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Wyoming's defense working to keep tabs on Boise State's 'formational wizardry'
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Wyoming's defense working to keep tabs on Boise State's 'formational wizardry'

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QB questions face No. 14 Boise State at BYU

Boise State running back George Holani breaks away from the Hawaii defense for a 40-yard touchdown run in their game Oct. 12 in Boise, Idaho.

LARAMIE — Count Jake Dickert among those who's relieved Wyoming has had an extra week to prepare for Boise State.

The Cowboys’ defensive coordinator has needed every bit of that time to get his group ready for what will be the most intricate offense Wyoming has seen to this point.

“We just spent the last week just on air — trade, shift, motion,” Dickert said. “Hey, what are you looking at? What are you looking at? Just making sure we can’t have any simple busts because that’s really when they’ll take advantage of you during a game.”

Saturday night’s matchup at Boise’s Albertsons Stadium between two of the top three teams in the Mountain West’s Mountain Division will pit strength against strength. Wyoming (6-2, 3-1 MW), which is coming off its second and final bye week of the season, will put the league’s No. 2 scoring defense and No. 3 rush defense up against a Boise State offense that leads the conference in points and ranks second in yards.

Sometimes the 21st-ranked Broncos (7-1, 4-0) beat defenses before the ball is even snapped with an array of formations, shifts and motions. That could mean a running back split out wide, a tight end or receiver initially lined up in the backfield or a player moving from one side of the formation to the other. 

“Formational wizardry, that’s what we call it,” Dickert said. And the purpose of it all is to try to create mismatches and confusion for the defense, leading to misalignments and some of those busts. 

“It’s like solving a math equation before they even say hut,” Dickert said. “They really test every rule, every principal with the college-game rules. Every unbalanced (formation), every motion, every check. You’ve got to be sound. They really don’t do the same thing week to week, so it’s a guessing game and kind of playing back to what they tried to do to us the last couple of years and using those concepts.”

Boise State has been serviceable on the ground at 178.3 rushing yards per game, though true freshman George Haloni has burst onto the scene of late. Holani has averaged 112 rushing yards the last two games and scored four touchdowns in the Broncos’ 52-42 win at San Jose State last week.

“Holani and (junior running back Robert) Mahone, they’ve got a great 1-2 punch,” Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said. “And I think you’ve got to credit their offensive line. Their running game is I think really efficient. The guys read schemes really well and find creases.”

But what the Broncos have burned Wyoming and just about every other defense they’ve faced with is a passing game that ranks fourth in the MW. With true freshman quarterback Hank Bachmeier at the controls, Boise State is throwing for 291 yards on average. Bachmeier wasn’t asked to do too much against SJSU with the Broncos running the ball 51 times, but he was an efficient 13 of 17 passing for 213 yards.

Where much of the Broncos’ big-play ability lies is in a well-rounded receiving corps that’s “as good as it gets in this league,” Dickert said. Senior John Hightower may be the most dangerous of the bunch while Khalil Shakir and CT Thomas are speedier wideouts that can be used on jet sweeps or deep balls, something the Broncos specialize in. Hightower, who has five touchdown receptions, is averaging nearly 19 yards per catch.

“It’s more of the quick game, the mid-range routes,” defensive back Keyon Blankenbaker said of other offenses Wyoming has faced this season. “What Boise does, they do a lot of shot routes and a lot of double routes.”

It’ll be yet another challenge for a Wyoming defense that’s giving up the second-most passing yards in the league (288.8 per game). Boise State shredded the Cowboys for 342 passing yards in a 34-14 win last season at War Memorial Stadium, though that was with a far more experienced quarterback in Brett Rypien. 

Wyoming will be relying on its front seven to help contain some of that. The Cowboys lead the MW with 26 sacks, and Dickert said the bye week has given him time to add more wrinkles to Wyoming’s pressure packages as the Cowboys work to turn up the pressure on Boise State’s young signal caller with as many different looks as possible.

“Getting after the quarterback is going to be huge this week just like it is every other week,” defensive end Josiah Hall said. “They’ve got a good O-line, and we’ve got to work together up front — all four of us (defensive linemen) — and get as much pressure on him as we can and try to help the guys out on the back end because it all works together.”

The Cowboys will also have to keep tabs on everybody else, which is a lot easier said than done against a Boise State offense that likes to create some confusion of its own.

“You don’t know where they’re going to line up, and you don’t know how they’re going to get them the ball,” Dickert said. “That’s a good job by their coaches.

“They’re an explosive offense. They kind of feed off the explosive plays, and I think our strength is defending the run. So we’ll kind of see where those two things meet there, and then we’ll kind of go from there.”

Follow UW athletics beat writer Davis Potter on Twitter at @DavisEPotter.

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College Sports Reporter

Davis Potter is the University of Wyoming athletics reporter. An Alabama native and 2011 Auburn University graduate, Potter joined the Star-Tribune in 2018 after five years covering Ole Miss and the Southeastern Conference. He lives in Laramie.

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