Boise State Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Fresno State
Boise State’s football team returns home for Saturday’s game, and the timing couldn’t be better. Not only is the gridiron tussle a Mountain West Conference game, but the Broncos will be facing a potentially stiff challenge in Fresno State. The Bulldogs are 4-2 on the season, but more importantly, they are 2-0 in MWC play.
Boise State hung on to beat New Mexico in its only MWC game of the season, and sits at 4-1 on the season.
Now for the bad news/good news: The bad news is that Fresno State is averaging 493.8 yards and 39.5 points per game; the good news is that the Bulldogs are only averaging 26.3 points and 379 yards of total offense per game on the road. The Bulldogs' two losses were at Oregon and at Tulsa.
Unfortunately, the Boise State Broncos are only averaging 378 yards of total offense per game on the season and 26.2 points per game. Overall, Fresno State ranks No. 19 in the nation in scoring offense while Boise State is ranked at No. 76.
With that in mind, here are five of the keys to a Boise State win in the Saturday afternoon game at Bronco Stadium…
Keep the Bulldogs Offense off the Field
Fresno State operates from a spread formation, and seems to effectively combine the run and the pass. The Bulldogs are averaging 178.3 yards rushing per game and 315.5 yards passing per outing. This is going to put pressure on the Broncos secondary.
This ‘key’ is a shared responsibility, though. Boise State’s defense needs to be better against the run and tighten up against the pass. That much is certain; but the other element (addressed later in this article) is Boise State’s offense holding on to the football, keeping drives going and eating the clock.
The Bulldogs have a potent running back in Robbie Rouse. The 5’7”, 190-lb senior has toted the ball 132 times for 740 yards (that’s 5.4 yards a pop) and eight touchdowns. When the Bulldogs go to the pass, they rely on 6’3”, 210-lb junior quarterback Derek Carr. If that last name rings a bell, it should. Derek’s older brother, David, was a QB at Fresno State and was the first pick of the 2002 NFL draft.
Carr is averaging 302.7 yards passing per game with 18 touchdowns. His favorite receivers are the redshirt freshman Davante Adams (6’2”, 200 lbs) with 40 grabs for 478 yards and five touchdowns, and Rouse, who has 33 catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns. Junior Isaiah Burse and sophomore Josh Harper also have four touchdown grabs each.
Control the line of scrimmage, contain the spread offense and keep the pressure on. Carr has tossed three interceptions on the season and the Bulldogs have lost five fumbles of the eight coughed up.
Which brings me to the next key…
Boise State is currently tied for second in the nation in takeaways defensively. But there have been some gaps in the secondary. Jerrell Gavins, a strong corner, had a couple of key penalties against Southern Miss, and just does not seem to be on top of his game.
While the other three Boise State secondary starters—corner Jamar Taylor, and safeties Jeremy Ioane and Lee Hightower—are rank third, fourth and fifth in team leaders in tackles. That trio also has high marks in the columns for pass breakups, deflections, interceptions and forced fumbles. Hightower is fifth on the Boise State team leaders’ list for tackles with 25 total. Gavins, who does not have any breakups, deflections or any other stats, is sitting at No. 9 on the list with 16 total tackles on the season.
In a story published by the Idaho Statesman, defensive secondary coach Jimmy Lake said that running to the ball was a key focus heading into the Fresno State game. Jamming the Fresno State receivers at the line may be another element that precipitates generating turnovers. Stop the receivers from getting into their patterns, pressure the quarterback to make hurried throws, flock to the ball and take it away.
Those elements will keep Fresno State’s offense off the field and off the scoreboard.
Establish the Run
Boise State is averaging 152 yards rushing and 226 yards passing per game. The run keeps the opponents honest and if linebackers feel the need to creep up to stop that running game, and the secondary is playing loose enough on receivers in run defense, it opens up the passing attack.
Against Southern Mississippi, the Broncos struggled to run the ball. To its credit, though, Boise State did throw a lot of runners at the Golden Eagles defense, trying to find the one that would take over the game. D.J. Harper was the leading ground gainer with 47 net yards. Boise State only had 139 yards rushing for the game.
Conversely, Fresno State has only been allowing 152 yards rushing per game, and 338.5 yards per game of total offense.
The offensive line needs to open holes and seal the ends to allow Bronco backs room to run. This ties into the first key, which is keeping Fresno State’s offense off the field. But in this context, establishing the run could open up the pass, and Boise State will need both components clicking Saturday.
Put Together Sustained Drives
Redshirt sophomore receiver Matt Miller has increasingly become Broncos quarterback Joe Southwick’s favorite target. Miller leads other receivers in total catches on the season with 29. Kirby Moore has 16, Mitch Burroughs (who suffered a wrist injury against Southern Miss) has 12 grabs and running back D.J. Harper is the only other Bronco in double digits in receptions with 10.
Spread the ball around and don’t let the opponent focus on one or two guys. That is part of the formula for sustaining drives. Boise State is 0-for-7 on the season in going for it on fourth down and 27-for-64 in third-down conversion attempts.
The latter number ranks Boise State at No. 54 in the nation in third-down conversions. As a standard, the teams at the top of the ranking are averaging more than 50 percent on their conversion attempts. Nevada is one of those teams.
This also ties in with keeping Fresno State’s offense off the field. Sustained drives eat clock and wear down defenses. Boise State’s offense has been gifted numerous times this season with great field position courtesy of the defense. The Broncos offense needs to return the favor by driving the ball down the field and giving the defense time to breathe.
This seems like a bit of a no-brainer. The point is, though, that Boise State cannot afford to get into a scoring track meet with Fresno State. Broncos quarterback Joe Southwick has struggled at times, especially when there was a lot of pressure.
What helped Boise State in its last two down-to-the-wire wins at home were the crowd and some huge defensive plays. If both teams’ offenses are in a race to see who can put the most points on the board, the pressure will be on, and mistakes will likely be made. Boise State cannot afford to make mistakes.
The Broncos are averaging 26 points at home—23.6 if you take away the defensive touchdown scored against Brigham Young. Against Fresno State, even presuming that the Bulldogs live up to road habit of 26.3 points per game, there will put a lot of pressure on the Broncos offense and on Southwick.
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