What was once considered to be a possible “BCS Buster elimination” game has lost a lot of its national luster. That’s because Brigham Young (2-1) and Boise State (1-1) each have a loss on their ledgers before the autumnal equinox, rendering it highly unlikely that either will crash this year’s BCS party.
But it could still be a darned good football game between these two on Thursday night on the blue carpet at Bronco Stadium.
A quick check of the Don Best college football odds screen notes that host Boise has been posted as an early 7½-point favorite at the majority of Las Vegas sports books. Kickoff time on Thursday will be 9:00 p.m. (ET), with ESPN and its usual Thursday night crew of Rece Davis, Jesse Palmer and David Pollack on hand to describe the action.
BYU was thinking it would still be undefeated entering this matchup, although all of that changed on Saturday night against an aroused and slight underdog Utah side playing without first-string QB Jordan Wynn, who decided to retire from football after reinjuring his shoulder the preceding week at Utah State. The fired-up Utes, however, could still call upon QB Jon Hays, who relieved Wynn for most of the 2011 season.
Still, BYU has reason to feel aggrieved by the 24-21 loss at Rice-Eccles Stadium after bravely rallying from a 24-7 deficit. In fact, 6th-year senior (or is it 7th? 8th?) QB Riley Nelson had dramatically led a last-second charge downfield that gave the Cougs a chance to at least force an overtime with a game-tying field goal.
Instead, the final seconds turned into a gridiron version of the famed USA-USSR Olympic Gold Medal basketball game in the 1972 Olympics at Munich, with BYU getting two chances to level the score and force overtime after the game was originally thought to have concluded. Only the Cougs couldn’t capitalize, first watching a 51-yard try by Justin Sorensen blocked, then watching Riley Stephenson bounce a 36-yard try off the upright to preserve Utah’s 24-21 win.
Although BYU came up just short vs. its nastiest rival, longtime regional observers remain impressed by the Cougars and suggest this might be the most physical Provo outfit in decades. Several playmakers, including thick, 321-lb. NT Romney Fuga, remain in the fold from last year’s stop unit that ranked 13th nationally in total defense.
Through three games, BYU is rating even better on the stop end than a year ago, ranked ninth in total defense (allowing a mere 241 ypg) and, thanks in part to the run-stuffing Fuga, sixth in rush defense at only 53 ypg.
Thus, Boise is going to be faced with another challenge similar to its opener against another foe (Michigan State) with a robust, veteran-laced defense. That one didn’t work out too well for the Broncos, held to just 206 yards for the evening and unable to score an offensive TD (soph DB Jeremy Ioane’s interception return providing the only touchdown). Boise ended up on the short end of a 17-13 scoreline.
Of course, that was also the first start by new Broncos QB Joe Southwick, recently caddy to the decorated Kellen Moore but now the leader of the Boise offense. The Broncos were a bit sluggish again on the attack end when they returned to action last Saturday when hosting Miami-Ohio, and were laboring at halftime when ahead only 15-9. But the lights seemed to turn on for the Boise “O” in the second half as Chris Petersen’s team scored 21 points in the third quarter en route to a 39-12 win.
Southwick’s one-game progress was hard to miss, as he completed 24-of-31 passes for 304 yards and a pair of TDs vs. the RedHawks. Moreover, the Broncos got their infantry going against Miami, in particular RB D.J. Harper, who gained 162 yards and tallied three TDs in the process.
The challenge against the BYU defense, however, will more resemble what Boise faced in the opener vs. Michigan State.
Meanwhile, let’s see the Cougar recuperative powers after the bitter loss to the Utes. Despite holding Utah to 245 yards, BYU’s late rally could not overcome a 17-point deficit that was fueled by a Utah fumble return TD. Down 17, the Cougs rallied to within three points behind by veteran lefty QB Nelson, but could not pull level in the final seconds.
Boise’s defense, almost completely rebuilt from last season, has held up fairly well in the first two games, allowing just 29 points total. The challenge on Thursday, however, will be to cope with QB Nelson, the first mobile signal-caller the Broncos have faced this season.
Nelson also has great rapport with rangy 6-foot-4 wideout Cody Hoffman, who has gained more than 100 yards receiving in each of the last two BYU games and already has 18 catches on the young season.
Boise’s win over Miami last week was also the first spread cover for the often-overvalued Broncos on their home blue carpet after seven consecutive losses against the number. Meanwhile, BYU has dropped its last two spread decisions after an 8-game pointspread win streak that spanned the end of the 2011 campaign into the opening win and cover vs. Washington State.
The teams have not met since 2004 when Boise held on for a 28-27 home win vs. Gary Crowton’s BYU. The Broncos, then coached by Dan Hawkins, had won the previous year at Provo by a 50-12 count.