The “Miracle at Memorial” is what they’re calling BYU’s incredible Hail Mary victory with no time on the clock to beat Nebraska 33-28 in the two programs first-ever meeting. It was an experience Kelly Poppinga will always remember.
“It was an unbelievable experience and, yeah, great fun,” said Coach Poppinga. “It is something that I’ll never forget, but we’ve got to move on man. Nobody’s going to let us just walk in and say, ‘Hey, we just beat Nebraska last week on a Hail Mary and everything is going to be dandy.”
The Cougars of BYU will now face the NCAA’s winningest football program since 2000 in the Broncos of Boise State. The 20th ranked Broncos beat Washington in their season opener and will look to take advantage of some of the glaring issues seen within BYU’s defense from their contest last Saturday.
“Defensively, I think they say the film and think there is a lot we can improve on,” said Coach Poppinga. “Man, if we play the way we know we can play we probably only give up 14 points.”
The BYU front seven will add Sione Takitaki back to the fold but will miss a key player at one of the more important positions on the field. That player is Travis Tuiloma, who was a beast at the nose tackle position against Nebraska.
“Yeah, that’s going to be a big loss for us for a couple of weeks, but I’m really confident in Logan [Taele]. Logan played a really good game on Saturday, probably out of all the d-line- well, between him and Bronson- he played a great game. Replacing Travis [Tuiloma] is going to be hard, but moving Logan to nose is the next best thing we have. I think he’s going to do a great job and up to this point he’s doing a great job as a defensive lineman. We’re confident he’ll do a great job this Saturday.”
The Cougars struggled to cover the pass on the edges while missing what should have been sure tackles up front. At the point of attack, BYU also struggled in the first and third quarters to stop the run. Coach Poppinga expects Boise State to line up in multiple tight end sets to attack BYU’s defensive front, much like they did against them last year and against Washington this year.
“The same thing that we saw last year,” Poppinga said. “They’re going to get into 12 and 13 personnel and 22 personnel- meaning they’ll use multiple tight end formations- and will try and pound the ball. They love to play power football and run in the game, and then they’ll set that up by chucking the ball down field. So, we've got to be great at stopping the run, we got to be great in our lineups, our adjustments, and our assignments and they do a bunch of different formations. Just being able to adjust and get our guys lined up properly is going to be huge in the game.”
However, getting lined up perfectly against an offense that shifts and moves personnel around can create confusion, so getting players in the right position based on their final formation might be a challenge with a young Cougar defensive backfield.
“Yeah, I think it’s to see how you’re going to adjust, what kind of alignments, and just to get the defense in a smoke in mirror type situation. For them it’s been really, really successful for them and you have to be really good at adjusting and aligning and know exactly what to do when they get into an alignment and formations.”
On the edges, the Cougars will need to shore up not only in stringing out the run but also in covering the flats. Outside linebacker Fred Warner played really well during the Nebraska game but, as Coach Poppinga points out, there is still room for improvement.
“I thought Fred filled up the stat sheet,” said Coach Poppinga. “He had a lot of different things he did: unassisted tackles, assisted tackles, TFL’s, forced fumble, fumble recovery. Like the defense as the game went on, he played better. In the first quarter there was a lot of things to improve upon, such as physicality at the point of contact, but for the most part I think he played pretty good. But, he left a lot of plays out on the field that we should have had.”
Linebackers Fred Warner, Sione Takitaki, Harvey Langi, and Jherremya Leuta-Douyere will have their hands full taking on the blocks of Bronco tight ends Jake Roh, Holden, Huff, and Jake Hardee, who will be on the field in multiple formations on any given side. They’ll be blocking for Bronco running backs Jeremy McNichols (#13), Kelsey Young (#39), and Devan Demas (#26) who are a backfield possessing both speed and power.
“I think their running backs do a really good job running back the ball,” said Coach Poppinga. “Number 13, 39, and 26 are really good runners. Number 13 and 39 are more the power back guys, and then number 26 is more their speed guy.”
Bronco wide receivers Shane Williams-Rhodes (at the H-position) is a quick and shifty inside runner. On the outside the Broncos have two very capable pass catchers in #6 Chaz Anderson (z-position) and #82 Thomas Sperbeck (x-position). The primary receiver threat for the Broncos is #82 Thomas Sperbeck who led the Broncos with 877 receiving yards last season.
“I don’t their names but number 82, the receiver, is their go to guy and I think he’s a really good player,” said Poppinga. “I think their quarterback moves around decently. He’s a little more athletic than I expected him to be.”