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Boise State vs. BYU: Three Burning Questions and a Prediction

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Boise State faces their highest ever ranked opponent on The Blue in #9 BYU

NCAA Football: Boise State at UNLV Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

BOISE STATE VS BYU

Location: Boise, Idaho (Albertsons Stadium)

Date/Time: Friday, November 6 at 7:45 p.m. (Mountain Time)

Television: FS1

Head-to-Head: Boise State leads the all-time series with seven wins against three losses. The Cougars won the last matchup after losing the three contests prior to the 2019 win. Boise State is undefeated at home against BYU winning all five games. Three of those home wins were by a single point with the other two being four and 25 point victories.

Betting Line: BYU is a 3-point favorite with the over/under at 61 points. The betting markets suggest an outcome of BYU 32, Boise State 29.

Three Burning Questions:

1. How much will BYU’s extra practice and game experience affect the outcome of the game?

BYU is in week eight of their season. Boise State is in week three. That offers the Cougars an advantage that is unique to this 2020 season. It is no small advantage, either. Good teams get better as the season progresses. Coaches have a better understanding of their personnel and can game plan accordingly, young players get valuable game reps, and team chemistry is cemented as the team gels through game reps and preparation.

BYU has had almost three times as many practices as Boise State to dial into the details of their defensive schemes and the nuances of their offensive play designs. They have discovered what works best for their players, and identified weaknesses so they can develop solutions. Boise State is just learning who they are, BYU has had time to work all of that out already.

On the other hand, football is a rough game. Players wear down as the season progresses, and by week eight of a season everybody is banged up and sore to some degree. Boise State should be the fresher team on Friday. A look at the projected injury report for both teams bares that out. BYU has five players listed with season ending injuries, three players questionable, and one probable.

Boise State meanwhile, has three players listed as questionable (and one, Skinner, should definitely play), with only one out for the season. Beyond the injury report, Boise State should be overall healthier and fresher. Even still, nothing is more important to a team than practice, reps, and team unity. BYU has had nearly a whole season to improve and Boise State hasn’t. It is a huge obstacle to overcome for the Broncos.

2. How good are the #9 ranked Cougars, really?

BYU is the highest rank opponent to ever take on the Bronco’s on The Blue. The #9 Cougars are undefeated on the season, and none of their games have been close. Undefeated is undefeated, but BYU hasn’t exactly faced a murder’s row of a schedule up to this point in the season. They haven’t played a Power 5 team and have feasted on opponents that, similar to Boise State, were playing one of their first games of the season. So, how good is BYU?

When a team hasn’t been tested by teams with equal talent it can be difficult to decipher how good they are. Enter ESPN’s Bill Connelly and his SP+ model. SP+ is a tempo and opponent adjusted measure that helps show how good college football teams are relative to each other even though schedules are wildly unbalanced. What does SP+ say about BYU?

Overall, even adjusting for strength of opponent, BYU is really good. They are the ninth ranked team on offense and the 27th ranked squad on defense. For comparison, Boise State ranks 27th on offense and 29th on defense (Air Force rushing totals don’t help). Connelly’s algorithm predicts BYU to beat Boise State 31-27 on Friday night and gives the Cougars a 58% win probability.

3. Who is in, who is out, and who are the next men up?

Boise State had several players miss action in their week two game against Air Force. An hour before the game it was announced that QB Hank Bachmeier and S JL Skinner didn’t make the trip to Colorado Springs (presumably COVID19 related), and Boise State S Tyreque Jones suited up but was extremely limited. Additionally, DE Demitri Washington, DT Scale Igiehon, and RB George Holani all left the game with injuries. Who among that group will play, and who must step up to replace the injured starters?

DE Demitri Washington: Head Coach Bryan Harsin announced that Washington will miss the remainder of the 2020 football season. This is a big loss for the Broncos as Washington was expected to be among the stars of the reloaded Bronco defense. RS Junior transfer Shane Irwin is expected to take over the starting spot. Irwin, a transfer from Long Beach City College (and former San Diego State Aztec), has played in both games of the season. He recorded a sack against Utah State and racked up eight tackle against Air Force.

QB Hank Bachmeier: Bachmeier’s status for Friday’s night game is unknown. It has been heavily implied that the Sophomore QB tested positive for COVID. Boise State follows the CDC guidelines for quarantine which makes the timeline for Bachmeier to start on Friday dicey. Presumably, Bachmeier would only be able to log one practice for the week, and that’s probably not enough to earn the start over Jack Sears. Sears was outstanding against the Falcons in week two, and will likely make his second straight start for the Broncos against BYU.

Tyreque Jones: Jones was injured in the opener against Utah State. He traveled to Air Force and suited up, but he did not play much. Harsin has said he thinks the players that were out should be prepared to play, and it seems like Jones will likely return against BYU. If he reaggravates the injury, he would likely be replaced by senior Roman Kafentzis.

Scale Igiehon: Like Jones, Igiehon was banged up against Utah State. He reaggravated the injury during the Aor Force game and did not return. It seems like Igiehon will give it another go against BYU. Losing Igiehon for any extended stretch would be another blow to the inexperience defensive line. It would be a huge loss if Igiehon is unable to finish the game Friday night. He would be replaced by Divine Obichere (who has had a promising start to the season) and Keeghan Freeborn.

George Holani: Holani was injured after two carries against Air Force last week. The dynamic sophomore running back opened the season with a 100 yard rushing game and as a threat in the passing game out of the back field. Harsin does not give many details about injured players, but he did imply that Holani might be further away from a return to action then some of the other players on the injury report. Holani’s primary backup is Andrew Van Buren and there isn’t much proven depth after the junior backup. It’s likely that Holani will give it a go in the important matchup on Friday, but it’s anyone’s guess how effective he will play through the injury.

JL Skinner: JL Skinner is expected to be at full strength. It has been speculated that JL Skinner was in quarantine after being in close contact to an individual that tested positive for COVID19. BSU has only reported one positive test and if that was Bachmeier, it seems reasonable that his roommate (Skinner) would need to isolate until it was clear he was negative. Skinner’s return is vital against a BYU team that excels in the pass game.

Prediction:

Continuing a 2020 trend, unusual factors make predicting the outcome on Friday difficult. If BYU was entering the game with two or three games under their belt then forecasting a Boise State victory would be easier. The Broncos have looked crisp and prepared to open the COVID-shortened season. However, BYU has just had so much more time to practice and improve as a team. It is a massive advantage.

Boise State has enough talent to keep this game close, but if Holani is limited they will have problems in the traditional running game. Luckily, the Broncos can get creative in the running game with Shakir, Thomas, and oddly enough, their tight ends. The Boise State defense looked shaky against Air Force, but that was more scheme issues against the triple option than discipline or poor tackling. Another factor in Boise State’s favor is that BYU has been dominate through the air this season, and the Broncos strength is in their secondary.

Ultimately, the fact that BYU should be in mid-season form may be too large an advantage for Boise State to overcome, but with a few fans/parents in the stands and a few good bounces on The Blue, Boise state squeaks out an unlikely victory to move to 3-0 on the season. Boise State 31 BYU 30.