It was the best of halves, it was the worst of halves.
In their fourth game of the season, the Boise State Broncos stuffed up New Mexico in the first half. But the Lobos fired out ready to play the second half and outscored Boise State 29-7 in the third and fourth quarters before turning over the ball on downs late in the fourth.
The Lobos' drive could have tied the score, or New Mexico could have taken the lead. Boise State's defense, which went from bend to break in the second half, stood up, and linebacker Tommy Smith batted down a fourth-down pass to give the ball and game over to the Bronco offense.
It's probably fair to say Boise State escaped with the win. So why bring it up again?
Because if Boise State thought it was done seeing an option offense, it needs to rethink that. This week’s opponent, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles (0-4 on the season), may not run the triple option, but they do run a spread-option attack.
Obviously, stopping the run plays into the five keys identified for Boise State if it wishes to emerge victorious from Saturday morning's tussle with the Golden Eagles. Here are the keys to the game…
New Mexico hung 330 yards of rushing offense on the Broncos defense, which had been allowing a shade more than 133 yards per game.
While Southern Miss is a spread-option offense, it has not been overly successful in running the ball or passing the pigskin; the Golden Eagles are averaging 165.75 yards per game on the ground and 131 yards through the air. East Carolina limited Southern Miss to just 91 yards rushing in the Golden Eagles' 24-14 loss in Week 3.
Southern Miss is struggling offensively.
The school hired high school coach Steve Buckley as its offensive coordinator, and what Buckley has brought to the program is highly touted quarterback Anthony Alford.
Alford, a true freshman, did not play in the Sept. 29 loss to Louisville, which put the offense in the hands of redshirt freshman quarterback Riley Lloyd. Lloyd actually is the third quarterback in the rotation, but Game 1 starter Chris Campbell gave way to Alford in Game 2, and a knee injury sent Alford to the sidelines and opened up the starting job for Lloyd.
In three appearances, Lloyd is 6-of-16 for 97 yards in the passing department. If you discount the sack yardage allowed—and Southern Miss has allowed 10 sacks on the season—Lloyd has 77 yards rushing on 22 carries. He has been tackled for loss for 34 yards.
According to a story published by the Idaho Statesman, who actually starts at QB may not be determined until the day before the game.
The other rusher Boise State has to key on is redshirt senior Desmond Johnson (5'11", 210 pounds). Johnson has 45 carries on the season for 259 yards, which is an average of 5.76 yards per carry.
If you adhere to the theory that a good running attack moves the ball while eating clock, you may feel validated by the fact that, in each of its four losses, Southern Miss has come up short to its opponents in time of possession.
Offensively, Southern Miss is holding the ball for a little more than 26 minutes per game while allowing opponents to control the ball for more than 33 minutes a game.
Boise State finds itself in the same boat.
The Broncos are averaging 28:38 minutes of possession while giving up 31:21 to opponents.
The Boise State offense ranks No. 72 in the nation in total offense, while Southern Miss is ranked at No. 119, the second-worst in the nation.
That is far from typical for the Southern Miss program. Southern Miss may be racked by injuries, but the team may be due for a breakout game. Boise State can stop that from happening Saturday by controlling the ball and the clock.
Southern Miss has fumbled the ball eight times and lost it on five of those times. The Golden Eagles also have thrown one interception.
The Boise State defense has recovered six fumbles and picked off six passes. That is good enough to put the Broncos in a tie for No. 11 in the nation in turnovers gained.
Boise State has lost four fumbles to opponents, and quarterback Joe Southwick has tossed two interceptions (he has not given up an interception in the past two games). The Broncos are No. 9 in the nation in turnover margin; Southern Miss is ranked at No. 91.
Much like they did against New Mexico, the Bronco defensive linemen and linebackers need to go ball-hunting, stripping it at every opportunity and recovering it. The Broncos defensive secondary needs to play tighter on the receivers to put itself in a position to move up, stop the run and recover errant pitches.
In short, Boise State will need to be opportunistic and turn those opportunities into sustained drives and points.
Against New Mexico, Broncos redshirt junior quarterback Joe Southwick had receivers open in the end zone. He just couldn't get the ball to them; in each case, Southwick overthrew them badly.
Southwick did toss a touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore receiver Matt Miller, but Miller was barely in the end zone when he caught it. One of Southwick’s passes was on a crucial fourth-down play. He had fullback Dan Paul open, but simply sailed the ball over Paul's head.
Two passing touchdowns against New Mexico were on swing passes to the outside, and the receivers outmaneuvered tacklers to take the ball in for the scores.
If he goes wire-to-wire again this week, Southwick needs to find the end zone with his passes. A potent short-field passing attack will open up the run.
If the game becomes a battle of field goals, Southern Miss might win it.
Boise State senior Michael Frisina is 4-for-7 on the season, but he is 0-for-3 outside of 30 yards. Conversely, Southern Miss redshirt sophomore Corey Acosta is 4-for-6 and has hit field goals from 45 and 47 yards out.
The Boise State kicker has the leg for longer field goals, but Frisina's accuracy is not there at the moment.