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No. 25 Boise State vs Colorado State: keys to a Broncos victory

The Broncos and the Rams meet in Fort Collins for a battle that could topple the Broncos from the top of the Mountain West standings

WR Shane WIlliams-Rhodes carries the ball against the Colorado State Rams, Sept 6, 2014.  The Broncos won, 37-24
WR Shane WIlliams-Rhodes carries the ball against the Colorado State Rams, Sept 6, 2014. The Broncos won, 37-24
Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

The #25 ranked Boise State Broncos are smoking hot going into mid-season action against Mountain Division rival Colorado State on Saturday. But the trip out to the Front Range to take on the Rams could be anything but a cake walk and this game could be the biggest conference test of the season for the Broncos.

What you need to know:

Who: Boise State (4-1, 1-0 MW) at Colorado State (2-3, 0-1 MW)

When: Saturday, October 10, 2015, 5 PM MST

Where: Hughes Stadium, Fort Collins, CO

TV: CBS Sports Network

This will be Bryan Harsin’s first trip out to Fort Collins as the head coach of the Broncos. The last time Boise State was there was in 2013. They came back with a win that year. But things have changed since then, and like the Broncos, the Rams also have new head coach. Mike Bobo, the former University of Georgia offensive coordinator, is in his first season at Colorado State while Harsin is in his second at Boise State. Both are filling in some pretty big shoes that were left behind when the Broncos lost Chris Petersen and Jim McElwain bailed on the Rams.

Keys to victory for the Boise State offense: One of the obstacles to a Boise State victory is getting past the stubborn Colorado State defense. The Rams’ new defensive coordinator, Tyson Summers, has installed a solid 4-3 scheme and that will be on display Saturday. He also has one of best pass defenses in the conference and one that is ranked #22 in the country.  They give up just an average of just 168.6 yards though the air.

Boise State has the weapons to combat that: freshman quarterback Brett Rypien, 6-2, 199 lbs, and a balanced team of good receivers and running backs. They lead the Mountain West in total offense with an average of 459.4 yards a game. In just three games Rypien has completed 51 of 69 pass attempts for 718 yards and 6 touchdowns, and importantly, no interceptions. WR Thomas Sperbeck, 6-0 175 lbs, and WR Shane Williams-Rhodes, 5-6, 173 lbs, are his two top receivers with a combined 50 catches this year. But WR Chaz Anderson, 5-10, 186 lbs, is another threat on the rise. He was the star in last week’s game with 5 catches for 95 yards including a 54-yarder.

When you consider the Colorado State pass defense, coupled with the need to keep the Rams' high-powered offense off the field, it would dictate that Boise State will need to put together a solid running game. This season that task has fallen on a small cadre of tailbacks who have averaged 192.2 rushing yards per game.  The lion’s share of those yards belonging to RB Jeremy McNichols, 5-9, 205 lbs. He has rushed for 381 yards with an average of 4.6 yards a carry and leads the Mountain West in scoring with 12 touchdowns.

Keys to victory for the Boise State defense: The Broncos need to continue to control the ground game. They rank 7th nationally in total defense and 2nd in rushing defense. It will be essential that they go the distance in both speed and endurance Saturday. The up-tempo Rams offense Bobo brought to Colorado State from Georgia averages 32 points a game. The Broncos defenders have to expect the Rams will be putting their foot on the gas pedal and will be mounting an aggressive passing attack with QB Nick Stevens, 6-3, 190 lbs, under center.  He's the reason Colorado State has one of the best passing offenses in the conference. Stevens is the  #2 ranked quarterback in the conference completing 89 of 160 pass attempts this year and accounting for 1,129 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Rams average 264.8 passing yards per game, second only to Boise State’s average by just 3 yards.

"I think we've really been pushing the tempo and pressure in practice these past couple of days," Stevens said this week. "They're out there yelling at us and stuff like that. That's definitely going to make it easier on Saturday when you have those quick practices and bullets flying."

On the down side Stevens has also tossed 5 interceptions and that will be an area the Broncos will seek to exploit. Two of the three conference leaders in interceptions are Boise State defensive backs CB Donte Deayon, 5-9, 155 lbs, and S Darian Thompson, 6-2, 212 lbs.  They, along with the entire secondary, will need to do all they can to help cover one of Steven’s favorite targets: WR Rashard Higgins, 6-2,190 lbs. Higgins is the #1 receiver in the Mountain West Conference and is pulling down an average of 106.5 yards per game. It will be a tall order for a Boise State pass defense that is ranked 6th in the conference, but definitely one of the keys to a Boise State victory. It helps that Boise State has the 8th best scoring defense in the nation with 12.4 points a game.

Keys to a victory for the Boise State special teams: Colorado State is 2nd in the MWC in kickoff returns and Boise State 9th. Colorado State is ranked better in punt returns as well. But as a whole the Broncos special teams have been steadily improving this season. One of those success stories is kicker Tyler Rausa, 5-10, 195 lbs. Two weeks ago he had a 51-yard field goal against Virginia and his only miss this year was a 54 yard attempt that glanced off the uprights. ESPN has him ranked as the 10th best kicker in the country.  Another key to a Broncos victory has been the elimination of critical penalties that plagued the Broncos special teams in earlier games this season. The continued absense of those will be all-important in Saturday’s contest.

Prediction: The Rams are coming off a 33-18 loss in Logan to Utah State, but they will be at home this week with the comfort of the home town crowd cheering them on. Vegas has Boise State favored over Colorado State by 15 points. Boise State could use the style points to get access into a NY6 bowl and this is contest they should win.  But it seems like an awful big spread against a good Colorado State team that lost heartbreaking matches this season to both Minnesota and Colorado by just 3 points each.