Boise State vs. Air Force
Game Date: Friday, Sept. 13, 2013
Kickoff: 8 p.m. EST
Where: Bronco Stadium, Boise, Idaho
Radio: Bronco Radio Network, 670 AM KBOI Boise, Idaho
Boise State will begin its quest for an outright Mountain West Championship Friday night at Bronco Stadium.
With the new alignment in the MWC, each divisional game takes on more importance than previous seasons. Boise State and Air Force both occupy the "Mountain Division" of the new Mountain West. The winner of that division will face the winner of the "West Division" in December for the outright title.
Air Force has already put itself in a vicarious position after losing to fellow Mountain Division member Utah State last week. The Falcons will certainly be looking to rebound, but it will be quite the task to take down the Broncos on their home field in prime time on ESPN.
It will be a battle, and it should be an electric environment as Air Force flies into Boise, Idaho, in an attempt to corral the Broncos.
Let's take a closer look at this Mountain West showdown in an effort to forecast what it might look like and what it might all mean for both of these teams.
Boise State has four keys to victory in this contest.
1. Go fishing on "The Blue," but don't forget the tackle.
"Defense wins championships," or at least that's how the old saying goes. Well, Friday night as the Broncos take the first step in their goal of winning the Mountain West, the defense will be busy.
Air Force runs a pesky triple-option offense, and it drives defenses crazy. However, the key to handling such a scheme is really simple.
As legendary coach George Halas once said, "Find out what the other team wants to do. Then take it away from them."
That is exactly what the Boise State defense must do Friday night. The biggest keys to shutting down the option are containing the quarterback, sealing the perimeter, frustrating the offense with tackles for loss and forcing punts rather than long, sustained drives.
It sounds elementary, but fundamentals are elementary.
In the first two games of the season, Boise State has struggled in the area of tackling. The Broncos will need to step it up against the Falcons. Arm tackles won't be the answer. It will take a concerted effort from the defense to make sure this happens.
2. The return of Captain Swick's 'Stache.
Quarterback Joe Southwick finished off the 2012 season with four straight, solid games and a mustache.
In the opener he was not sporting the 'stache. Instead it was the unshaven look the senior went with. Of course, the Broncos were thumped in that game 38-6 by Washington.
Last week however, Southwick, or "Swick" as he is sometimes referred to, was back to the lip cover alone.
Now, no one is suggesting the mustache has super powers or some kind of blinding misdirection allure that makes defenses miss the sleight of hand. But the senior quarterback does seem to play with a certain amount of attitude when carrying the fuzzy mouth shield.
Chadd Cripe of the Idaho Statesman even mentioned this in one of his articles. He also had a quote from Southwick about the whole thing.
"It’s back, and I think the mojo was working," the senior leader said. "I threw a couple touchdown passes, we scored a lot of points, so it’s sticking around."
Call it mojo or just the power of the 'stache, but whatever it is, it seems to be back with the Boise State quarterback.
He will need to lead the offense in Week 3 in a way that gives the Broncos' defense the best chance for success. That means long, sustained drives by Southwick and the rest of the offense, and those drives must end with touchdowns—not field goals or missed opportunities.
Again, it sounds elementary, but that's because it is.
3. Gobble up the ground, and take the time to chew every bite.
Of course, the offense won't be squarely on the shoulders of Southwick. The running game will be key.
If the Broncos can chew up yardage and the clock with the running game, they will keep the Air Force triple-option offense on the sidelines. It can't wear down the defense if its opportunities are limited.
Those limitations will only come if the ground game of the Broncos is working.
4. Waste not, want not.
It has already been mentioned in various ways, but the last key to this game for Boise State is making the most of every opportunity.
Every drive for the Broncos offense has to be productive. This will allow the defense to rest and limit the Falcons offense.
Not only that, but when the defense is on the field they must seize every moment. That means sacks, tackles-for-loss, disrupting the Air Force game plan and wrapping up.
If the offense fails to succeed the pressure will become immense on the defense. If the defense isn't playing fundamentally sound, then it could be a very long night for Chris Petersen and his team.
There are three simple keys to an Air Force victory in Week 3 against the Broncos.
1. Slip the grip, and pound the ground.
The triple-option is an offense full of tests for opposing defenses.
First, to counter the option, defenses must be disciplined. Each defender knows his assignment. Sometimes if a player tries to make a move based solely on his athleticism, no matter how good of an athlete he is, the offense can make him pay by simply tossing the ball to the next guy.
Next, if a defense doesn't tackle efficiently, the triple-option becomes a nightmare to defend. It wears down a defense by stretching the game sideline-to-sideline. And then about the time the opposing team is keying on the run, the triple-option mocks them with a pass.
If Air Force wants to win this game, it will need to do all of these things well. It is certainly a disciplined team in its own right, and if they are patient and productive, they will give Boise State all it can handle.
2. Bring the heat, and rely on "Air" conditioning.
Another key with this game is the level of conditioning on each side of the ball. You know Air Force, as a military service academy, has its players in shape and ready to run.
As the game progresses it will be interesting to see if the Broncos can match the level of endurance that the Falcons bring.
Air Force will need to utilize that fitness to slowly wear down Boise State over the course of the game if they want to take home victory.
3. Hiccup the hurry-up.
Boise State is running a form of the hurry-up offense these days. It failed in Week 1 but looked dangerous to opposing defenses in Week 2.
If Air Force can disrupt the hurry-up and limit the offensive production of the Broncos, it will go a long way in winning this game.
One of the ways that the Falcons can do this is by keying on the quarterback and frustrating his efforts. This will force him to make quick decisions and limit the long ball.
The other thing they will need to do is shut down the Boise State ground game. That will be difficult with Jay Ajayi and his powerful legs, but to have a chance the Falcons will have to shut him and his backups down.
That will make the Broncos offense one-dimensional, and when a team is utilizing a fast pace on offense, one dimension doesn't work for them.
Boise State faces a very good option offense this Friday. For the Broncos to win this game they will need to slow down the ground game of Air Force. To do that, they must wrap up and play fundamentally sound football.
It will start with the linebackers. Junior Blake Renaud has serious potential. However, so far this season he has just eight tackles. Look for him to be much improved in Week 3.
Backup linebacker and redshirt freshman Ben Weaver actually leads the Broncos with 14 tackles so far this season. Boise State will need him to keep it up.
New kids on the block
Because of injuries to junior linebacker Travis Saxton and senior Jonathan Brown, true freshmen Tanner Vallejo and Darren Lee will be called upon to step it up.
The defensive line
Junior defensive tackle Tyler Horn is another player to watch as is senior defensive lineman Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe. The defensive line will need to dominate the line of scrimmage and bully its way into the backfield. Nothing stifles an option based offense like a tackle-for-loss by the defense.
Then, there is Demarcus Lawrence. He will be a key player in this game, if he plays. He missed last week because of a suspension. That was his third time missing a game because of disciplinary issues.
On the season, Air Force ran the ball 113 times and has thrown it just 29 times. That calculates to passing the ball around 25 percent of the time.
Because of that the defensive secondary of Boise State should be able to help contain the option. However, the occasional pass will keep them honest.
With such a young secondary for Boise State, it will be interesting how they deal with the dynamic.
On offense, quarterback Southwick must continue his success. He must make good decisions, hit on deep balls and make sure he doesn't turn the ball over.
It will be imperative for the Broncos offense to succeed for a couple of different reasons. First, it will allow the Boise State defense to rest, and second, if this game becomes a shootout, the Air Force offense will not be able to keep up.
It will be running back Ajayi's job to chew up clock and yardage. To have success Friday night, Boise State will need to limit the time the Falcons possess the ball on offense. Limiting the time an option offense has on the field is one of the biggest keys of shutting it down.
Air Force lost its starting quarterback Kale Pearson in Week 1 of the college football season. He suffered a knee injury and will be out for some time.
Sophomore quarterback Jaleel Awini
Still, he is mobile, and the Broncos will need to contain him.
Junior running back Broam Hart
Broam Hart is an excellent running back, and it will be on his legs that Air Force will rely upon. If the Broncos can shut him down, they will go a long way in taking down the Falcons.
Junior running back Jon Lee
Of course, if Hart is stopped, the Falcons can call on Jon Lee. Lee rushed for 130 yards in the opener against Colgate. He has two touchdowns so far this season, and he has the speed to get outside and chew up some yardage.
The Air Force defense has some solid players. It starts with junior linebacker Joey Nichol. Nichol leads the team with 20 tackles so far this season. He flies around the field and disrupts what an offense is trying to do.
Then, there are three defensive backs who the Broncos will have to contend with. Juniors Christian Spears and Jamal Byrd will be buzzing around all game looking to make plays. Spears has 17 tackles on the season, and Byrd has 11 with one interception.
Senior defensive back Steffon Batts has 13 tackles and three passes broken up this season. He will be someone Southwick will have to keep an eye on all game long.
When Boise State was first invited to the Mountain West Conference back in 2011, one provision for the school being allowed membership was that it was not allowed to wear blue-on-blue uniforms for MWC home games.
At the time, head coach Chris Petersen was not happy about it. In an ESPN.com article, Petersen was quoted about his thoughts on the provision. He said:
I thought it was ridiculous … That’s our colors. That’s who we are. That’s who our fans have wanted us to be since I’ve been at Boise State. That’s what it’s been through and through.
At the time it was thought that Boise State had some unfair advantage in wearing all blue on blue turf. You know, just like Colorado State does with green-on-green. Oh wait, no one ever mentioned that. Not to mention that if it was an "unfair advantage" by allowing Boise State players to blend into the turf, then how in the world did Boise quarterbacks find their receivers?
In any case, it did not sit well with coaches, players and fans of Boise State.
Fast forward two years, and Boise State planned to leave the Mountain West in favor of the Big East. However, as most know, the Broncos returned to the MWC without ever really leaving.
One of the new provisions for coming back to the conference was that Boise State would finally be allowed to wear all blue once again.
However, out of the blue—pun intended—someone proposed a strange new rule. This time it came from the NCAA Football Rules Committee.
The new rule would not allow teams like Boise State to wear jerseys and pants that were the same color. An ESPN.com article described the rule this way:
Perhaps one of the stranger rule changes, and one Boise State fans surely will notice, would require teams to have either their jerseys or pants contrast in color to the playing field. The Mountain West had barred the Broncos from wearing all-blue uniforms on their blue turf during conference games last season.
The "oh, by the way" moment comes when looking closer at the details. The chairman of that rules committee was none other than Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun.
Now, no one is claiming the rule proposal came from him, but you have to wonder if the "blue-out" in Bronco Stadium Friday night is not a bit of a smiling statement.
KTVB.com has an article posted written by Tom Scott that gives some more insight. The article says:
Boise State plays its first conference game of the season Friday night, and it’s the first one in the Mountain West in which the Broncos have been permitted to wear their all-blue uniforms. So they will, coinciding with a “blue-out” in Bronco Stadium. The opponent is Air Force, who was also their foe in their first-ever Mountain West home game in 2011. Only then, blue-on-blue was banned by the conference. That contentious restriction was lifted when Boise State negotiated its return to the MW last December.
Of course, Petersen isn't talking about it. However, you know Boise State fans will be looking for their all-blue squad to take down Air Force and send the Falcons home blue.
Boise State bounced back in Week 2, but that was against an FCS opponent. Still, the team looked much better in almost every facet of the game.
However, in the area of tackling, the team still had a few struggles.
If the Broncos defense struggles to take down Air Force ball carries, it could make for a very long day. If the Falcons find success on the ground, it might tire out the young players on the Boise State defense, especially late, and it could lead to a tight game—or even an upset, for that matter.
But don't expect that.
What should be expected is a young BSU defense with even more improvements this week. Look for the coaching staff to have them tackling even better. It will be a challenge to shut down the option offense, but with the Falcons only throwing 25 percent of the time, the defensive secondary will be allowed to do some things to help contain it all.
In the end expect the mustache of Southwick to bring solid play for the senior. Look for the ground game of the Broncos, led by Ajayi, to chew up clock themselves. Look for Boise State veteran receivers to look good again this week, and look for the entire defense to elevate its game at home on "The Blue."
Prediction: Boise State 48, Air Force 21