San Diego State Aztecs vs. Boise State Broncos: Game Preview

BOISE, ID - 2012: Colin Lockett #24 of the San Diego State Aztecs returns the opening kickoff for a touchdown against the Boise State Broncos at Bronco Stadium. - Otto Kitsinger III

San Diego State hosts Boise State in Qualcomm Stadium in Mountain West Conference football action

WEEK 12: San Diego State Aztecs vs. Boise State Broncos

WHEN: Saturday, November 23, 7:30 PM PT (7:30 PT, 8:30 MT)

WHERE: Qualcomm Stadium (54,000)

CONFERENCES: Mountain West, West Division (SDSU) vs. Mountain Division (BSU)

2013 SEASON: Boise State, 7-3, 5-1 (MW); San Diego, 6-4-5, 5-1 (MW)

COACHES: Boise State head coach Chris Petersen (91-11); San Diego head coach Rocky Long (88-82, 23-13 at SDSU)

TV: CBS Sports Network

WEB STREAMING: Stretch Internet

RADIO: 105.7 The Walrus/The Mighty 1090 in the San Diego are--- Bronco Radio Network: KBOI (670 AM) and KKGL (96.9 FM) in the Boise area

SERIES RECORD: 3rd meeting. The teams are tied at 1-1

LAST MEETING: 2012, at Bronco Stadium, Boise, ID, San Diego 21, Boise State 19

WEB SITES: Boise State official| San Diego State official

Head coach Rocky Long and his San Diego State Aztecs will be seeking to become the first team to defeat the Broncos in consecutive seasons since Washington State did it in 2000 and 2001. Last year the Aztecs went into Bronco Stadium and handed the then ranked #14 Broncos a rare loss. At the time Boise State had a 71-1 record in regular season home games that dated back to 2001. This year Broncos head coach Chris Petersen and his team are determined to return that disfavor to the Aztecs.

That could be tough to do. Even though the Aztecs opened their season 0-3, it is remarkable that in their past seven games the Aztecs are 6-1, with that one loss being against #17 ranked Fresno State in overtime. Also consider that the last six of those games have been decided by 7 points or less. The Broncos, on the other hand, appear to have settled in behind QB Grant Hedrick, 6-4, 200 lbs, and are now the leader in the Mountain Division. With two games left to their regular season the Broncos are making a final push toward entry into the Mountain West Championship game.

What to expect when San Diego State has the ball: Look for a balanced mix of running and passing from San Diego State even though QB Quinn Kaehler doesn’t have the best passer rating. In his last two outings against San Jose State and Hawaii he was 35 of 65 for 500 yards, completing just over half his attempts. He also ran 5 times for minus-27 yards. WR’s Ezell Ruffin, 6-1, 205 lbs, and Colin Lockett, 6-0, 180 lbs, are his primary targets. Last week in Honolulu, Kaehler threw 8 passes to those two for 205 yards. That was an average of 25.6 yards a toss. Look for Kaehler to throw deep balls against Boise State as well. The Broncos are 108th in pass defense, just barely ahead of Hawaii at #113.

The 2,269 yards Kaehler has put up through the air this season is augmented by having one of the most sinister running backs in the conference to help out in the ground game: Adam Muema, 5-10, 205 lbs. Muema is averaging about 5 yards a carry and, with 958 yards to date and four straight 100-yard rushing games, he is chomping at bit to drive his total yards over a thousand. But Muema is hardly alone in the backfield. Freshman RB Donnel Pumphrey, 5-9, 155 lbs, has found his place in the mix and is averaging 6.5 yards per carry overall for the season. He has also chalked up an impressive 96 yards on average in each of the past seven games.

The San Diego running game will be tested against a Broncos rushing defense that has improved as the season has progressed. That defense is anchored by Broncos defenders C Bryan Douglas, 5-9, 170 lbs, LB Ben Weaver, 6-0, 233 lbs, and standout DE Demarcus Lawrence, 6-3, 244 lbs. Lawrence leads the conference in sacks, and is tied for second in both tackles for loss and forced fumbles. Another new face on the Broncos defense that should worry the Aztec offense is freshman LB Tanner Vallejo, 6-1, 210 lbs, who is one of seven freshmen playing and who is making a serious impact. He has 34 tackles so far since his debut on the field during week 3. You can read more about this “immediate contributor” in the Idaho Statesman.

What to expect when Boise State has the ball: Boise State is going into Qualcomm Stadium riding a confidence-building blowout win over Wyoming, 48-7. The question on everyone’s mind is how healthy injured QB Joe Southwick is and whether he will get the nod to play. He practiced in full pads this week, but was still limping through his plays. No decision has been made on Southwick’s status so everyone should expect Hedrick to continue to start. Right now he’s the engineer driving the train and so far doing an impressive job. Last week against the Cowboys the Broncos were monsters on offense, racking up a total of 524 yards. Hedrick was 27 of 36 for 265 yards through the air in a game that racked up about an equal number of yards both passing and running. His main targets were WR Shane Williams-Rhodes, 5-6, 158 lbs, and WR Matt Miller, 6-3, 218 lbs. Miller grabbed 7 passes for 143 yards and 3 TD’s.

Boise State is ranked 18th nationally in total offense, and is balanced fairly well with both a passing and running attack. Expect the Broncos to roll with a quick-strike strategy employing both strategies. But they will first test the San Diego defense early against the run. RB Jay Ajayi, 6-0, 215 lbs, has put up 1,078 yards on 182 carries and 15 TD’s this season, and Boise State’s rushing offense is ranked 24th nationally averaging 4.78 yards a carry and 215.5 yards per game. If they could control the ground game it would be huge as San Diego is third in the conference in total time of possession. But San Diego provides an interesting matchup as one of the better rushing defenses in the country and there are reasons they are ranked at #28 nationally. Head coach Rocky Long employs a unique 3-3-5 system that features three linemen, three LB’s and five DB’s and it has proven very effective. One of those DB’s is Nat Berhe, 5-10, 220 lbs. He is one of the best tacklers in the conference with a total of 82 ( 52 solo).

Special teams: This game could easily come down to the performance of Special Teams. Last year’s close game is a case in point. On the game's first play Colin Lockett caught the kickoff and dodged through the Boise State coverage, and sprinted down the sideline for the first score. The Aztecs struck again in the third quarter, down 13-7, when RB Dwayne Garrett, 6-0, 225 lbs, blocked a Boise State punt to set up another score. The Broncos lost the game by two points and both of those plays were pivotal.

Boise State is the odds-on favorite again this year by a 7 point spread. Last year, the Broncos were also the overwhelming favorite---until the Aztecs snatched the victory from an overconfident Broncos team that was caught napping. We'll see on Saturday night what they learned from that experience.

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