Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports
Run, Baby, Run
If last week wasn’t enough to convince you that Boise State is most effective offensively when the running game is humming, then it’s likely that nothing will. The Broncos’ average 224 yards per game on the ground and, with the injury to Joe Southwick, have both a running back and quarterback that can punish opposing defenses with their legs.
Grant Hedrick, the man who is filling in for the injured Southwick, is by no means a liability in the passing game. In fact, his 18 for 21 performance throwing the ball last weekend suggests that he has the ability to be a threat in the short passing game right now. But he also had 115 rushing yards against Nevada and scored his only touchdown on the ground. It is clear that the coaches are more comfortable with the football tucked close to Hedrick’s armpit at this point.
Obviously, the ground game starts with running back Jay Ajayi, and he may be the most important player to the Broncos in this game. If Ajayi can find room to run against BYU’s defense, the Broncos should be able to control the tempo and perhaps even put up the kind of offensive numbers fans have gotten used to this season.
But BYU’s run defense is much better than Nevada’s. While the Wolf Pack defense gives up over 287 yards per game on the ground, BYU’s defense has much more bite. The Cougars average just over 136 yards in the same category.
Ajayi won’t be able to break BYU by himself. Hedrick will need to be able to find running room as well if the Broncos don’t want to be stifled by the Cougars on offense.
Oh what a difference a year can make.
When Boise State played BYU in 2012, Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill was held to just 42 yards passing on 10 attempts. Granted, Hill also ran for 72 yards and BYU’s only touchdown, but it was clear to anyone watching that the Cougars weren’t going to get much done through the air with Hill behind center.
This year, Hill is averaging 240 yards per game through the air to complement his 110.29 yards per game average on the ground. Last week alone, he managed to go blow-for-blow with Houston by passing for 417 yards and four touchdowns. Put simply: Taysom Hill is not just a scrambler anymore.
If the Broncos want to win this game, the linebacker corps is going to need to play its best game of the year. Hill has the ability to freeze linebackers due to his running ability, and when this happens receivers can get open. It will be up to Blake Renaud, Ben Weaver & Co. to play smart and not allow Hill to simply dump the ball over them to open receivers.
Hesitation will be Boise State’s worst enemy against Hill.
Bronco Mendenhall’s teams have always been characterized as hard-nosed, tough squads. The 2013 Cougars are no different, with senior linebacker and team leader Kyle Van Noy exemplifying that notion.
It may sound like an intangible factor, but the Broncos cannot get out-hustled and out-gutted by the Cougars. Boise State is not so much better than BYU that they can come in and win simply on talent and coaching alone.
This is one of the bigger games of the year for the Cougars, and the matchup will be on national television for the entire country to watch. BYU will come out hitting hard and playing with heart. Boise State needs to do the same to avoid the loss.