Boise State Broncos (3-2, 1-1 MWC) will travel to Logan, Utah this week to take on the Aggies of Utah State (3-3, 2-0 MWC). This game is a Mountain Division game for both of these teams, and the winner will have an inside track to the MWC title game in December.
The Aggies are reeling right now as they not only lost last week to in-state rival BYU, but they lost their incredible quarterback Chuckie Keeton in the process. Keeton will be out the remainder of the season with a knee injury.
However, don't count out the Aggies in this one. Utah State is a well coached team with considerable talent and heart. They are coming to play Saturday, and the Broncos must be ready.
Let's take a closer look at this game, what might transpire and the ramifications of its result going forward this season.
When looking closely at this game, it seems that for the Aggies to take home victory they are going to have get in classic video-game mode.
Go Donkey Kong
No matter what the Broncos defense throws at the Aggies Saturday, they will need to dodge the debris and continue to level up.
Boise State has an explosive offense, but the defense has been suspect.
If the Utah State quarterback can avoid sacks and connect on simple, short to medium range passes, or even screens and quick tosses in the flats, it should frustrate the young Broncos defense.
It may not be the long strike that Keeton could bring, but chipping away will keep the Boise State offense off the field and will tire out the defense and disrupt what they want to do.
Utah State will need to chew up the yardage on the ground as well.
The Aggies have a good rushing attack; they are currently ranked 39th in the nation in rushing yards per game. Of course, Chuckie Keeton was part of that, but he was third on the list for rushing yards for Utah State.
Running backs Joey DeMartino and Joe Hill lead the team in yards on the ground. However, it was announced this week in The Salt Lake Tribune that Hill is out for the season with a torn ACL. That means senior backup running back Robert Marshall will need to step it up in a big way this week to compensate.
Junior quarterback Craig Harrison, who stepped in for Keeton against BYU, looked good when he had to scramble last week. He will need to do more of that against the Broncos this Saturday.
Running the ball effectively will limit the Boise State opportunities on offense and tire out the Broncos defense. First downs should bring confidence to a team needing some right now.
It will be difficult to do this however, with two of the three leading rushers gone for the Aggies. But, to have a chance, they must find a way.
Utah State has a good defense. They are currently ranked 25th in the nation in total defense according to NCAA.com.
The Aggies have a decent defensive line, very good linebackers and a solid defensive secondary. However, it will certainly be a challenge for them to contain all the weapons the Broncos have on offense.
The key to limiting the scoring of Boise State will be to shut down the run game and get to quarterback Joe Southwick.
As reported in the Idaho Press-Tribune, the Broncos lost true freshman running back Aaron Baltazar to a season ending knee injury against Southern Miss. His loss will be felt, but starter Jay Ajayi is set to go.
However, behind Ajayi there are a few players that have yet to prove that they can be viable backups, and this could be a vulnerable area for head coach Chris Petersen and his team.
Sophomore Jack Fields, JUCO transfer Derrick Thomas and redshirt freshman Charles Bertoli have all had limited playing time this season behind Ajayi and Baltazar. If the Aggies can limit Ajayi, the Broncos don't have another proven back that is certain to step up.
Become Space Invaders
To limit the passing attack, Utah State has to get to Southwick. When he has time, he gets things done in the air, and he has a number of talented players to throw to.
So far this season, the Aggies have not been able to do much in the area of sacking opposing quarterbacks. They are currently ranked 88th in the nation with just nine sacks on the season. They will have to do much better if they want to beat the Broncos Saturday.
Boise State has been getting better as a team as the season progresses. That progress will need to continue to win this Saturday. The Broncos are going to have to get a bit retro themselves if they want to get the edge in the Mountain Division.
Perhaps they can get some inspiration from Tom Cruise—or at least his movies.
All the Right Moves
The Broncos have made some costly mistakes this season in the way of penalties on defense and turnovers on offense in the red zone.
However, they can't afford that kind of thing against a very talented Aggies team that know how to capitalize on the mistakes of their opponents.
If they can limit the free yards via penalties for their opponents and keep hold of the ball when closing in on a score, the Broncos should put themselves in a position to succeed. If more mistakes happen in Logan, it could be a long trip home.
Days of Thunder
One of the things that has been absent much of the season for Boise State is the dominating defense we have grown accustom to seeing over recent years. However, against Southern Miss, some of that swagger, confidence and toughness seemed to be rising to the surface.
If they want to be successful against the Aggies, the Broncos need to play defense with reckless abandon. Flying to the ball, getting to the quarterback, tackles for loss, swarming coverage and powerful hits are all going to be needed when these teams collide.
If the Boise defense plays with serious attitude, confidence and passion, Utah State is going to be on its heels all game long. If however, the defense looks more like the first part of the season rather than the latter, Saturday in Utah could be a big disappointment.
Head coach Chris Petersen and offensive coordinator Robert Prince have slowly been adding some "Boise State Stuff" into the offensive mix. A fake punt against Fresno State and a Fumblerooski against Southern Miss got the blue and orange juices flowing.
More of the same should be included in the game plan this week.
The Broncos know how to make these type of plays work, and let's be honest, it is a lot of fun for fans to watch. However, beyond that, these kind of plays usually frustrate opposing teams and can swing the momentum of a game in a significant way.
Some might say, "more cowbell," but Boise State need only bring more risky business.
Quarterback Joe Southwick is having a very good season statistically.
The Broncos are currently ranked first in the FBS in passing completion percentage as a team. Yes, you read that right, Boise State has the highest pass competition rate in the land at 73.2 percent. Joe Southwick himself is ranked third in the FBS on the individual list with a 73.5 percent completion rate.
The Broncos success in the passing game is twofold. First, they are loaded with talent at wide receiver and tight end. Second, the play of their senior quarterback has been efficient.
Southwick will need to continue to display that efficiency this weekend, and he will need to continue to spread the ball around to all the talent that surrounds him.
A Few Good Men
Jay Ajayi is a very good running back, but he will need help. As previously mentioned, true freshman Aaron Baltazar is out. When healthy, he and Ajayi were a powerful combination.
In his absence the other running backs on the roster must step up.
Look for Jack Fields to get his fair share of the secondary carries this Saturday. However, he must do better than what he has done this season to give Ajayi the help he will need.
Fields has just 91 yards on 27 carries in 2013. That equates to 3.4 yards-per-carry. In comparison, Baltazar had 234 yards on 50 carries for a 4.7 yards-per-carry average.
Other backs that must contribute will be JUCO transfer Derrick Thomas, who has had very limited action this season, and redshirt freshman Charles Bertoli.
Bertoli is a guy that has been impressive nearly every time he touches the ball. Of course, it hasn't been that much, and it is usually in clean up time, but he shows power and grit. On the year Bertoli has carried just five times, but that was for 60 yards and one touchdown.
If the Broncos want to have success against the Aggies, all three of these backups will need to contribute. However, don't forget about wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes who is sometimes incorporated into the running game.
Quarterback Craig Harrison or Darell Garretson
After losing outstanding quarterback Chuckie Keeton for the season, the Aggies turned to junior Craig Harrison against BYU. He struggled throwing the ball, but had some promising moments.
Harrison will be the likely starter against Boise State, but it was reported by the The Salt Lake Tribune that Utah State head coach Matt Wells has opened up the quarterback competition this week in practice.
The article quotes Wells saying, "You’ll know on game day," in reference to when the public will know who will get the nod. Freshman Darell Garretson is the other quarterback in the mix.
You have to believe Coach Wells is doing it more for motivation, but I guess we will all find out on game day.
Running Back Joey DeMartino
DeMartino is a good running back, but against the Broncos he will need to be great. The ground game is crucial for success this week as the passing game won't be what it was with Keeton at the helm.
DeMartino was actually the backup last week to junior Joe Hill, who, as previously mentioned, is out the rest of the season with a torn ACL. This will be a huge test for the senior, and if he doesn't make a big contribution, Utah State may find itself in a hole too big to climb out of.
Linebackers Jake Doughty , Zach Vigil and Kyler Fackrell
Utah State has some of the best linebackers in the Mountain West, which they will need to prove this week against a very powerful Boise State offense.
Leading tackler and inside linebacker senior Jake Doughty has already accumulated 64 tackles on the season. However, fellow inside linebacker junior Zach Vigil isn't too far behind with 57. Outside linebacker sophomore Kyler Fackrell is third on the team with 41 tackles.
These three linebackers are going to have to set the tone Saturday. Between the short passes and the Boise State running game, they will certainly be center to it all.
Defensive backs Maurice Alexander and Brian Suite
Senior free safety Maurice Alexander will be crucial in attempting to shut down the Boise State passing game. On the season he has 39 tackles, one and a half sacks, three broken up passes, four and a half tackles for loss and an interception.
Alexander should get some help from junior strong safety Brian Suite. Suite has broken up three passes, forced a fumble and has 27 tackles on the season. However, Suite is questionable for this game after suffering an injury in the BYU game.
Defensive end Demarcus Lawrence
Getting to the quarterback early and often will be absolutely crucial for Boise State in this one. No matter who starts, the quarterback for Utah State is going to have little to no game-time experience.
If Demarcus Lawrence can lead the charge in sacking and disrupting the Aggies passer, the Broncos will have a very good chance at taking home the victory.
Quarterback Joe Southwick and His Arsenal
Utah State isn't the offensive powerhouse they were even a week ago after the loss of their quarterback and one of their top running backs. They do still have enough fire power to put up some points, but they probably can't win an offensive shootout.
If Joe Southwick is his efficient self, and his wide receivers play inspired and hold on to the ball, the Broncos will be hard to slow down.
If Boise State is able to put up the kind of offensive numbers they have over the last four games, it is hard to believe the Aggies can top them.
Running Back Jay Ajayi
The running game is always something Boise State has prided itself on. So far this season the Broncos have averaged 209.8 yards per game, which puts them in the top third in the nation according to NCAA.com.
A big part of the ground game has been from sophomore running back Jay Ajayi. However, Ajayi has also had some trouble holding on to the ball in the red zone. In fact, true freshman Aaron Baltazar actually started over Ajayi in the last game because of those fumbles.
With Baltazar now out for the season, the Broncos must once again look to Ajayi as the starter. His backups will also need to contribute, but most of the load will be on his shoulders.
The big news of the week was the loss of Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton for the season. However, losing starting running back Joe Hill was a huge loss as well for the Aggies.
Head coach Matt Wells was clearly not in a good mood when asked about who was going to replace Keeton. Most people probably assumed it was going to be junior Craig Harrison, but Wells let people know that the competition was open and that freshman Darell Garretson was in the mix.
In The Salt Lake Tribune Wells was quoted on the topic:
You’ll know on game day. That’ll be about the last time I answer that. Those two guys are going to work together. We’re going to see who settles in the best, and whoever it is, that’s who we’re going with.
Even Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick commented about Chuckie Keeton this week. In an Associated Press article posted on the SunHerald.com website, Southwick was quoted as saying, "I just felt really bad for Chuckie. He was just an outstanding guy, getting to know him. My heart goes out to him. It's unfortunate."
Head Coach Petersen for Boise State weighed in on it all as well:
The last game got away from them a little bit. But ... it was really a couple of plays here and there. Probably with the injury to the quarterback it was a little unsettling for everyone. But like any good team, they've got good players and losing one guy is not going to sink them.
Coach Petersen knows that you can't overlook or count out any team, especially one as talented as Utah State.
This game looks a lot different today than it did last week at this time. Before the loss of Keeton, the prediction on this game might have been much different.
As it stands now, the Aggies are reeling. They have a good defense and some very good offensive players. However, with the loss of running back Joe Hill and quarterback Chuckie Keeton, Utah State may struggle scoring points.
Against BYU the Aggies struggled after Keeton exited the game. The final score ended up being a 31-14 loss for Utah State. Keeton's replacement, Craig Harrison, went 18-of-41 for 185 yards and one touchdown.
Harrison, or freshman Darell Garretson, can't be expected to come in and take over where Chuckie left off.
Boise State however, is coming off of a bye week, and they have had time to rest, get some players healthy and prepare for the Aggies.
Even though it is a road game, don't expect the Broncos offense to slow down. Their defense should continue its rise as well.
Look for a hard fought battle that stays close early, but look for Boise State to pull away late.
Prediction: Boise State 37, Utah State 21