Who has the edge? Boise State Edition
LARAMIE — People like to say that the game of football is not played on paper.
They are right — but it’s still fun to look.
Today, we will breakdown the offenses of the 22nd-ranked Boise State Broncos (7-1, 4-0) and Wyoming Cowboys (6-2, 3-1). The two squads will meet Saturday night at Albertson's Stadium.
So, who has the edge on offense?
Let’s break it down real quick.
You may have heard -- Wyoming is starting a new quarterback Saturday night in Boise. That guy is Tyler Vander Waal. And this isn't his first rodeo. The sophomore from Elk Grove, Calif., started nine games for the Cowboys last fall. One of those starts came against the Broncos. Not much went right for the Cowboys that afternoon in Laramie, but Vander Waal had a nice day, completing 15-of-25 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown. He says that start gives him plenty of confidence heading into this all-important Mountain West tilt. Vander Waal threw for 1,310 yards last season to go along with five touchdown passes. He has played sparingly this season, spelling Sean Chambers in Tulsa and again against Nevada. He has completed just 4-of-16 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown. Levi Williams, the true freshman from Texas, is now second on the depth chart. He hasn't played a college game. Will the Pokes miss Chambers? You bet. What he can do with his legs makes him a threat on every play. Wyoming won't have that in Vander Waal, but might we see the passing game open up? Craig Bohl says the playbook "won't change much." He likely isn't tipping his hand.
Boise State always has a stud quarterback, right? Hank Bachmeier is falling right in line during his first season on the blue turf. The freshman has connected on 63 percent of his passes for 1,760 yards and nine touchdowns. He has been really good, at times. And he should. He was one of the most highly recruited players in school history. Chase Cord, the Broncos back-up, has tossed eight touchdowns of his own. He is more of a threat to run than Bachmeier. Both have been solid under center. The one main issue is the amount of hits they have taken, especially in the case of Bachmeier. The freshman has been sacked 15 times. In early October, the Idaho Statesman posted a story about the alarming amount of hits that Bachmeier has absorbed. They figure about 16 shots per outing. Ouch. That's music to the ears of a Wyoming defense that leads the league in sacks with 26. Solomon Byrd, Garrett Crall, and "Mr. Safety Dance," Josiah Hall will be looking to add to that total in front of a national television audience.
ADVANTAGE: Boise State
If this were a competition between starting running backs, Xazavian Valladay wins this race handily. The sophomore has rushed for 631 yards. He's only been fully healthy in roughly three games this season, dealing with a nagging ankle injury. Valladay is averaging 5.3 yards per carry and has scored five touchdowns, including a 53-yard reception for a score on the first play from scrimmage against the Wolf Pack two weeks ago. In the past two contests, Valladay has carried the ball 59 times for 333 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He has been a workhorse. Why? Because he's needed to be with Titus Swen and Trey Smith still on the shelf with injuries. As mentioned above, if this was a battle between starters, Valladay is the man. Running backs don't take every snap though. That's where things get a little hairy for the Pokes. Expect to see true freshman Alphonzo Andrews Jr., a highly touted, three-star back out of St. Louis, make his first appearance in a Wyoming uniform. Jeff Burroughs and Brett Brenton are the only other backs with a carry this season.
Boise State has a horse of its own. Don't they always have one of those, too? George Holani is the top ball carrier for the Broncos, racking up 589 yards and five rushing touchdowns. Four of those came in last week's win over San Jose State. He was named the MWC Offensive Player of the Week in his first start. Want to hear something even more terrifying? Holani is just a freshman. Yep, four more years of that guy. He has averaged 5.2 yards per carry and is more than capable of busting a big one. So is his back-up, Andrew Van Buren. Against the Spartans, Van Buren carried the ball just nine times for 85 yards. It gets even scarier. Robert Mahone, who was injured in the BYU game and missed last week's contest, is expected to be in uniform Saturday night. All the junior's done this season is rush for 389 yards and five touchdowns. The rich get richer and the depth gets deeper. Wyoming doesn't have this luxury. At least not this week.
ADVANTAGE: Boise State
WIDE RECEIVERS/ TIGHT ENDS:
For this group their last outing was a bit of a coming-out party, especially for Raghib Ismail. The Cowboys senior receiver snagged four passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. He is Wyoming's leading pass catcher with 11 for 203 yards and two scores. Austin Conway also has 11 grabs for 153 yards. Tight end Jackson Marcotte is the Pokes third leading receiver with six catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns, including one from Vander Waal on the opening drive of the second half against Nevada. Gunner Gentry, who has just three catches on the season, is the only other Cowboy to eclipse the 100-yard mark this season. Wyoming has made hay on the ground this seasons. These numbers show that. With Vander Waal under center for the remainder of the season, look for these guys to get an increase in their workload.
This is where the Broncos are really scary. One: Because Wyoming's pass defense has been near the bottom of the national standings all season. Two: They are talented from top to bottom. John Hightower leads the way with 584 yards receiving on just 31 catches. The senior and first-team All-Conference receiver also has five touchdown grabs. He has eclipsed the 100-yard mark three times this season. Boise State has two other pass catchers -- Khalil Shakir and CT Thomas -- who have also hauled in more than 400 yards worth of passes each. They have combined for six scores through the air. Akilian Butler has caught 18 passes for 209 yards and a touchdown, and Octavius Evans has 143 yards on 12 catches. The Broncos love their tight ends, too. John Bates has snagged 16 passes for 209 yards and a score. Garrett Collingham also has 69 receiving yards. Wyoming's undermanned secondary has its work cut out for it Saturday.
ADVANTAGE: Boise State
Lost in the bad news of losing Chambers for the season, Bohl announced Monday that the Cowboys offensive line just added some much-needed experience. Zach Watts, who was injured in the spring, and Alonzo Velazquez, who has been out since the San Diego State loss, will both be back in pads Saturday. Bohl said he isn't sure if either will play, but it's a luxury to have those two guys on the sideline. Frank Crum, the freshman from Laramie, once again is slated to start at the right tackle spot, while Logan Harris, Keegan Cryder, Patrick Arnold and Rudy Stofer round out the Pokes starting offensive line in Boise. These guys have been really good all year. They face arguably their biggest test in Idaho, against a team that can shut down the run and get to the quarterback, something the Cowboys have excelled at this season. This group has given up just eight sacks through eight games and the Cowboys have averaged 239 yards per game on the ground. Did I mention there isn't a single senior on this unit? In fact, Harris is the elder statesman. He's just a junior.
This was supposed to be the best asset the Broncos offense had this season, and just in time to break in a new quarterback. Instead, this group has nearly witnessed Bachmeier get broken in half. They have allowed 19 sacks as a group and are letting their signal caller get punished on a weekly basis. Of course, that isn't all the fault of the big guys up front, but things have been shaky at best for a veteran corps that was returning all five starters. Ezra Cleveland and John Molchon were All-MWC selections to begin the season. Garrett Larson made the second-team. Eric Quevedo is a third-teamer. Get the picture? Boise State has still been effective on the ground, averaging 178 yards per outing, and the passing game is clicking, but the sacks and lack of success in the red zone have been troubling, especially if you consider the Broncos schedule to this point. Marshall, Portland State and San Jose State have sacked Bachmeier a combined eight times. Those aren't squads anyone would call elite. Arguably the best front the Broncos have faced this season is Air Force. They only got to the quarterback once, but knocked Bachmeier down 11 times. I guess that's a significant improvement from the 25 Florida State landed in the opening weekend of the season.