Boise State vs. Fresno State
Game Date: Friday, Sept. 20, 2013
Kickoff: 9 p.m. ET
Where: Bulldog Stadium, Fresno, Calif.
Radio: ESPN Radio 940 AM Fresno, Bronco Radio Network
Boise State (2-1, 1-0 MWC) will travel to the Central Valley of California this week to take on the Bulldogs of Fresno State (2-0, 0-0 MWC).
The Bulldogs had their game cancelled last week against Colorado due to flooding in the Boulder, Col. area. Meanwhile, the Broncos defeated Air Force 42-20 in a Friday night Mountain West showdown on the blue turf of Bronco Stadium.
When these two teams collide this week it will be the battle of the can—"The Milk Can" that is.
Boise State has won seven straight in this series, but this will be the best chance the Bulldogs have had to take home the victory since 2005, when Fresno State handled Boise State 27-7 in Bulldog Stadium.
No matter who wins this game, you can count on this one being a high-scoring event as two powerful offenses and two questionable defenses will collide Friday night.
This game could also be a preview of the Mountain West Conference championship game in December. Fresno is in the West Division of the MWC and Boise State resides in the Mountain Division. The top finisher in each of these divisions will square off for the title.
One of the reasons this game Friday is so crucial for both teams is that the highest ranked team going into the championship will also host the game. So, in essence, the winner this week could determine the host city in December.
If both teams make it that far, that is.
Let's look at the possibilities and scenarios that might dictate the outcome of this game, and how it all might transpire Friday night in Fresno.
There are three simple things that Fresno State must do Friday to take down the Broncos and bring home the "Milk Can."
Stop the flow of the Broncos offense.
Fresno State has a potent offense, but to control this game the defense must rise to the occasion.
The Bulldogs are currently ranked 114th in points against the defense allowing 38-points per contest. They allowed Rutgers to score 45 in regulation the first game of the season. They must do much better than that if they want to secure the win against BSU.
It will start with stepping up in the area of stopping the run game. Boise State has some stout running backs that pack a punch. To counter that, the Bulldogs must become just as stout in the middle and keep up with those backs on the outside.
Also, the secondary of Fresno, which has not played well this season, must step up in a big way. They have to find a way to cover the talented group of wide receivers that the Broncos have on their roster.
If Fresno can shut down the run game of the Broncos and step up in the secondary in a big way to contain the powerful passing attack, they should be able to force Boise State into multiple three-and-outs on offense.
Of course, getting pressure on quarterback Joe Southwick will help, but he can also scramble so they will have to account for that as well.
The Bulldogs offense must run like a well-oiled machine.
So far, Fresno State has looked excellent on offense. Of course, most of that comes from the arm of senior quarterback Derek Carr, but he does have considerable talent to throw to.
If they want to keep pace with the Broncos, they must make sure that they don't make mistakes or turnover the ball. They must play a relatively clean game to put themselves in a position to win.
One thing that may also help is if the Bulldogs can get mean in the middle. So far this season the running game has been anemic for Fresno. They are averaging just 121.5 yards per game, which is 94th in the FBS.
Another key area will be how the offensive line does in limiting players like defensive end Demarcus Lawrence. They will probably do some double teaming on the Boise State sack leader, but that may not be enough to contain him.
Burse the curse.
Boise State has beaten Fresno State seven straight years in a row. Fans of the Bulldogs are ready for their team to break that streak, which may seem more like a curse.
One way the Bulldogs could do it this week is to unleash a burst of Burse.
Isaiah Burse is an outstanding talent. As a wide receiver he has 17 receptions for 161 yards and a touchdown on the season.
However, he is even more of a weapon on special teams.
In Week 2 against Cal Poly, Burse had three touchdowns, but two of them were punt returns for 61 and 58 yards respectively.
With two powerful offenses showing off weapons Friday night, the game may come down to the special teams play of both teams. Burse will be a big part of that.
The Broncos have four things they must do to win this game.
Grind it out, 'cause seconds count.
Last week against Air Force, Boise State pounded out yardage on the ground.
It did two things.
First, it kept drives alive, and second it kept the other teams' offense off of the field. Boise State actually beat the Falcons in time of possession, and it was especially critical in the second half as it didn't allow the Boise State defense to tire out.
The Broncos will need to do that same kind of thing Friday.
Derek Carr can't hurt the Broncos if he is on the sideline. By grinding it out on the ground, the Broncos should be able to eat up yardage and clock. This will make quarterback Joe Southwick's job much easier and limit the points of the Bulldogs.
Of course, none of that will matter if the Broncos don't also convert when they have the ball. Just like last week, Boise State will need to make those long drives count. Keeping the ball for a majority of the time only works if you get points.
Bother Derek Carr all game long.
The 2013 version of the Boise State defense has not been what we are used to seeing. Last season the Broncos' D was ranked 15th in points against the defense. This season so far, they are just 61st, giving up 24 points per contest.
They will have to step up in Fresno.
Derek Carr has thrown for 661 yards in two games with a completion percentage of 71.2. Not only that, but he has thrown for eight touchdowns, just one interception and has a quarterback rating of 148.
Carr has a talented group of receivers to throw to as well, and it is not uncommon for him to hit eight or nine targets in a single game.
The only way to interrupt what Derek Carr wants to do is for the Broncos to get pressure on him, disrupt him and bring him to the turf.
The pass rush of the Broncos will be crucial, but the brunt of it will need to come from the guys up front because the secondary may have its hands full.
Defensive backs must step up big time.
In the first three games of the season the Boise State defense has gotten better. However, they will need to get much better to stop Fresno State.
In Week 1, the Broncos secondary looked a bit lost. Coverages were blown, tackles were missed and confusion looked to be the story of the day.
In Week 2 it was better. The coverage improved, but the tackling was still a bit sketchy.
In Week 3, especially in the second half, the tackling was better, but the secondary was lulled to sleep by a triple-option that throws around 25 percent of the time. When Air Force did throw, they burnt the young secondary on a couple of long passes.
This game Friday is going to be a huge test for all of those young cornerbacks. If they can step up and shut down much of what the Bulldogs want to do in the pass game, Boise State is almost certainly going to take home the victory.
Special teams hammer, must silence the clamor.
Isaiah Burse is going to do all he can to ignite the crowd of over 40,000 in Bulldog Stadium.
The senior wide receiver and punt returner is an electric player that Boise State will be looking to pull the plug on.
If he is allowed to run wild, the crowd will be just as wild. The energy and atmosphere at that point could get tough for the Broncos.
If however, Boise can shut him down as well as limit kickoff returns and get some good returns of its own from Shane Williams-Rhodes, Boise State should be in great shape.
Senior Quarterback Derek Carr
It all starts with Carr.
First off, he is a really good guy who probably has most Boise State fans rooting for him when he is not playing against the Broncos.
Carr is a class act that treats his teammates and competitors with respect. He is central to the success of the Bulldogs. How he plays will determine how well his team plays.
If you want to know how the game is going Friday, simply look at his stats.
Senior Wide Receiver Isaiah Burse
Isaiah Burse will be a key target for Carr, but his punt returns will be where he can make a huge difference in the game.
Junior Linebacker Karl Mickelsen
Mickelsen leads the Bulldogs in tackles so far this season with 14. He is the key to stopping the powerful running game of Boise State. It will be interesting to see if he can step it up this week.
Defensive Secondary Derron Smith and L.J. Jones
Junior free safety Derron Smith and senior defensive back L.J. Jones will need to have big games against the Broncos.
So far this season, the Bulldogs secondary has not been impressive, but they will need to be Friday if they want to win this game.
Much of the pressure Friday night for the Broncos will come in the way of their defensive secondary. With Derek Carr slinging the rock all over the field, Boise will have to have its young corners step up in a big way.
Bryan Douglas and Donte Deayon will be the starting cornerbacks, but backups Cleshawn Page, Mercy Maston and Jonathan Moxey will be in the mix. All of them will need to elevate their game if they want to slow down the Fresno passing attack.
Junior safety Jeremy Ioane and fellow safety Darian Thompson will need to have stellar games as well.
Junior defensive end Demarcus Lawrence will need to have an excellent game. That may be difficult because the Bulldogs may be double teaming him all night.
If and when that happens, the rest of that Boise State defensive line will need to step up. Defensive tackles Tyler Horn and Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe as well as defensive end Kharyee Marshall and his backups true freshmen Gabe Perez and Kamalei Correa are all going to need to compensate.
Big games from the rest of the line will be huge for Boise.
The offense will simply need to do what it did against Air Force. That means senior quarterback Joe Southwick needs to hit his experienced and talented wide receiver corps with efficiency.
Sophomore running back Jay Ajayi is certainly going to be key as well. If he and his backup Aaron Baltazar can run wild on the Bulldogs, the milk can may be coming back to Boise for the eighth straight year.
In this video posted by the Fresno Bee, head coach Tim DeRuyter talks about playing against Boise State.
He said his team "is still trying to figure out who they are."
He also went on to comment about the Broncos. He said, "[the Broncos] have been the standard bearer in whatever league they have been in, in the last ten years or so."
Coach DeRuyter then said that they have been talking about being champs there in Fresno. He stated, "if you want to be the champ, you got to knock the champ out."
On the Boise State side, head coach Chris Petersen was asked about the upcoming game against Fresno State in his Monday press conference. Petersen said, "we know that Fresno's got a heck of a team, there's no question about it, but we're so much work in progress, trying to get better."
He was also asked about his young defensive backs and whether or not they are progressing. Petersen responded saying, "well, we will find out this week, there is no question about it."
Petersen did mention that playing Fresno is a bit more "conventional" in comparison to playing the triple-option offense of Air Force.
Coach Petersen also complimented Fresno quarterback Derek Carr and his receivers.
Fresno State comes into this game ranked No. 25 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. However, they have not been tested yet this season.
The Bulldogs game against Rutgers in Week 1 was against a Scarlet Knights team that is not as good as they have been in previous seasons.
Not only that, but the game had a 7:30 p.m. kickoff time, which was 10:30 p.m. for the team from the East Coast.
By the time the game entered overtime it was nearing 3:00 a.m. for the Rutgers players. You have to believe that played a part in the outcome.
That is not to say Fresno State isn't a good team, because they are. However, the offense of the Bulldogs is one dimensional and the defense has quite a few holes in it right now.
Boise State on the other hand, has a balanced offense, and it will be hard for Fresno to shut it down.
The Broncos defense is similar to the Bulldogs. There are serious holes right now, but they do have some very good athletes who are showing improvement. The Air Force game went a long way in helping Boise with tackling and adjustments, and that should help this week.
The layoff for Fresno State last week might have been valuable later in the season, but this early it might have actually hurt them. The defense could have used another game to get things right before facing Boise State.
If this game is a shootout it will come down to whoever makes the fewest mistakes taking the win. However, if Boise is able to run the ball effectively and keep Derek Carr off of the field, the Broncos have the edge.
This game will be a good one, and it will no doubt be close throughout. However, the rushing attack of Boise State combined with a defense that seems to be getting better may be the difference.
It will be a battle, but look for the Broncos to step up.
Prediction: Boise State 45, Fresno State 37