Boise State Broncos vs. Fresno State Bulldogs: Game Preview

Otto Kitsinger III

The Broncos travel to the Central Valley for a crucial early conference game. After an unexpected layoff, can the Bulldogs continue their home winning streak and claim the Milk Can?

WEEK 4: Boise State Bulldogs vs. #25 Fresno State Bulldogs

WHEN: Friday, September 20 -- 6:00 PM, PST.

WHERE: Bulldog Stadium, Fresno, CA (41,031)

2013 SEASON:  Boise State 2-1 (1-0 MWC), Fresno State 2-0 (0-0)

TV: ESPN

RADIO: Fresno's two ESPN Radio affiliates, KFIG 940 and KGST 1600, will carry the Bulldogs broadcast in English and Spanish, respectively.  The Boise State broadcast will be carried on the 12 stations that comprise the Bronco Radio Network, a list of which can be found at the team's website.

SERIES RECORD:  Boise State leads the overall series 11-4.  The Broncos also own a 7-1 advantage since the inception of the Milk Can Trophy in 2005, including a 20-10 victory last year in Boise.

WEB SITES:  GoBulldogs.com, Fresno State's Official Athletic Site BroncoSports.com, Boise State's Official Athetlic Site

The yearly clash between the Boise State Broncos and the Fresno State Bulldogs has always been one that is circled on each team's calendar, and the 2013 edition of the Battle for the Milk Can is no exception.

Boise State began the year in the top 25, suffered a humbling road loss to Washington and has rebounded to win two straight against FCS squad Tennessee-Martin and MWC foe Air Force.  Fresno slipped past the "Also Receiving Votes" section of the most recent edition of the coaches poll, by virtue of wins against Rutgers and Cal Poly.  The Bulldogs were forced to postpone their matchup with the Colorado Buffaloes last weekend, and though the team is still scrambling to find a 12th game, it has allowed them to focus an opponent against which they have often come up short of expectations.

What to watch - Boise State:  It is likely that the Broncos' fortunes will turn on the performance of quarterback Joe Southwick.  In the lopsided loss to the Huskies, Southwick threw for only 152 yards on 40 attempts, but he rebounded to accumulate 521 yards in the two wins, drastically improving his yards per attempt and setting accuracy records in the process. This will benefit him against a secondary that built a reputation as ballhawks in 2012, but has been inconsistent in coverage in this young season.

Then again, Southwick did not have to do too much for the Broncos to notch fairly easy wins.  That is because Boise finally showed the promise of their preseason ranking last week:  The defense held the Air Force ground attack more than 100 yards under their 2012 average, while the offense established Jay Ajayi as the spearhead of their own rushing game.  Ajayi's four touchdowns don't mean as much as his astounding 6.4 yards per carry in the last two weeks.

The offensive and defensive lines clearly won the battle at the line of scrimmage against the Falcons, and they'll need to do so again to take control of this game. Fresno has notched 18 tackles for loss in two games, but gave up some big runs to Rutgers' Paul James when the Scarlet Knights stayed committed to running the ball. Boise's balanced attack, roughly a 55-45 run-pass split thus far, is a valuable asset in this regard.

On defense, Demarcus Lawrence has been as big a presence as expected. Though he has only one sack so far in 2013, Lawrence and fellow end Kharyee Marshall have combined for 7 TFL. Three other Broncos -- Tyler Horn, Ricky Tjong-a-Tjoe and Armand Nance -- are in the top four among MWC linemen in total tackles, indicative of interior depth that can work in their favor.  However, the up-tempo spread attack that Fresno uses has kept Derek Carr upright by allowing only one sack thus far.  Putting pressure on him will be crucial.

Our Chris Hondros has also noted elsewhere that the offense looked more like itself following the loss to Washington, with plenty of pre-snap motion to identify good matchups.  Again, it will fall to Southwick to make the correct choices.  If he does, Boise will be difficult to stop.

What to watch - Fresno State:  The Bulldogs have made no secret of the fact that they are willing to be a pass-first-second-and-third kind of team, and why not?  Davante Adams, Isaiah Burse and Josh Harper did not have quite the same impact against Cal Poly two weeks ago as in the opener against Rutgers, but they have proven they are plenty capable making plays in space.  Adams has caught at least one touchdown in ten straight games and is a lethal red zone target.  Burse returned two punts for scores against the Mustangs.  There will be an immense amount of pressure on the Boise secondary and special teams to make sure tackles and keep the trio in front of them.

Whether the running game is enough of a complement, then, may perhaps be besides the point.  There is no doubt, though, Fresno would prefer have someone step up than not.  It is difficult to glean too much from the first two games, both because the team is content to let Carr chuck the football up and down the field and because Marteze Waller and Josh Quezada were hardly needed once the Cal Poly game got out of hand.

It is also difficult to say whether or not the secondary is still having issues with getting beaten deep because most of Cal Poly's big passing plays came in the second half against the backups.  That may be an indictment of Fresno's depth more than anything else.  However, the team has only one interception in the first two games.  It could be as simple as a couple of unlucky bounces or regression -- certainly there was a pass or two against the Scarlet Knights that were thisclose to becoming turnovers -- but opponents have completed roughly 66% of its passes thus far, and Southwick is the most efficient quarterback the 'Dogs are likely to play all season.  Whether Derron Smith and company can get hands on an errant pass or not could very well determine the game's outcome.

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