of the 26-year old has been seven years in the making and has seen him bounce back from major injuries more than once. Now healthy, he is throwing and running the way he used to, having passed for over 1,400 yards and run for over 300 more.
While each team clearly has the offensive prowess to light up the scoreboard, defense and special teams could be the difference in this game. In their win over Colorado State, the Broncos lead 28-3 before watching the Rams recover two onside kicks and score three touchdowns in 6 minutes. Boise State was able to stop the bleeding by recovering the third onside attempt. Their special teams must play better if they are going to win the game that most experts feel is their biggest hurdle to an undefeated season that would propel them into a top bowl game.
BYU, on the other hand, will be looking to continue the defensive dominance they’ve shown so far this year. Their win over Mississippi State marked the fifth time this season, they’ve held an opponent to 21 points or less. This will be a key matchup as they face a Boise State offense that averages 35 points per game.