Boise State Broncos vs. San Diego State Aztecs Complete Game Preview
The Boise State football team is one step closer to the Mountain West Conference championship game.
With just two regular season games remaining on the schedule, the Broncos are 7-3 overall and 5-1 in the MWC. That is good enough to be in first place in the Mountain Division of the MWC, just ahead of Utah State.
The Aggies are also 5-1 in the Mountain West, but Boise State owns the tiebreaker as the Broncos defeated them 34-23 in October.
For the Broncos to qualify for the championship game, they have no margin for error.
They must win their last two regular season games in an effort to win the division. That task starts this week as they travel to Southern California to take on Western Division rival San Diego State (6-4, 5-1 MWC).
Head coach Rocky Long brought his Aztecs to Boise last season and upset the Broncos on the blue turf. The loss caused Boise State to miss out on another BCS bowl game, which was the third season in a row that head coach Chris Petersen and his team missed a big game due to one loss.
Revenge might be on the minds of players, but it will no doubt be on the minds of Boise State fans. It should be an exciting game. With so much to play for, the stakes are high.
This game will definitely test the Broncos, and for them to win, they will need to bring their best.
Let's look at what that might look like, keys to the game and how it all might transpire Saturday night in San Diego.
San Diego State's Keys to Victory
San Diego State must have a solid performance on both sides of the ball Saturday against the Broncos. However, it all starts with defense.
The Aztecs must limit what running back Jay Ajayi can do if they want to slow the Broncos offense.
Ajayi is now No. 16 in the FBS in overall rushing with 1,078 yards on 182 carries. He also has 15 touchdowns, and is averaging 5.9 yards per carry.
Grant Hedrick has proven that he is a good quarterback. However, he has also proven that he can turn the ball over if pressured.
With the 3-3-5 defense that the Aztecs run, they will no doubt be trying to confuse the junior with disguised blitzes and varying coverages. It is a difficult defense to play against, especially for the first time.
If the Aztecs are able to confuse Hedrick and disrupt what he is trying to do, Boise State could be in trouble.
Limit the Long Ball
With Grant Hedrick behind center, the Boise State offense has become better at quick scores on offense. Most of that can be attributed to the long pass.
For San Diego State, they are going to have to limit what Hedrick and his wide receivers do. To do that they must have stellar games from their defensive secondary, and they must get to Hedrick.
Hedrick can also run, so containing him when he does so will be key as well.
The Aztecs have a decent passing game, and they will need all that and more Saturday.
Boise State looked much better on defense last week against Wyoming. One of the biggest reasons was because the Broncos were able to get to the Cowboys quarterback.
If they can harass the SDSU quarterback in the same way, it could be disastrous for the Aztecs.
So the offensive line must protect Quinn Kaehler and give him the time to throw downfield. The Broncos have struggled in the defensive secondary, and it could be a very vulnerable area for them if they can't get to Kaehler.
Get the Running Game Going Early and Often
Adam Muema is a very talented running back.
He is closing in on 1,000 yards for the season, and with a decent game against the Broncos, he will surpass it.
However, Muema isn't the only Aztec running back to watch.
Freshman Donnel Pumphrey has done some impressive things as well. In fact, he is averaging 6.5 yards per carry, and is a powerful second punch for San Diego State.
If both of these guys are on their game this Saturday, the Aztecs will be in great shape.
Boise State's Keys to Victory
Boise State must play the same kind of game it did against Wyoming if they want to secure a win over the Aztecs.
Shut Down the Two-Headed Monster
With Adam Muema and Donnel Pumphrey working in tandem in the SDSU backfield, the Broncos defense has its work cut out for it.
To slow these two down, they will need one of the best performances of the season from the defensive front seven.
Against Wyoming, the defense was tackling better, and that will absolutely have to happen again this week.
Do Not Turn the Ball Over
Boise State must not turn the ball over this weekend. A road game is difficult enough without giving the opposing crowd something to cheer about.
Not only that, but with the stingy defense of the Aztecs, offensive opportunities must be maximized. Giving up even one possession could be costly.
Hedrick Should Trust His Instincts
San Diego State has the ability to frustrate and confuse opposing quarterbacks with its 3-3-5 defense. Grant Hedrick will no doubt struggle to adjust.
However, Hedrick is an extremely athletic quarterback.
If he trusts his instincts, he should be fine. Part of the problem with facing this defense is that it can cause a quarterback to overthink things. Hedrick does his best thinking on his feet.
If he is pressured, his speed and ability to run could give Boise State the edge they need.
Get to Kaehler
The Broncos defense must get to junior quarterback Quinn Kaehler if they want to win this game. Demarcus Lawrence will need to lead the way, but he can't do it alone.
With every sack, the chances of taking victory increase.
Don't Let Up
San Diego State has a knack for coming back in the fourth quarter. The Broncos can't allow that to happen.
Boise State should play aggressive all game long, and shouldn't let up if they get a decent lead. They should keep the pedal to the metal, and only gear down when they are headed home to Boise.
Players to Watch for San Diego State
Junior Quarterback Quinn Kaehler
Since Kaehler took over for Adam Dingwell, he has led the Aztecs well. He has gone 170-of-278 for 2,269 yards, 14 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
Junior Running Back Adam Muema
Muema is the first part of the two-headed rushing monster for San Diego State.
He has 958 yards on 192 carries so far this season. He also has 11 touchdowns.
Freshman Running Back Donnel Pumphrey
Pumphrey compliments Muema well. On the season he has rushed 98 times for 639 yards and seven touchdowns.
Senior Defensive Back Nat Berhe
Nat Berhe has an impressive 82 tackles on the year with 52 of those being solo. He also has a sack and five passes defended.
The defensive secondary will be a huge part of this game as they try to slow down the Boise State passing attack.
Senior Defensive Back Eric Pinkins
Pinkins has 53 tackles this season, and he also has a sack. He has forced two fumbles and defended four passes.
Senior Linebacker Nick Tenhaeff
Linebacker Nick Tenhaeff will need a big game as well. He has 54 tackles on the season with 10 tackles for loss and three sacks.
All stats via cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted.
Players to Watch for Boise State
Junior Quarterback Grant Hedrick
Grant Hedrick will need to have a great game against the Aztecs. The junior will need to use his ability to run in an effort to thwart some of the distracting things that SDSU can do on defense.
Junior Defensive End Demarcus Lawrence
Lawrence must get to quarterback Quinn Kaehler. He will need to press him all game long, and help contain the powerful running game of the Aztecs.
Sophomore Running Back Jay Ajayi
The ground game is going to be central to the offensive game plan of the Broncos. If they can get Ajayi rolling, this game should be controlled by Boise State.
Junior Wide Receiver Matt Miller
Matt Miller had a great game against Wyoming.
He looked energized and much more aggressive than previous games. If he can have a repeat performance against the Aztecs, it will be a huge boost for the Broncos.
Sophomore Wide Receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes
Williams-Rhodes is a great counter to a blitz.
Hitting him in open space quickly allows a small gain to be turned into a much longer play. Look for him to get a look by Hedrick several times Saturday.
What They Are Saying
San Diego State assistant head coach Jeff Horton was asked this week if he thought Boise State wants to avenge last season's loss. He answered:
No question. They don't lose much at home, and we're one of the two or three teams to beat them at home over the last 10 years. They're playing for the championship of the (Mountain) division. We know they're a tremendous opponent and we'll have to be at our best. It will be a four-quarter game. I think it will be really important that we get a tremendous crowd and atmosphere out there. We need our students and fans to support our seniors for the final home game of 2013.
Senior safety Eric Pinkins gave his opinion about Boise State quarterback Grant Hedrick in this week's press conference. He said:
He passes the ball very well. They have very good receivers. Being a quarterback, you have to have a good arm and he's very accurate. Defensive backs have to be on our toes and just go over technique and be able to guard the receivers.
Junior San Diego State defensive lineman gave his team's perspective on the Boise State game. He stated:
Same as always. It's the next game. We want to win the next game. We're not going to treat them differently. We're going to go out with the intention to beat them. That's how we're going to practice. We'll see how it goes on the field.
Meanwhile back in Boise, head coach Chris Petersen had a lot to say about the upcoming game versus San Diego State. You can view the entire interview via the Idaho Statesman.
Petersen was also quoted in the Idaho Statesman about what he thinks about this year's San Diego State team. He said:
They figure out a way to win, that you can see loud and clear. These guys are a very hot team. For whatever reason, they didn't start their season like they wanted to. Since then, they've really done a nice job
You can also check out what Boise State offensive coordinator Robert Prince thinks about facing the pesky SDSU defense.
Read more here: http://blogs.idahostatesman.com/two-rules-that-irk-boise-state-football-coach-chris-petersen/#storylink=cpy
This game is going to be a battle. It will feature a high-powered Boise State offense versus a very good San Diego State defense.
The Aztecs are a team that plays to the level of their competition. They gave Fresno State a scare, but then got a scare themselves from Hawaii last week.
The Broncos should be able to score on the Aztecs, but the real key will be if the Boise defense can slow down the SDSU offense.
Last week, for the first time all season, the Broncos looked great on defense.
That could have been a fluke, but it more than likely was a defense finally coming into its own. Look for that kind of performance once again this Saturday.
Grant Hedrick should be able to scramble when needed, and Jay Ajayi, Matt Miller and Shane Williams-Rhodes should have big games.
On defense, look for Demarcus Lawrence, Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe and the rest of the front seven of the Boise defense to keep the Aztecs offense in check.
It will be interesting to see how the Broncos defensive secondary performs.
They looked much improved against Wyoming, but it is impossible to know if they can repeat that performance. If they do, the Broncos win going away. If not, it could be a close one.
Prediction: Boise State 37, San Diego State 24