3 keys to beating the Broncos
LARAMIE -- Earlier this week, a series of emails detailed Bryan Harsin's desire for Boise State to move on from the Mountain West Conference. He urged school leaders to find the Broncos a new home.
Apparently, they tried.
"Boise State is the standard in the MW and we should take the lead on all these things and stop letting the MW control what we do," the Broncos' head football coach wrote in part, according to records obtained by BoiseDev and the Idaho Press.
Well, before you go, coach, there's at least one more game on the schedule in this league. That will come Saturday at 4 p.m. in Laramie.
You might have heard, Wyoming isn't exactly entering this game guns-a-blazing after stumbling against New Mexico last Saturday in Las Vegas. That 17-16 setback helped snap a 14-game losing skid for the Lobos.
Boise State, meanwhile, hasn't played a game since all the way back on Nov. 21. That was a 40-32 victory over Hawaii on is islands.
COVID-19 has forced the Broncos into the stall the past two weekends.
Here are a few to keys to the Cowboys pulling off the upset and to the .500 mark as this bizarre season comes to an end:
Just don't do it
Kick to Avery Williams that is.
The 5-foot, 9-inch senior returns kicks and punts for the Broncos. He's really good at it, too. Among other things.
Williams, a former walk-on who was named a Burlsworth Trophy nominee this week, has scored three times on special teams this season. Two of them came on kick returns. The other, a blocked punt against Colorado State just 52 seconds into the game. In fact, he blocked two punts against the Rams that night in Boise.
The league's 2019 Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Year is well on his way to defending that crown.
Benny Boyd knows it, too.
"You don't want to let their best player beat you," UW's co-special teams coordinator said Monday. "No. 26 is just that ... We know he's a gamebreaker."
Boyd isn't about to give up the Cowboys' game plan against Williams and the Broncos.
I'll do it for you.
Do not kick to that guy. Don't tempt fate. Boise State has enough weapons on both sides of the ball. A special teams touchdown would all but put this game on ice.
Here's another reason Williams shouldn't even have a chance to touch the pigskin Saturday in Laramie.
On four New Mexico kick returns last week, Emmanuel Logan-Greene and Chad Alexander combined for 136 yards. That's an average of 34 yards per return. Logan-Greene also had a long of 72.
Was that just an aberration? Nope.
Wyoming boasts the 106th-ranked kickoff defense in the country, allowing an average of 24 yards per return. That unit hasn't allowed a score yet, but they've flirted with danger plenty through the first five games.
Williams is the second-ranked kick returner in the conference, averaging nearly 30 yards per return. He's the best punt returner, averaging more than 13 on each run back.
Why even take the chance? Just don't do it.
Run -- a bunch
Last week in this space we told you how the Cowboys really had a chance to make some hay in the passing department. New Mexico, statistically, boasts one of the worst pass defenses in the nation, allowing more than 400 yards per game through the air.
What did Wyoming do with that information? Threw the ball 17 times. Between Levi Williams and Gavin Beerup there were five completions. Both tossed an interception. The Cowboys finished with 91 yards.
Well, let's try this again.
Boise State is not great against the run. The Broncos allow more than 200 yards on the ground per game, ranking them 103rd in the country in this category.
Air Force, of course, did the most damage on the ground against the Broncos, rushing for 415 yards. BYU's Tyler Allgeier added 123 the following week. BYU finished with 213 total. Utah State, CSU and Hawaii all eclipsed the century mark, too.
Xazavian Valladay could be back in the Cowboys' lineup Saturday, joining Trey Smith and Dawaiian McNeeley. The junior missed the New Mexico game with an apparent left leg injury. Valladay currently leads the Mountain West in yards per game with 122.8.
If there's one thing Wyoming can do on offense it's run downhill. Despite the loss to the Lobos, Smith went for 154 yards on just 24 carries. He also broke a 58-yarder for a touchdown.
Bohl said Monday that Williams would be at practice despite leaving the UNM game late in the fourth quarter with an apparent shoulder injury. If he can't go, Beerup will be under center for his first career start.
Wyoming ranks No. 9 in the country (247 yards per) in total rushing offense. Time to prove that Saturday.
More importantly, the Cowboys hold the ball for 31 minutes per outing. A few more third-down conversions, unlike the 1-for-11 performance against the Lobos, and the Pokes could easily bump that number up and keep the ball out of the hands of Hank Bachmeier and Co.
Ramp it up in red zone
Craig Bohl expressed his frustration with the Cowboys' red-zone offense last week in Vegas. He said he "wrapped his arms around a couple factors" why his team ended up on the wrong side of the scoreboard:
- Give UNM credit
- 1-11 on third down, including 1-5 on third and short (four yards or less)
- Red-zone offense woes
Wyoming made four trips inside the Lobos' 20-yard line. They came away with three John Hoyland field goals.
They lost by one.
The math adds up. The execution doesn't.
"We are a power football team," Bohl said. If our mantra is going to be to muscle the ball into the end zone, we did not do that."
When you feature the power running game the Pokes do, scoring in the red zone should be a strength. Until last week, it was. Wyoming has scored 20 times on 23 trips inside the opposition's 20. That's 12 rushing touchdowns and eight field goals.
Boise State's defense ranks 110th in the country in red-zone defense. Teams have scored 19 times on 21 trips inside the Broncos' 20. Seventeen of those have been touchdowns, including 12 on the ground.
Bohl mentioned that most teams aren't even in games when third-down conversions are that lopsided. He's right.
Wyoming won't stick with Boise State if they don't capitalize near the goal line.