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Boise State and the keys to victory over the Wyoming Cowboys

The Boise State Broncos are at home to take on Mountain Division opponent the Wyoming Cowboys Saturday evening

Oct 16, 2015; Logan, UT, USA; Boise State Broncos wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck (82) carries the ball as Utah State Aggies cornerback Jalen Davis (13) tackles during the second half at Romney Stadium. The Aggies won 52-26. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-
Oct 16, 2015; Logan, UT, USA; Boise State Broncos wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck (82) carries the ball as Utah State Aggies cornerback Jalen Davis (13) tackles during the second half at Romney Stadium. The Aggies won 52-26. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-
Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

What you need to know:

Who: Boise State (5-2, 2-1 MW) vs Wyoming (1-6, 1-2 MW)

When: Saturday, October 24, 2015, 8:15 PM MST

Where: Albertsons Stadium, Boise, ID


Head coach Bryan Harsin’s Broncos are back on their familiar blue turf after a grueling away game schedule that pitted the Broncos against arguably the two toughest teams in the Mountain Division just six days apart. Last week’s game resulted in a bruising loss to the Utah State Aggies in Logan, Utah. This week the Broncos are hosts to the Wyoming Cowboys, who will be coming to town following a 28-21 win over the Nevada Wolf Pack last week. In nine trips to the gridiron, the Cowboys have never beaten the Broncos. Head Coach Craig Bohl, like Harsin, is in his second season at Wyoming. His Cowboys are just 1-8 on the road with the last road win coming a year ago against Fresno State.

Keys to victory for the Boise State offense: After seven first half turnovers resulting in a demoralizing loss in Logan last week, freshman quarterback Brett Rypien, 6-2, 199 lbs, will be back under center. He was only 25of 50 pass attempts for 299 yards last week, had 3 interceptions, two fumbles, and was sacked 4 times, but that meltdown also says just as much about receivers juggling footballs and a porous offensive line as it does about Rypien.

"We didn't protect the ball," Boise State safety Darian Thompson said after last week’s game. "The only thing we can do is get back to work."

Most of that work Thompson mentions needs to address the shortcomings of the offensive line in protecting the passer. Rypien has spent much of the past two games running for his life and getting clobbered by defenders. Boise State is tied with Wyoming at last place in the conference in allowing quarterback sacks (19) and ranks 106th nationally in sacks allowed. Amazingly, Rypien’s quarterback rating of 147.4 is still second-best in the conference, and with the freshman at the helm the Broncos are still at the top of the Mountain West in total offense with an average of 461 yards a game. So far, there is no lack of confidence in this young man, his leadership, or his abilities. And rightly so. He continues to lead the #1 passing offense in the conference averaging 290.1 yards per game.

Some of the biggest weapons Ryien will need against Wyoming are WR Thomas Sperbeck, 6-0 175 lbs, WR Chaz Anderson, 5-10, 186 lbs, and WR Shane Williams-Rhodes, 5-6, 173 lbs, to name three. They will need to show up with their A-game this week because Wyoming fields the 3rd best pass defense in the conference. That defense is augmented by emerging Cowboys star and former linebacker/nickel-turned-safety D. J. May, 5-11, 198 lbs, one of the conference’s best pass defenders.

Another major key and one obviously in dire need of work is the Broncos’ running game which failed to materialize last week. Without RB Jeremy McNichols, 5-9, 205 lbs, the Broncos generated an anemic 34 total yards on the ground. That was far below their average of 170.86 yards per game. The bright spot in Saturday’s matchup is that McNichols is expected to be back in the lineup. Overall, the Broncos tailbacks should have an easier time of it against a Wyoming 4-3 defense that gives up an average of 213.57 yards to the run per game. But the Broncos cannot count on taking advantage of that. That Wyoming defense smells blood in the water after last week’s catastrophic meltdown by the Broncos offense and the Cowboys will have poured over the game films searching out Boise State’s weaknesses.

Keys to victory for the Boise State defense: The Broncos front line might be thinking they have faced the best quarterbacks in the conference now that Colorado State and Utah State are behind them. But if they think that, they will be highly mistaken. Last week’s Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week was Cowboy QB Cameron Coffman, 6-2, 198 lbs. He has completed 121 of 181 pass attempts (66.1 percent) and his 153.85 rating is the best in the conference. He averages 250.7 passing yards per game and has two of the top-ranked receivers in the conference at his disposal: WR Tanner Gentry, 6-2, 201lbs, and Jake Maulhardt, 6-6,216 lbs, although as the time of this article one source is reporting Gentry is questionable for Saturday’s game.

The Broncos pass defense will have to get it done without star CB Donte Deayon, 5-9, 155 lbs. He is out for four weeks with a knee injury and it is uncertain who will start in his place. As if now the lion’s share of pass defense will fall to CB Jonathan Moxley, 5-10, 188 lbs, and S Darian Thompson, 6-2, 212 lbs. Moxley is ranked 1st and Thompson 8th in the conference in passes defended and Thompson is also ranked 2nd with interceptions.

But it might be in the rushing department where Wyoming could surprise Boise State even though the Broncos own the 5th ranked rushing defense in nation and are giving up an average of just 77.29 yards per game. Wyoming RB Brian Hill, 6-1, 211 lbs, is a brute in the backfield and has monster numbers.  He has 985 yards on 156 carries and he intends to go over a thousand Saturday night. It will be hard for even the 5th best run defense in the nation to deny him that. But one of the keys to victory will be in stuffing the running game and keeping Wyoming from making big plays downfield. The Cowboys are last in the conference in red zone conversions.

Keys to a victory for the Boise State special teams: Boise State is last in the conference in defending punt returns, giving up an average of 14 yards per return. By contrast, Wyoming only allows 3.57 yards per return, placing them #2 in the conference so there is no question that it is another area where the Broncos could use some work. With punt returner Donte Deayon out of the lineup, that chore just got a lot tougher.

Wyoming is ranked 3rd in the MWC in kickoff returns and Boise State 11th. The Cowboys success story here is punt returner D.J. May with 32.56 per return and who is listed as the second most dangerous returner in the Mountain West. The Broncos special teams has been allowing 21.11 yards per punt return this season so BSU punter Tyler Rausa, 5-10, 195 lbs, will need to keep the ball out of May’s hands. Rausa, by the way, averages 62.88 yards per kickoff with 60 percent being touchbacks.

Another key worth mentioning is in the coaching department: it seemed to take too long last week in the second half to send in the plays while the Broncos offense stood around with hands on hips and time running off the clock. It not only threw off the Broncos' momentum and timing, but gave the Utah State defense time to regroup and to keep rotating fresh defensive players onto the field.

Prediction: Many Broncos fans might think there is a not a lot at stake in Saturday night’s matchup with Wyoming, but that is not the case. There is still a glimmer of hope that Boise State can get a piece of the MWC championship. Plus, there is the competition for the post-season bowl selection. Vegas has Boise State favored over Wyoming by 35 points. The Broncos should win---at home, decisively---but I’ve seen this show before.

Boise State 41, Wyoming 17.