WEEK 8: Boise State Broncos vs. Fresno State Bulldogs
WHEN: Friday, October 17, 6:00 PM MST
WHERE: Albertsons Stadium, Boise, ID (37,000)
CONFERENCES: Mountain West Conference
2014 SEASON: Boise State, 4-2, 2-1 (MW); Fresno State, 3-4, 2-1 (MW)
COACHES: Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin (11-7); Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter, (23-9)
WEB STREAMING: Watch ESPN
RADIO: Bronco Radio Network: KBOI (670 AM) and KKGL (96.9 FM) in the Boise area; Fresno State Media Partners: ESPN Radio (640 AM) and ESPN Deportes Radio (1600 am) in the Fresno area
SERIES RECORD: Boise State leads, 11-5
When Tim DeRuyter (pronounced da-ROOT-er) was hired as Fresno State's head coach back on Dec. 14, 2011, he proclaimed two things would be his priorities: (1) winning conference championships and (2) that the Bulldogs would be fast, physical and fanatical and would play with an up-tempo and exciting style of play. Although they have struggled at times this season, over the past three years Fresno State has won back-to-back Mountain West championships and in 2013 found its way back into the top 25 rankings.
First year Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin promised much of the same when he took over the Broncos reins last December. And much like DeRuyter, his team has struggled this year. Now he finds his season between a rock and a hard place: in order to win the Mountain Division his Broncos need to win their final five conference games. That scenario would give Boise State a 7-1 MW record and set the team up to host the 2014 conference championship game in Albertsons Stadium.
What to expect when Fresno State has the ball: The Bulldogs have struggled in the backfield this season with RB’s Kurt Scoby, Dontel James, and Malique Micernheimer out with injuries. With their loss most of ground duties have fallen to junior RB Marteze Waller, 5-11, 209 lbs. But Waller hasn’t disappointed. In his last four games Waller has averaged over 100 yards rushing. He is one reason why you can expect the Bulldogs to test the Broncos front line for weakness early on. Still, with Boise State having one of the better rushing defenses in the nation they could put a hurt on Fresno State’s running attempts.
That is where Bulldog QB Brian Burrell, 6-4, 221 lbs, will come in with his air game. He connected on 25 of 44 pass attempts last week for 302 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions. Not a stellar performance, but not too shabby either. Add into the equation that 12 of those receptions along with 187 yards were courtesy of WR Josh Harper, 6-1, 185 lbs. Those two will be going against the 10th worst pass defense team in the league that is giving up an average of 265.2 yards per game.
Defensively, the Broncos know they are struggling in the secondary so it is doubtful they will be lulled into a false sense of security just because Fresno State dropped last week’s game in overtime. Prior to that meltdown in Vegas the Bulldogs had outscored opponents in its prior three games 115-53. It doesn’t help that Broncos defensive coordinator Marcel Yates has had his hands full since the season began with injuries to key players: DT Tyler Horn, DL Justin Taimatuia, and DB Taylor Loffler are all out for season. Making matters worse is that at the time of this article LB Blake Renaud, CB Bryan Douglas, DB Chanceller James, S Jeremy Ioane, and CB Mercy Maston are all questionable to play Friday.
But there are three good reasons Boise State will pull off the win:
(1) Boise State has a good history returning to the field after a bye. They also have home field advantage and an exceptional record on The Blue.
(2) Another big factor is that QB Grant Hedrick,6-0, 198 lbs, seems to have recovered from two disastrous games this season where he tossed a total of eight interceptions. He’s done so well otherwise that he is now ranked the second best passing quarterback in league. He has completed 145 of 201 pass attempts this season for a 72.1 percent rating and averaged 273.5 yards per game through the air. I reported here this week that playmaker and star wide receiver Matt Miller has been lost for the season, but even without Miller, Hedrick has shown he can make plays. He finished last week at Nevada making 26 of 31 pass attempts for 346 yards and two touchdowns.
(3) Boise State will go on the attack with both passing and running the ball, but the edge in the game is RB Jay Ajayi, 6-0, 216 lbs, who is a brute in the backfield. He is now the 17th best running back in the nation and averaging 118.17 yards per game. Yes, he is often overused and driven to exhaustion, and yes, he has fumbled at times, but that might also be why the Broncos trotted out another freshman last week: RB Jeremy McNichols, 5-9, 195 lbs. He only ran one time for 28 yards, but also showed what a versatile player he can be by catching 4 passes for 54 yards. That certainly opens up the offense with more options to pick from.
All those factors will be especially troublesome for the Bulldogs and here is why: Both the Fresno State pass and run defenses are ranked near the bottom of the league. They rank 10th in the conference in total defense. That doesn’t mean they are without their playmakers who can give the Broncos offense fits: LB Donavon Lewis, 6-2, 249 lbs, is 3rd in the MW with sacks, LB Kyrie Wilson, 6-2, 238 lbs, is 5th in the conference with 56 total tackles, Ejiro Ederaine, 6-3, 221 lbs, is 8th in tackles for loss, and DB Curtis Riley, 6-1, 190 lbs, is the 7th best pass defender in the league. Only if they all start clicking at the same time could the Broncos be in for a very long night.
Special Teams: Neither one of these squads have special teams to write home about. Boise State kicker Dan Goodale, 5-10, 185 lbs, is 7 of 11 attempts on field goals and has struggled to find consistency. Broncos punter Sean Wale, 6-2, 186 lbs, is averaging 39.92 yards per punt. Fresno State’s punter is Garrett Swanson, 6-1, 217 lbs, and he averages 40.15 yards per punt.
The Bottom Line: Both teams come into the game with a bag of mixed reviews. The Bulldogs are smarting after an unexpected 27-30 loss to UNLV last Saturday, leaving the team in 2nd place in the West Division The Broncos, on the other hand, have spent the past week on a bye after battling for a win over Nevada the week before. The Broncos have been nursing more than a fair share of injuries that has left huge holes in both their offensive and defensive squads.
The oddsmakers have the Broncos as a 17.5-point favorite to rack up the win and I have given you three good reasons why I think the Broncos will bring home the Milk Can from Fresno. But don’t be surprised if the Bulldogs cover the spread.
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