Famous Idaho Potato Bowl – BYU Cougars v Western Michigan Broncos

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl this year features an FBS Independent team in Brigham Young University (BYU) and Western Michigan out of the Mid-American Athletic Conference (MAC).

Brigham Young University

The “Y” has been traditionally a very good football school, however in the recent past, they’ve been somewhat overshadowed by a different school’s success. Including, but not limited to, an assortment of memes detailing all the things that occurred since BYU beat their Utah rivals. One of our writers wrote a great piece about the Utah-BYU rivalry from a more personal perspective.

The Current BYU head coach is even a former Utah Coach (linebackers/defensive coordinator) in Kalani Sitake, who also played for BYU. BYU finished this season 6-6 after a shock loss against Utah, where they lead 20-0 at halftime. Despite the finish to the season, the opening looked great — they started with a 2-1 record. The season began with a win over PAC-12 team Arizona, followed by a loss to California, after which the Cougars knocked off then 6th-ranked Wisconsin for an upset of the year contender. However, they would close the season with a 4-5 record thereafter (including the loss at Utah).

Offense

BYU’s offense has struggled markedly compared to their previous season’s performance. This year BYU fell to the #110th-ranked, out of the 130 FBS teams, (Total) offense after compiling 4,254 yards on the season (about 355/game). In 2017, they were 107th compared to 66th in 2016.They will face off against a mid-tier defensive team (50th-ranked) in Western Michigan so it will be important for BYU to take advantage of any (and all) advantages. BYU has relied on the QB run game a lot in the past to keep the defenses honest, and this year is no exception.

Passing: BYU has really struggled in the last few years in keeping a consistent QB. This is also true this year, where Zack Wilson replaced Tanner Mangum about halfway through the season. As a result, neither starting QB’s numbers are amazing — though definitely serviceable.

Unlike most the teams we’ve covered this season, while the Cougars do have a little bit of a home/away split in terms of yardage it’s only about 15 yards. However, they are substantially more effective in the passing game. Completion percentage increases almost a full 10% over home games, yards per attempt goes up 1.3 yards per attempt and QB rating goes up 25 points. In addition, they have done a much better job with accuracy in the passing game, despite slightly decreased touchdown numbers (8 at home, 6 on the road). They also drop from 6 interceptions on the season at home, to only one on the road. Quite possibly the most impressive thing of all, is that they do this much work in 8 less attempts per road game.

Rushing: BYU’s rushing game suffers almost no effects away from home. They still average right about 4 yards per carry, 12 touchdowns (both home and away), and use on average 37 attempts per game. Even the yardage difference is negligible (~15 yards) between home and away. I imagine this will have to be one of the advantages that BYU will want to try on.

Defense

The Cougars were exceptional on defense during the Bronco Mendenhall years and haven’t quite recovered from his choice to leave. Sitake consistently helped Utah develop a top-tier defense. I have believe it’s only a matter of time before the defensive prowess returns to its prior state.

Passing: Unfortunately for the Cougs, they have a similar effect on their opponents passing game in home and away splits. They allow a nearly 12% difference in completion percentage (also highest on the road). Yards per attempt increase by more than a yard, as does QB rating. However, their defense allows less touchdowns on the road (4 v. 9 at home), but the caveat, is that they also have less interceptions on the road (2 v. 6 at home). Despite seeing 5 more passing attempts per game at home, the resulting yardage difference is very minimal.

Rushing: The Cougars rushing defense has been completely different depending on where they play. The difference in terms of yardage is only about 0.5 yards per carry — however, that is the least of the Cougs concerns. They have allowed only 4 touchdowns at home, but on the road — they’ve allowed 16. This fact definitely dwarfs the remaining issues of 40 yards additional yielded on the road, and the extra handful of carries they faced.

Western Michigan:

Western Michigan’s offense has put up just over 1,000 more yards of total offense this season than BYU. In total, they’ve accrued 5,366 yards on the season which is good for just shy of 450 area per game.

Offense

The Western Michigan team relies much more on the passing game — averaging about 250 yards per game on the season. However, there is a fairly sizable difference (~60 yards) between home and away games for them.

Passing: Western Michigan’s passing game is going to be a huge asset for them in this matchup. Even though they are less effective on the road they still manage more than 7 yards per attempt. There’s not really a meaningful difference between home/away games in terms of passing touchdowns or interceptions. It’s also likely to be helped by the +12% completion rating generally yielded by the Cougars. Western Michigan’s yards are somewhat tempered, but are still averaging more than 200 yards, even in away games.

Rushing: The Broncos have a huge split between their performances at home and away. Unlike most teams, however, they have a substantially better rush game on the road. They average a full 90 yards better on the road, although part of this is due to a greater reliance on the run game (11 more attempts). Interestingly though, they average 0.75 yards per rush more than at home — but their touchdown numbers are exactly the same (15).

Defense

Western Michigan has at times looked like their best defense is a good offense. Though, in fairness they’ve done a good job of limiting the damage done by their opponents. They’ve held their opponents consistently to about 100 yards less of total offense per game. Despite their record, they have actually allowed 2 more points than they have scored. Although, in the grand scheme of things both are even just above 33 points per game.

Passing: Like I mentioned previously for BYU’s defense, I think this could also be a boon for the opposing side. They allow a much higher completion percentage away from home and the BYU passing game has been in fire. Unlike BYU, however, they don’t have the disparity of touchdowns (they have the same allowed at home and away). The one upside for the Broncos might be the fact that they have five more interceptions on the road than they were able to bring in at home.

Rushing: The Broncos allow the same yardage per carry that the Cougars average. I expect the Cougars to use this to their advantage, as Kalani Sitake is likely to be thrilled with 4 yards per carry. The Broncos allow a similarly sizable difference in rushing, with the Broncos better (at least in terms of yardage) at home. They allow the same number of touchdowns home and away. I think a lot of this game will depend on who can keep their opponent on their heels.

The Game

The game is played at Albertsons Stadium on the campus of Boise State University in Boise, Idaho with kickoff at 1p PST/ 4p EST). The neutrals are expecting about 50 points to be scored, and BYU as sizable (nearly 12 point) favorites.

I anticipate this game will be closer than expected, group of 5 teams are often underestimated. Western Michigan held their own against Northern Illinois and Syracuse. While admittedly the ACC was a bit of a disaster (except for Clemson). And Northern Illinois held shared opponent (Utah) to half of what BYU had. In addition, BYU surrendered 35 points in just the second half (comeback of the year candidate?) as opposed to Northern Illinois across the entire game.

Keys to a win for each side

Brigham Young University:

  • Control the passing game. I think this is going to be what makes or breaks this game for BYU. Western Michigan throws the ball a lot and on the season BYU’s statistics away from home are a little disappointing. But being able to stifle the pass game forces Western Michigan to the next key…

  • Make the Broncos one dimensional. Even against their more difficult opponents, if BYU can key in on one part of the offense it’s been a seriously uphill battle for the challenger. Even against Utah they held them scoreless for the first half by mitigating the passing game and then sticking the box. It wasn’t until the Utes balanced out the game plan (read: completed some passes) that the struggles began.

  • Outman them. BYU is an independent FBS team but they’ve been able to recruit some great talent under Sitake. They need to put that size, strength, and athleticism on display here. On an individual player basis I don’t think Western Michigan can match their talent if BYU uses it to their advantage.

Western Michigan:

  • Run right at them. BYU have allowed a massive difference on the road. Western Michigan needs to take advantage of this — even if it this means just to exploit goal to go.

  • Quick Pass. This team has thrown the ball for most of the year, and I don’t expect it to change here. However, if they are able to speed the game up a little it should also serve to help open up the run game even further.

  • Stay Balanced. It’s important for this team to keep a balanced attack. This is where I think the Broncos will win or lose this game — if BYU can get them into a predictable game, it’s likely end of the game.

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