1. TAKE THAT TURNOVER
Boise State forced four Michigan State turnovers in its season-opening loss, then had two interceptions bounce off hands or shoulders against Miami (Ohio).
“Those were gifts,” Boise State safety Lee Hightower said. “We not only have to take advantage of those, but get out there and create more opportunities.”
BYU lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown in its 24-21 loss to Utah, and an interception set up another Ute field goal. Boise State actually lost the turnover battle (2-0) against Miami, which prevented a complete blowout. So far this season, the Broncos and Cougars are both even on the year in turnover margin. Should the game be close, whoever wins the turnover margin could very well win the game. Against a tough BYU defense, the Broncos will need to avoid giving the ball away, while defensively, they’ll want to make the Cougars pay for mistakes.
2. SPECIAL TEAMS SPECIAL
Though turnovers certainly hurt BYU in its Utah loss, note what the Cougars’ special teams lapses created – Utah had a 57-yard punt return in the first quarter that led to a 17-yard TD pass the next play. The Cougars missed two field goals in the three-point loss, including two tries on the game’s final play from 51 yards, then from 36 because of a penalty. A 44-yarder in the first quarter missed.
Boise State is 3-of-4 on field goal attempts, with the lone miss thanks in large part to a bad snap. The Broncos didn’t punt against Miami (Ohio), and have yielded just one punt return thus far. Mountain West preseason special teams player of the year Mitch Burroughs has not had the chance to return a punt, but could get a shot against a BYU coverage unit yielding 13.6 yards per return. In a game expected to be close, special teams could provide the difference between a win and a loss.
3. KEEP TOTING THE ROCK
Boise State faced one of the nation’s best rush defenses in its season opener, and mustered only 37 yards on the ground on 24 attempts. Sure, it was the Broncos’ first game with a few new faces, and it was on the road, but the output was alarming. Fifteen days later, D.J. Harper (162 yards) paced a 295-yard rushing output.
Tonight’s game will be a true test as to how much improvement the Broncos’ rushing attack has made, as BYU will be a very similar test as to what the Spartans presented. The Cougars, who have a “next-level defense” according to Boise State coach Chris Petersen, are tied for sixth nationally in rushing defense, giving up just 53 yards per game. BYU has given up 135 yards or more on the ground just nine times since the start of the 2010 season, but is 2-7 in those games.
The Broncos believe their offense won’t be able to perform at a high level without the threat of a running game, so if it can be established early, Boise State’s likelihood of a win increases dramatically.