The Boise State Broncos (6-3, 4-1 MWC) will host the Wyoming Cowboys (4-5, 2-3 MWC) Saturday in a Mountain West Conference divisional matchup.
Going into the last three regular season games, Boise State controls its own destiny. If they win, they will make an appearance in the inaugural MWC championship game against the West Division winner.
Wyoming is a team that has looked good at times this season. They started the year off with a very close loss to Nebraska, but rebounded for three straight wins only to take a head-scratching loss to Texas State.
The Cowboys then beat New Mexico, but have since dropped three games in a row to Mountain West competition. They did, however, play a close game against San Jose State and actually led the Fresno State game early before giving up 34 second-half points to the Bulldogs' explosive offense.
Wyoming will try to get back on track in Boise, but that won't be easy.
The blue turf of Bronco Stadium has not been a friendly place for very many teams. The last time the Cowboys came to town, they went home after suffering a 36-14 drubbing.
Of course, things weren't any better last season in Laramie. Boise State blew out the Cowboys 45-14.
This season's game will come down to two things.
First, which Wyoming team will show up? Also, how healthy will the Broncos be?
Boise State has suffered a rash of injuries, but the bye week should have helped get some of its key players back in the lineup.
Let's break down this game, the keys to victory for each team, and how it all might turn out in Bronco Stadium come Saturday.
Date: Saturday, November 16
Kickoff: 10:15 p.m. ET
Place: Bronco Stadium
Spread: The line, according to Odds Shark, opened with Boise State as a 20-point favorite; however, lines are subject to change.
To win this game, or at the very least, put themselves in a position to win, the Wyoming Cowboys must mix the perfect formula.
More Jekyll and Less Hyde
The Cowboys at times have looked like a team to be feared, but they have also looked like a team in disarray.
As mentioned in the introduction, they nearly beat Nebraska at Nebraska in the opening game this season. They did that by staying in the game with a potent offense, rolling up 602 yards of total offense in that contest.
Against Texas State, though, they only managed 356 yards of offense in a 42-21 loss.
To beat the Broncos, the Cowboys must be much more like the team that mixed it up with the Cornhuskers, rather than the one that tripped up against the Bobcats.
Real Genius, not Weird Science
Head coach Dave Christensen has his work cut out for him this week. That can be said of last week, as well.
His team started off well against Fresno State, leading 10-0 early, and only trailing 14-10 at the half. They were playing decent offense, and the defense was stepping up against a powerful Bulldogs offense.
In the second half, the Cowboys defense allowed the Bulldogs to go on a 13-play, 96-yard opening drive that concluded in a touchdown.
Then, to make things worse, on the very next series the Cowboys went for it on fourth down from their own 45. The play failed and the Bulldogs took over and went 44 yards in nine plays to score again.
At that point, it looked like the Cowboys simply quit.
To win Saturday, the coaching staff for Wyoming will need the perfect plan to take down the Broncos. It must be a plan similar to the first-half plan against Fresno, and it certainly can't include strange decisions like going for it on fourth down in your own territory early in the second half.
Iron Man, not Invisible Man
In the second half against Fresno State, the Cowboys disappeared. They did the same thing against San Jose State and Texas State.
To take home a victory Saturday, Wyoming must cowboy up.
A cowboy is known for his hard work and toughness. Those are the two things that can help break the Broncos, but, another second-half disappearing act would no doubt be disastrous for them.
If Wyoming shows up in Bronco Stadium with a chip on its shoulder and a refusal to give an inch for the entire game, it could be a long night for head coach Chris Petersen and his Boise State football team.
If, however, the Cowboys let it slide as the game progresses, it could be another blow-out loss.
The Broncos need only do what they do to win this one.
With a nickname like "The Brahma Bull," it's no wonder Jay Ajayi is so hard to stop.
Against Colorado State, Ajayi had 91 yards on 13 carries, according to BroncoSports.com. With that performance, Ajayi also went over the 1,000-yard mark on the season, and he is now No. 16 in rushing yards in the FBS.
Wyoming, on the other hand, is ranked No. 114 in the FBS when it comes to rushing defense. The Cowboys give up 235.8 yards per game on the ground.
It all points to a big night for Ajayi and the rest of the Boise State running backs. If that happens, it will be hard for the Cowboys to keep up.
Boise State has been dealing with so many injuries this season. It might actually be the worst season for injuries under head coach Chris Petersen.
In fact, as noted by Ryan Howe of the Times-News, against Colorado State, coach Petersen had to admit that he had players playing in positions they hadn't even practiced.
Still, the Broncos won that game, even if they gave up some cheap points late.
Against Wyoming, those same replacements will need to have a complete game. They will have to step up once again.
The most visible replacement, of course, is the former backup and current starting quarterback, Grant Hedrick.
Against the Colorado State Rams, Hedrick had a hand in all six of the Boise State touchdowns. He went 19-of-27 for 305 yards and five scores through the air, with no interceptions. He also added a rushing touchdown for good measure.
Hedrick seems to be getting better with each game, and his confidence seems to be growing. If you watch his post-game comments following the CSU game, it is clear he is coming into his own as the leader of the Boise State offense.
If he can continue to improve and keep playing at a high level, the Cowboys are in trouble Saturday.
Junior Quarterback Brett Smith
Brett Smith is a very good passer. So good in fact, he is currently No. 18 in the FBS in passing yards.
On the season, Smith is 221-of-352 for 2,508 yards, 20 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. He has also rushed for 441 yards on 84 attempts and three touchdowns.
In total, he averages 327.7 yards per game—by himself.
To say he is a key player is quite the understatement.
Sophomore Running Back Shaun Wick
To have a chance Saturday, Wyoming will have to have some kind of ground game.
Shaun Wick is currently averaging 91.44 yards per game and has 823 total yards on 127 carries this season. He also has nine touchdowns.
He will be crucial in mixing things up this week against the Broncos, and with a thin defensive line, Boise State could struggle slowing him down.
Junior Linebacker Jordan Stanton
Stanton is a player that seems to be everywhere.
This season, so far, he has 109 tackles, a sack and an interception.
Stanton will be critical in the attempt to slow down the Broncos ground game. He will also be key in keeping Hedrick and Shane Williams-Rhodes corralled all game long.
Senior Free Safety Marqueston Huff
Marqueston Huff can fly.
He is a key player in the Cowboys secondary, and if every other player back there played like Huff, Wyoming would not be toward the bottom of pass defense rankings.
On the season, Huff has 85 tackles, five passes broken up and two interceptions.
He will be a key factor in the game for Wyoming as they try to slow down the passing attack of Boise State.
The Defensive Line
As mentioned previously, the Broncos are banged up.
Already thin to begin the season, it seems the defensive line has been bitten by the injury bug in the worst way.
If Boise State wants to shut down the Wyoming offense, the mixed and matched defensive line must step up in a big way.
Right now it is impossible to even say who will be starting come game day; however, Boise State fans have to be hoping starting nose tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe is back this week. He missed the CSU game with concussion-like symptoms.
The running game will be critical, and Jay Ajayi should have a big game against the Cowboys Saturday.
If he is able to move the ball on the ground, the Broncos should cruise in this one. If, however, he is stifled, this game could be much tighter than it should be.
As already mentioned, quarterback Grant Hedrick is coming into his own. Against Wyoming, he is certainly a key to the Broncos success.
Against a team like Wyoming, wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes should have a field day.
If Boise State is able to get him into open space, the Cowboys defense will struggle to contain him. He may end up having a big day Saturday.
Update: Check out head coach Chris Petersen's Monday press conference via the Idaho Statesman. He talks about Wyoming, Joe Southwick and other injuries.
Not a lot has been said about this game as of yet, but plenty was said after each team's last game.
Quarterback Brett Smith of Wyoming wasn't happy about what happened at home against Fresno State. The Star Tribune quotes Smith as saying, "It feels terrible. There's really no other way to put it."
It will be interesting to see how Smith and the rest of the Cowboys rebound after the loss to the Bulldogs.
The quarterback for Boise State, however, was in a much better mood post-Colorado State two Saturdays ago, as Boise State had a bye week last week.
The Times-News quoted Hedrick and his building confidence.
The Boise State passer said, "It’s just all experience. Every time you go out there and get reps, you feel more comfortable each time.”
One of the issues Boise State did face in its last game was a slow start. They probably don't want to do the same thing against Wyoming.
Boise State's Coach Petersen certainly can't want another sluggish first quarter, but he was proud of how his team responded.
In the Idaho Press-Tribune, Coach Petersen was quoted as saying:
It was probably the worst way we could start. They drove down, we held them to a field goal and then we turn the ball over. Not ideal but at least the kids rallied, responded and played hard.
Petersen would go on to say, "It was good. I think it’s very easy to get rattled in that situation and those guys played hard."
Wyoming's coach Dave Christensen didn't have the same kind of praise for his Cowboys.
In an Associated Press article posted on Foxnews.com, Christensen said:
Our execution wasn't at the level we needed. I thought in the first half there were times when we moved the ball, and then we came out in the second half and just sputtered.
Christensen noted that "the game started out the way we wanted it to;" however, he also acknowledged the second-half let down.
Probably one of the key stats going into the Boise State vs. Wyoming game is the one concerning bye weeks.
As Tom Scott pointed out in his weekly blog posted on KTVB.com, bye weeks have been very good for head coach Chris Petersen and his Broncos.
Scott notes that Boise State is 17-0 coming off of bye weeks under Petersen. That doesn't bode well for the Cowboys, as the Broncos were off last week.
The bye week couldn't have come at a better time for Boise, as they are struggling to get healthy. Still, they should be healthy enough to take down Wyoming at home.
Look for Ajayi, Williams-Rhodes and Hedrick to lead the way to a big offensive night. Look for the pass rush of the Broncos to get to the Wyoming quarterback, despite being thin up front.
Wyoming should be able to pass a bit, but the secondary of the Broncos is getting better as the season progresses. On Saturday, a well-rested, energized, young secondary could have a big game.
Look for a better start for Boise State, and also look for a much better finish.
Prediction: Boise State 47, Wyoming 17