Boise State travels to Reno in Week 14 of the college football season to take on Nevada. It is the final regular season game for both teams, but it probably means more to the Broncos than it does the Wolf Pack.
For Boise State (9-2, 6-1 MWC), a win Saturday would give Chris Petersen and his team a share of the Mountain West Conference title. The title would be shared with Fresno State (9-3, 7-1 MWC) and San Diego State (9-3, 7-1 MWC), but the Broncos would have a better overall record at 10-2 should they win.
The last time Boise State played at Nevada it suffered one of their most heart breaking losses in school history. Most fans of the Broncos choose to forget that cold painful night when not one, but two field goals missed their mark. It is the kind of loss that sticks with a fanbase.
However, the team itself can't live in the past, and it won't. Nevada always plays Boise State tough, and this year will be no exception. The 2012 Boise State squad is playing to create its own legacy, not to avenge the loss of another.
Look for Chris Petersen and his team to be ready to play as they take on Nevada for their place on the Mountain West Conference trophy.
With that in mind, let's breakdown the five keys to this game for the Broncos, and what it will take to bring home a victory and a conference title.
Nevada has some incredible offensive talent, and Boise State will need to have another excellent day on defense if it wants to win this game.
It will start with shutting down the running game. The Wolf Pack has its usual talent in the backfield, but none bigger than Stefphon Jefferson. The junior running back has already amassed 1,564 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground. He has also caught 21 passes for a total of 175 yards and another score.
For the Broncos to win this game, they will have to limit what Jefferson does. If you look at the stats of Nevada's games this year you will see a pattern. When Jefferson is held to under 110 yards in a game, the Wolf Pack struggles.
Against Wyoming, he had just 78 yards rushing, and the Pack needed overtime for that win. Against San Diego State, Air Force and Fresno State, he was held to 108, 93 and 95 yards respectively. Those were all losses for Chris Ault and his team. The bottom line is if the Broncos keep Stefphon Jefferson under wraps, they put themselves in a great position for a win.
However, Jefferson isn't the only weapon Boise State will have to face. Containing Cody might be just as important.
The Wolf Pack's sophomore quarterback Cody Fajardo has become quite an offensive weapon himself this season. He has thrown for 2,327 yards and 17 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. He has also rushed for 900 yards and 10 more touchdowns.
Fajardo is a true dual-threat quarterback, which is something that has come to be expected from a Nevada offense. It will certainly be a challenge for the Boise State defense to not only slow down the running game, but shut down a quarterback that isn't easily contained.
Fajardo has some extremely talented players to throw to as well. Senior wide receiver Brandon Wimberly is a name many Boise State fans are familiar with, and he will be on the field Saturday once again. This season Wimberly has caught 61 passes for 749 yards and four touchdowns.
Sophomore wide receiver Richy Turner isn't that far behind Wimberly. On the season he has caught 51 passes for a total of 621 yards and two scores.
Boise State will need to play the kind of defense it has played most of the season. Tough, aggressive, swarm to the ball and don't miss tackles. Substitutions will also be a key as the pistol offense tends to wear a defense down over the course of the game.
This is why success in the first half doesn't necessarily guarantee the same results in the second half, as the Broncos have learned. The third quarter will be key in this contest. Chris Ault is known for his halftime adjustments, and a tired defense that plays uninspired would be deadly to the Broncos Mountain West title hopes.
Boise State has a pair of excellent running backs. Together, senior D.J. Harper and freshman Jay Ajayi have become a very effective thunder and lightning attack. However, it seems like the Broncos waste some of their carries on fruitless runs between the tackles.
Of course, any offensive coordinator worth his salt will tell you that many called plays are simply to keep a defense honest and are utilized to set up something else down the line. However, in saying that, it seems the up-the-middle rushing attack this season for Boise State has been a bit redundant and ineffective at times.
The combination of Harper and Ajayi works, but it works best when they are allowed to take the ball outside of the tackles more often. Not only that, but Ajayi has been a catalyst on several occasions this season, but then for some strange reason, he seems to disappear from the game.
If Boise State wants to control the clock, keep the Nevada offense off the field and wear down the Wolf Pack defense, it will need both Harper and Ajayi to get their carries. Not only that, but the third quarter can't be absent Ajayi.
Harper seems to run better when Ajayi gets his carries. The offense seems to click more when Ajayi gets his carries. So why not keep him rolling?
The second half, especially the third quarter will be crucial for the Broncos. It seems that if Harper and Ajayi are in the game and getting their carries, it will help Boise State control the pace of the game and keep its defense fresh.
Not only that, but establishing a running game that spreads out the defense early, can only help Joe Southwick and the rest of the Broncos offense.
The last game against Colorado State, Boise State utilized some old-fashioned dink-and-dunk play-calling that seemed to work rather well. Joe Southwick was able to throw short to mid-range passes out in the flats, and it did a couple of things for the Broncos.
First, it clearly helped Southwick, his confidence and his command of the game. Second, it spread out the Rams defense and opened up more of the play book for Boise State. This resulted in five first-half touchdowns in six possessions.
The Broncos will need to do more of that Saturday. The Wolf Pack have an excellent offense, but they have struggled on defense. This season, Nevada has allowed an average of 33 points per game against its defense. That is 97th in the nation, and it is certainly something the Broncos are well aware of.
With the talent Boise State has on offense, all it needs to do is spread the ball around. It can utilize Southwick with high-percentage passes that spread out the defense and then occasionally take a shot down the field. With the talent the Broncos have at wide receiver, they should be able to make some incredible plays.
Of course, as mentioned, it will really help Southwick if the running game is established early in the game. Also, the short passes out in the flats should be a win-win for the Broncos. Not only will it probably be effective on its own, but it should assist the running game in opening up some room for Harper and Ajayi to wreak havoc.
Boise State has become known for its bruising play on defense. It has become known as a tough, physical team that swarms to the ball, forces turnovers and doesn't miss very many tackles. The Broncos will need to continue that tradition this week against Nevada.
However, they will also need that kind of passion from their special teams. Whether it be because of injuries or suspensions, for some reason the Boise State special teams have had a few struggles recently. It has allowed some huge returns on kickoffs, including two for touchdowns and has played sloppy at times. It can't afford that this week.
The offense must also do its part. They must be efficient, effective and not turn the ball over. Success will start for the Broncos by dominating the line of scrimmage. The offensive line will need to play inspired, open running lanes and pass block effectively.
This game will be about toughness. It will be about heart and about who wants it more. Games with Nevada always seem to be that way, and this one will not be different.
It will take a full four quarters played with passion, pride and the kind of blue collar work ethic that Chris Petersen demands from his players. If that happens, a share of the Mountain West title and a 10-2 regular season will be the result.