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No. 20 Boise State vs Utah State and the keys to a Broncos victory

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The #20 ranked Boise State Broncos are in Logan, Utah to take on rivals the Utah State Aggies on Friday evening.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 25: Thomas Sperbeck #82 of the Boise State Broncos catches a touchdown pass in front of Tim Harris #5 of the Virginia Cavaliers during the fourth quarter of the Broncos 56-14 win at Scott Stadium on September 25, 2015
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 25: Thomas Sperbeck #82 of the Boise State Broncos catches a touchdown pass in front of Tim Harris #5 of the Virginia Cavaliers during the fourth quarter of the Broncos 56-14 win at Scott Stadium on September 25, 2015
Rob Carr/Getty Images

With the Broncos in first place the Mountain Division and the Aggies in second, this game could decide the outright leader heading toward the 2015 Mountain West Conference championship.

What you need to know:

Who: Boise State (5-1, 2-0 MW) at Utah State (3-2, 2-0 MW)

When: Friday, October 16, 2015, 7 PM MST

Where: Romney Stadium, Logan, UT

TV: CBS Sports Network

Head coach Bryan Harsin’s Broncos are playing their second road game just six days after returning from a trip out to Fort Collins to play Colorado State. Now it is down to Logan, Utah to take on the Aggies. The last time Boise State played in Logan was 2013, and the Broncos scored the win in that contest. Now, two years later, it seems like déjà vu. Head coach Matt Wells and the Utah State Aggies are 3-2 overall (they were 3-3 in 2013), and starting QB Chuckie Keeton out once again for the season. But on closer examination it is easy to see that a lot of things have changed.

Keys to victory for the Boise State offense: After a quick turnaround from the trip out to the Rockies freshman quarterback Brett Rypien, 6-2, 199 lbs, will be bringing his game to Logan along with what could be a tired and banged up team of receivers and running backs. The Broncos lead the Mountain West in total offense with an average of 482.3 yards a game and the majority of that has been passing yards (288.7 ypg). In four games Rypien has completed 70.2 percent of his passes for 1057 yards and 7 touchdowns making the Broncos the #1 team in the conference in passing offense. Rypien has been remarkable in his leadership and abilities to thread a few needles to receivers like Thomas Sperbeck, 6-0 175 lbs, and Shane Williams-Rhodes, 5-6, 173 lbs. Sperbeck has emerged as one of the best receivers in the league with 27 catches for 526 yards and 5 TD’s while averaging 19.5 yards per grab.

But for Rypien and Company to succeed they will have to outmaneuver the second best defense in the league so they can’t be one dimensional. In pass defense the Aggies rank 4th in the conference, leaving little doubt that the Broncos will have to include a running attack. Luckily they have the 6th best tailback in the conference with RB Jeremy McNichols, 5-9, 205 lbs. He rushed 17 times last week against Colorado State for 104 yards and 2 TDS’s, averaging 6.1 yards a carry. And therein could be a huge problem. As of this writing he is questionable for Friday night’s game. But whether it is McNichols or someone else in the back field, they will have all they can handle from a stout Aggie defense that has the ability to stop the run. Their front seven are among the best in the country.

"We've prided ourselves on stopping the run for some time," said Aggie DE Ricky Ali'ifua, 6-2, 285 lbs. "It's not something we just decided, 'OK, this year we want to really focus on that. … We've built this program on having a very stout and solid defense, all the way back to when [current Seattle Seahawks linebacker] Bobby Wagner was here."

That 3-4 defense he is so proud of has playmakers LB Nick Vigil, 6-2, 235 lbs, who is tied for third in the MWC with 52 tackles (24 solo), and LB Kyler Fackrell, 6-5, 250 lbs, third in the conference in tackles for loss.

Keys to victory for the Boise State defense: The Broncos can breathe easier knowing that Chuckie Keaton is out for the season, right? Not so fast, friends. His replacement is QB Kent Myers, 6-0, 195 lbs. In just two games Myers has completed 65.2% of his passes including two TD’s and no interceptions with a passer rating of 152.1. His two biggest receivers on last week’s radar were Hunter Sharp, 6-0, 200 lbs, and Devonte Robinson, 6-2, 190 lbs. Together they accounted for 179 receiving yards on 10 catches.

It will be crucial that Boise State defensive backs CB Donte Deayon, 5-9, 155 lbs, CB Jonathan Moxley, 5-10, 188 lbs, and S Darian Thompson, 6-2, 212 lbs, keep Myers’ targets from making critical catches. Those Broncos are capable of getting the job done as they are ranked  #1 and #2 in the conference in passes defended while Thompson is ranked 4th. Thompson is also tied with Deayon for first in the conference in interceptions.  Moxley is rated a respectable 6th in interceptions giving Boise State a very formidable secondary.

Utah State’s RB Devante Mays, 5-11, 220 lbs, ran for three touchdowns and RB LaJuan Hunt, 5-8, 195 lbs, ran for two more in Utah State’s 56-14 rout of Fresno State last week. In their last two games the Aggies’ spread offense has outscored opponents by a combined score of 89-32. That is one reason the Broncos linebacker squad will need to stay on top of their game and guard against the run. That chore will fall on some pretty big shoulders who have shown they can carry the load. The Broncos have the second best run defense in the nation and one that gives up an average of just 60.67 paltry rushing yards per game. That stellar Boise State defense is also the 7th best scoring defense in the nation with 12 points a game.

Keys to a victory for the Boise State special teams: Boise State is almost last in the conference in defending punt returns, giving up an average of 14.67 yards per return. Only UNLV is worse. That does not bode well for the Broncos because Utah State has one of the best punt returners in the Mountain West Conference. Andrew Rodriquez, 5-10, 185 lbs, averages 15.78 yards per return (and a score) making him a very dangerous weapon for the Aggies. He is a Mountain West Player of the Week on special teams. If the Broncos defenders get lax it could be a game changer Friday night.

Utah State is also ranked 6th in the MWC in kickoff returns and Boise State 10th. On the bright side for the Broncos is that kicker Tyler Rausa, 5-10, 195 lbs, continues to impress. He has made 29 of 30 PAT’s and 11 of 13 field goals, with his only field goal misses coming at more than 50 yards out.

Another key worth mentioning: The penalty department seems to favor Boise over Utah State. The Aggies average 8.2 penalties per game and they are costing them 78.6 yards per game. The Broncos commit 6.8 penalties per game for an average loss of 57 yards.   Penalties are often game changers and a lesson the Broncos learned during the loss to BYU. Boise State coaches will no doubt be drilling those facts home to the players in order to keep penalties to a minimum.

Prediction: There is a lot on the line Friday night in a match up of arguably the best two teams in the Mountain West Conference. This game will not only decide the outright leader in the Mountain Division, but set the stage for one of these teams to play for the conference championship. Vegas has Boise State favored over Utah State by 9.5 points. The Broncos should win, but nobody should count a talented Aggies team out of it at home in newly remodeled Maverik Stadium.

Boise State 27, Utah State 21.