Boise State comes into this game as the favorite against their former WAC rival Nevada. The Broncos have won 12 of the last 13 games in the series, while the Wolf Packs only win occurred in 2010. The infamous Kyle Brotzman missed continuous field goals. As a Nevada fan, I'm contractually obligated to bring up Brotzman and the 2010 game as much as possible (give us something to hold on too Bronco fans).
Since 2007, regardless of the talent disparity that the Broncos have had, the games have been close with Nevada always giving the Broncos a scare, with the only exception being 2011 with a 20-point Boise victory. This year, Nevada will have to play one of its best games of the season just to keep the game close against Boise State. Is an upset possible? Yes; rivalry games always seem to have a bit of unpredictability with them.
What follows are the three biggest matchups for both the Broncos and the Wolf Pack and my prediction for the game.
Cody Fajardo vs. Bronco Secondary
For the Wolf Pack, their star quarterback is always an important matchup with the secondary regardless of whom they play. This week is different then most weeks though because of the turnover battle. The Broncos are ninth in the country this year with 10 interceptions, while Fajardo has yet to throw an interception. Nevada, and Fajardo specifically, must be extremely conscience of ball security, because the Boise State secondary will jump on all opportunities. Corner Bryan Douglas is the team leader with four, but Darian Thompson is right on his tail with three. Thompson is a hard-hitting safety that flies to the ball. The Broncos must also attempt to contain Fajardo's favorite target Brandon Wimberly. If they can do that, the secondary can force Fajardo to look elsewhere and force a mistake.
Jay Ajayi vs. Nevada Linebackers
Ajayi is a physical tough nosed runner. Nevada linebackers cannot, at most times, have inability to tackle. That is a mismatch. And a big one; a REALLY BIG one. The Wolf Pack is allowing 267 rushing yards per game and it starts with the linebackers. Running backs this year against Nevada have been able to turn 4-yard gains into 8-yard gains and 17-yard gains into touchdowns. Ajayi is the perfect combination of size and speed to take advantage of the weak linebackers. On the year, Ajayi has gained 544 yards with 9 touchdowns. Anywhere near the goal line and expect Ajayi to get the carry. For Nevada, the linebackers need to be able to take advantage of Ajayi's biggest weakness: fumbling. If Nevada can force a few turnovers in key spots, the momentum and confidence could turn in Nevada's favor, making it a whole new ball game.
Bronco Special Teams vs. Wolf Pack Special Teams
They say one-third of the game is special teams. In this game, if the special team breaks go Nevada's way the game could be close, if it goes Boise's way it could turn into a blow out. In punt returns, the Broncos have been exceptional, averaging 26.7 yards a return. That's nearly impossible to keep up, but shows the potential for an explosive output. Nevada on the other hand has struggled in the returns in both punting (Joe Huber) and kickoffs (Nigel Westbrooks) and Boise State is great in both coverage teams. In punt coverage the Broncos are forcing teams to average -1.0 yards per return. The kicking game seems to be equal with both place kickers (Bronco's Dan Goodale and Pack's Brent Zuzo) very accurate with short to intermediate length kicks, but neither have been tested from long range. Luckily for the Broncos Kyle Brotzman is no longer the kicker (one last plug I promise). One last thing to keep an eye one, Nevada Coach Brian Polian has shown in games where he believes field goals will not be the difference, as shown the willingness to get fancy in the special teams with fake punts and field goals, so keep an eye out for that.
I believe Nevada can score points. I don't however believe in their pitiful defense. The Broncos have both the ability to score and play solid defense led by star defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, who I think will have a big game. Because of the lack of balance from Nevada, I see Boise State winning the game, with the Broncos pulling away in the second half after a competitive first half.
Final score: Boise State 45 Nevada 31
More from Mountain West Connection:
- 2014 Colorado State football recruiting: Rams nab Texas LB Demontrie Taylor
- VIDEO: Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Gould named to college football playoff committee
- 2014 Utah State football recruiting: WR Jonah Trinnaman verbally commits to be an Aggie
- Darell Garretson will start for Utah State at quarterback against New Mexico
- Colorado State vs. Wyoming: Keys to a Colorado State Win in Border War