Boise State (7-1, 4-0 MWC) will take on San Diego State (6-3, 4-1 MWC) in a battle for first place in the Mountain West Saturday in Bronco Stadium.
San Diego will be without their excellent starting quarterback senior Ryan Katz, who needed surgery to repair a broken ankle suffered against Nevada in Week 7 of the college football season. However, in his absence, sophomore Adam Dingwell has done some impressive things.
Dingwell led the Aztecs past Nevada in overtime 39-38 in Reno, and then led his team to a 24-13 win over UNLV last week at home.
In the Nevada game, Dingwell threw 23 passes and completed 14 of them for a total of 177 yards and three touchdowns. Against the Rebels, the sophomore quarterback connected on 13 passes on 26 attempts for 231 yards and two touchdowns.
Dingwell is also mobile when he has to be, and against Nevada, he kept several plays alive by using his feet. It will be something the Broncos will need to key on to keep the young quarterback in check.
Let's look at this and other keys to a Boise State victory over San Diego State in Week 10.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Boise State defense will be defending the two-headed beast known as the San Diego State rushing attack.
Sophomore running back Adam Muema and senior Walter Kazee are a very effective one-two punch for the Aztecs. Last week against UNLV, each player ran for over 100 yards. Muema had 21 carries for 143 yards while Kazee had 21 carries of his own for 105 yards and a touchdown.
The effective running game against UNLV controlled the tempo of the game and gave their young quarterback the confidence and space he needed to succeed.
On the season, Muema has 892 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. Meanwhile, Kazee has an impressive 644 yards of rushing and seven touchdowns of his own.
San Diego State is ranked 18th in the nation for rushing yards per game at 223.1 per contest.
If Boise State wants to win this game Saturday night, the biggest key will be to shut down and contain the rushing attack of San Diego State. It won't be easy, but the Broncos certainly have the defense to do it.
Since the passing attack won't be quite what it had been when Ryan Katz was at quarterback, the Boise State defense should be able to plan a bit more effectively when it comes to defending the ground attack.
If they are able to shut down Muema and Kazee, it will be a very long night for the Aztecs.
As mentioned in the introduction, containing sophomore Adam Dingwell will be a key for the Broncos.
Against Nevada, Adam Dingwell escaped a few times when a sack by the Wolf Pack seemed possible. He was able to scramble and get a pass thrown or run for a few yards, causing the Nevada defense to become frustrated. He did some of the same against UNLV.
The Broncos are coming off a very impressive win at Wyoming that featured a similar type of opposing quarterback in sophomore Brett Smith.
Early in the game, Smith was having success. However, the Broncos eventually adjusted and shut him down. Boise State will need to do the same this week against the Aztecs and Adam Dingwell.
If the Broncos can contain Dingwell, press him, sack him on occasion, rattle him and force him to make questionable decisions, Boise State will be in great shape.
So far this season, Boise State has done a good job in the area of field position. Kickoff coverage has been solid, as has punt coverage. That will need to continue Saturday.
The Aztecs have a kickoff return specialist that is capable of taking one back all the way. In fact, junior wide receiver Colin Lockett has done just that one time this season, and he is averaging 23.58 yards per return.
Lockett is a very dangerous return guy, and the Broncos kickoff team will need to do what they have done all year and swarm to the ball.
The rest of the Boise State special teams will need to do what they have done all season as well. The only hiccup still has to be that the Broncos are suspect when it comes to field goals over 30 yards.
However, if this game comes down to a long field goal, several other things would have had to gone wrong for the Broncos.
The Broncos ran wild against the Cowboys last week. They will need to do that again Saturday versus the Aztecs.
D.J. Harper has proven that he is the key to the Boise State running game and a catalyst to the Broncos offense. When D.J. is rolling, the team is rolling.
Last week, Harper ran 19 times for 105 yards and two touchdowns. His backup Jay Ajayi looked good as well with eight of his own carries for 49 yards and a touchdown. Shane Williams-Rhodes had just three carries, but he made them count. On the day SWR carried three times for 46 yards and a touchdown.
Look for Boise State to bring a steady dose of Harper and Ajayi Saturday night in Bronco Stadium. Also look for the Broncos to utilize their true freshman Williams-Rhodes in even more creative and expanded ways.
San Diego State plays good defense, and they are good at disguising what they are doing. It will be critical for the Bronco offense to control the line of scrimmage and not let the Aztecs dictate what they do.
This of course comes down to the offensive line. Last week, the big guys up front looked excellent against the Wyoming Cowboys. However, they face a much better defense Saturday.
It will be a battle in the trenches for the control of the line of scrimmage that will set the tempo when the Broncos and Aztecs collide Saturday. If Boise State wins that battle, they will win the war.
To win the game against San Diego State, Joe Southwick will need to build on what he did last week against Wyoming.
Southwick and his receivers were very efficient, especially on third down converting six of seven passes. He also completed a total of 20 of 28 passes on the day.
The Aztecs will be looking to get to Southwick so as to rattle him and force him to make bad decisions. What Joe must do is avoid the pressure and try not to force anything. He needs to manage his emotions and the offense effectively.
The offensive line and the running game will be critical as previously mentioned. But, one of the biggest reasons is because it will take some of the pressure off of Southwick.
Good offensive line play will also give Southwick the time he needs to make multiple reads and throw good high-percentage passes. It will also open up the running game and spread out a very good San Diego State defense, which, in turn, helps the passing attack of Boise State.
If Boise State can effectively shut down the San Diego State rushing attack, they will force the young quarterback of the Aztecs into the unenviable position of trying to carry his team on his shoulders in only his second start.
Against UNLV last week at home, Adam Dingwell looked good. However, Bronco Stadium is not a friendly place for opposing quarterbacks. Just ask Derek Carr of the Fresno State Bulldogs.
On the road in Bronco Stadium where the crowd is very loud and intense, especially for a night game that determines which team will be in first place in the Mountain West, Dingwell will have a tremendous number of obstacles to overcome.
He will be facing the best defense in the Mountain West and arguably one of the best in the nation. That same defense will be looking to sack him, contain him and pressure him all night long. If history is any indication, and it is, the Broncos will get to him. How he responds will be crucial.
Dingwell will no doubt be a bit overwhelmed by the crowd noise and energy of such a high-stakes game in Bronco Stadium. Any mistake he makes will be amplified by an opportunistic team that knows how to get turnovers and turn those into points.
All Joe Southwick needs to do is control the game, throw efficient passes and make good decisions. The Broncos will need to get their running game going early and continue to play solid special teams.
If all of that comes together for the Broncos, they will send the Aztecs home with a second loss in the Mountain West.