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BYU-Boise State games on the Smurf Turf have routinely been tight. Could it happen again?

SHARE BYU-Boise State games on the Smurf Turf have routinely been tight. Could it happen again?

BYU quarterback Zach Wilson runs against Boise State in Boise on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. The Cougars will be looking for a breakthrough victory on the blue turf when the two teams meet Friday.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

When No. 9 BYU faces No. 21 Boise State on the Smurf Turf Friday night, it will be the sixth matchup in Boise between the two teams.

Outside of a 55-30 Boise State win in 2014, four of the five games between BYU and the Broncos in Boise have been decided by one score, including three one-point games.

There’s the potential for Friday night’s game to be another close one, as well.

A look back at the four one-score games provides some clarity as to why these games on the blue turf have typically been close, and how the quarterbacks played critical roles in each one. What can be learned from those previous close matchups in Boise?


BYU quarterback John Beck (12) is dragged to the turf by Boise State’s Korey Hall in the second half of play in Boise Friday Sept. 24, 2004.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

2004: No. 21 Boise State 28, BYU 27

BYU, which didn’t turn the ball over, led for much of the fourth quarter after going behind by double digits early. The Broncos, though, used a late touchdown drive to go ahead, then the Cougars’ Matt Payne missed a 38-yard field goal attempt with 19 seconds left. 

Where it went wrong for BYU: The Cougars found themselves in a 16-0 hole just under 11 minutes into the game, as BYU’s first drive ended in a safety, then Boise State used good field position on its next two drives — thanks to solid returns from Chris Carr — to set up back-to-back Broncos touchdowns.

How the Cougars got back into it: BYU whittled away the Boise State lead over the next two quarters, then went ahead after two long touchdown passes — a 79-yarder to Todd Watkins and a 57-yarder to Austin Collie — just three minutes apart late in the third quarter to give BYU a 27-22 lead.

How the quarterbacks compared: BYU sophomore John Beck had a solid game, completing 20 of 35 passes for a then-career high 390 yards and the two long touchdown passes. Watkins was the biggest benefactor, catching nine passes for 212 yards. Beck also led the Cougars on a nine-play, 56-yard drive in the final three minutes to set up the missed Payne field goal.

Boise State sophomore Jared Zabransky was also efficient, completing 20 of 28 passes for 310 yards, two touchdowns and an interception — that pick led to BYU’s go-ahead score. Zabransky, though, led the game-winning score, driving 57 yards in just three plays as the Broncos — who finished the regular season undefeated — went ahead 28-27 on a 44-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Acree with 3:42 to play.


Taysom Hill of the Brigham Young Cougars throws an incomplete pass while trying a two-point conversion against Boise State during NCAA football in Boise, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

2012: No. 24 Boise State 7, BYU 6

This game defines defensive slugfest: one of the contest’s two touchdowns came off an interception return for a score, there was a goal-line stand and the Broncos had a pick inside the red zone. And when BYU tried to go for two and the win, Boise State made the stop.

Where it went wrong for BYU: Despite being outgained 158 to 68 in the first half, the Cougars went into the break tied 0-0 with Boise State. On the third play of the second half, though, nose tackle Mike Atkinson intercepted Riley Nelson at the BYU 36 and returned the pick for a touchdown and, with the point-after attempt, the Broncos led 7-0.

How the Cougars got back in it: Midway through the third quarter, a Michael Alisa fumble gave Boise State possession at the BYU 1. The Cougar defense held on four straight rushes, though, with future NFL defenders Ezekiel Ansah, Daniel Sorensen and Kyle Van Noy all making stops, as BYU kept the Broncos from scoring and adding to their lead.

Freshman quarterback Taysom Hill, who entered the game in the third quarter, led a 95-yard drive after BYU took possession with 8:03 to play. Hill completed 3 of 5 passes for 37 yards while rushing for 39 yards on the drive, including a 4-yard touchdown run. BYU went for two and were stopped, though, when Hill’s pass fell incomplete, and Boise State ran out the final 3:37 after getting possession.

How the quarterbacks compared: It was a mostly forgettable game for quarterbacks on both sides. BYU starter Riley Nelson completed 4 of 9 passes for 19 yards and was intercepted three times, including once on a drive that reached the Boise State 17 in the first quarter. Hill completed 4 of 10 passes for 42 yards in relief of Nelson and was particularly explosive on the ground, rushing for 72 yards and a score.

Boise State junior Joe Southwick completed 15 of 25 for 145 yards. The Broncos, though, never turned the ball over, while BYU had five turnovers.


Boise State defensive tackle Elliot Hoyte (96) tackles Brigham Young quarterback Taysom Hill (7) during the first half of an NCAA football game between Boise State and Brigham Young in Boise on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016.

Nick Wagner, Deseret News

2016: No. 14 Boise State 28, BYU 27

BYU forced five turnovers and held its largest lead over the Broncos in Boise — six points — but gave up a go-ahead touchdown minutes into the fourth quarter and couldn’t score on two fourth-quarter drives as Boise State improved to 7-0 on the year. 

Where it went wrong for BYU: Much like the 2004 matchup, the Cougars went down early, trailing 14-0 in the first quarter after a 76-yard Jeremy McNichols touchdown catch less than a minute into the game, followed by a 58-yard touchdown drive just minutes later.

How the Cougars got back it in: BYU’s defense played a major role in coming back, as Fred Warner and Dayan Lake each had pick-sixes — of 59 and 50 yards, respectively — in the second quarter and BYU took a brief 17-14 lead. While Boise State recaptured the lead with a touchdown just before halftime, Hill, now a senior, guided a touchdown drive in the third quarter, and BYU made it a 27-21 game with a field goal a minute and a half into the fourth.

How the quarterbacks compared: Hill, an Idaho native, had his second chance to beat the Broncos in Boise but again came up a point short. He completed 21 of 41 passes for 187 yards and rushed for 48 yards and a third-quarter score, but Hill was sacked on a third-and-6 play at the Boise State 17 in the opening minute of the final period when BYU could have made it a two-score game with a touchdown. 

On the Cougars’ final drive, he got BYU to the Boise State 27, though a Rhett Almond field-goal attempt on second down was blocked, and while BYU recovered the block at the Broncos 42, two Hill incompletions ended the game.

Boise State sophomore Brett Rypien completed 25 of 39 passes for 442 yards and three touchdowns, and on the Broncos’ go-ahead scoring drive in the fourth, he completed a 46-yard pass on third down to set up a 4-yard McNichols touchdown on the next play. Rypien’s biggest flaw was the two long pick-sixes in the second quarter, though, when Boise State could have turned an early lead into a rout.


BYU quarterback Zach Wilson is stopped short of the goal line in the fourth quarter against Boise State in Boise on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

2018: Boise State 21, BYU 16

BYU matched up well with Boise State all night — the Cougars had 388 yards of total offense to 327 for the Broncos — but Boise State finished with seven sacks, including one on the game’s final play, and nine tackles for loss in the 5-point game.

Where it went wrong for BYU: Again, the Cougars fell behind by two scores in the first quarter, as the Broncos scored touchdowns on their first two drives, sandwiched around a missed field goal by BYU. 

How the Cougars got back in it: BYU methodically worked its way back into the game, as the Cougars defense held Boise State scoreless on five straight possessions before a Alex Mattison 3-yard touchdown run made it 21-13 late in the third quarter. 

The Cougar offense overcame three fumbles and a Wilson touchdown run cut the Broncos lead to 14-13 with 9:46 to play in the third, though the Cougars had three drives into Boise territory end with field goals, not touchdowns, a crucial stat when BYU drove late down five.  

How the quarterbacks compared: Wilson, a true freshman, was poised and completed 18 of 27 passes for 252 yards while also rushing for 36 yards and a score. The most memorable play of the night, though, was when Wilson took a sack on the game’s final play after the Cougars had driven for a second-and-goal chance from the Boise State 2. 

BYU finished 3 of 12 on third downs, and on the Cougars’ second field-goal scoring drive, Wilson was sacked on back-to-back plays after BYU had driven to the 5-yard line.

Rypien, now a senior, had a pedestrian game for the Broncos. He completed 23 of 35 passes for 214 yards, one touchdown and an interception, though he was sacked just twice and helped Boise State convert 8 of 14 third downs.


Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (1) passes during the game against the UTSA Roadrunners at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Why the 2020 matchup could be another close one

For better or worse, the play of the quarterbacks when the Cougars and Broncos meet in Boise — particularly on the BYU side — has been a major storyline in each Cougar one-score loss.

That looks like it will be the case again come Friday night.

Wilson, now a junior, is grabbing national attention with the numbers he is putting up: so far through seven games, Wilson has completed 74.6% of his passes for 2,152 yards, 19 touchdowns and two interceptions while also rushing for 150 yards and seven touchdowns. 

It’s his leadership that has helped the Cougars average 44.4 points and 527.7 yards per game, as BYU is off to a 7-0 start to the season.

On the other sideline, Boise State coach Bryan Harsin kept quiet on who the Broncos would be starting Friday, with Hank Bachmeier absent in the Broncos’ win over Air Force last week after he led Boise State to a blowout win over Utah State in its opener. 

USC transfer Jack Sears, though, shined in his first Boise State start against the Falcons, completing 17 of 20 passes for 280 yards and three touchdowns, including a 75-yard bomb to CT Thomas on the first play of the game. 

Through two games, it hasn’t mattered who led the Boise State offense, as the Broncos are averaging 45.5 points and 454.5 yards per contest.

Both defenses match up well: BYU is giving up 13.4 points and 281.3 yards per game, while Boise State is allowing 21.5 points and 343.5 yards a game. 

This game could well come down again to whichever team’s quarterback is better in the clutch again, though, and it’s been a decidedly Bronco advantage.