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Boise State vs New Mexico: the keys to victory

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The Boise State Broncos host the New Mexico Lobos in Albertsons Stadium Saturday evening

Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

What you need to know:

Who: Boise State (7-2, 4-1 MW) vs New Mexico (5-4, 3-2 MW)

When: Saturday, November 14, 2015, 8:15 PM MST

Where: Albertsons Stadium, Boise, ID

TV: ESPNU

Head coach Bryan Harsin and his Broncos are back in action Saturday evening after a bye week. Their last game was two weeks ago against Mountain West foe the UNLV Rebels where the Broncos came home with a victory. This week they will be pitted against the New Mexico Lobos who are also coming off a win. Last week they upset the Utah State Aggies in a 14-13 win and are now in a position where they could walk away with the Mountain West title. The Lobos are having their best season since 2007. They are not intimated by the Broncos who dropped a game against the same Utah State team they just finished off. The Lobos are also buoyed by the fact that last year in Albuquerque they gave the Broncos all they could handle and then some. They led Boise State throughout that 2014 contest until the fourth quarter, when the Broncos regained the momentum and went on a 19-point run to escape with the 60-49 victory.

Keys to victory for the Boise State offense: Freshman quarterback Brett Rypien, 6-2, 199 lbs, is the leading passer in the conference with 290.9 yards per game and ranks 19th in the nation. In just 7 games Rypien has passed for 2,036 yards, 12 TD’s, with just 4 interceptions in 234 pass attempts. One of his favorite targets is WR Thomas Sperbeck, 6-0 175 lbs. Sperbeck is the #1 receiver in the conference and ranked 10th nationally, averaging 103.2 yards per game and 18.96 yards per reception. WR Chaz Anderson, 5-10, 186 lbs, is another big playmaker. His season-best was against UNLV where his 7 catches for good for 106 yards and a TD.

But another important key to victory will hinge on keeping the ball out of the hands of New Mexico’s talented offense. The Broncos need to control the clock by way of a solid running game. That is where RB Jeremy McNichols, 5-9, 205 lbs, can play a role. He averages 96.6 yards per game and with 773 rushing yards, McNichols is well on his way to a 1,000-yard season. Another tailback who can make a big difference in the ground game is RB Kelsey Young, 5-10, 198 lbs. He has quietly emerged as the #2 go-to guy in the backfield. In the Broncos Vegas outing Young had 9 carries for 89 yards and a TD against the Rebels.

But any Broncos running game will have to dodge the clutches of a pair of linebackers: Maurice Daniels, 6-4, 219 lbs, and Dakota Cox, 6-0, 231 lbs. Cox leads New Mexico with 66 tackles (40 solo) while he and Daniels are two of the top ten linebackers in the Mountain West conference with tackles for loss.

Between the passing and running and chalking up 39.9 points per game, Boise State fields the highest scoring offense in the conference. One of their biggest keys to victory Saturday night will be the continued high performance of that offense. If the Broncos offense takes care of business and hits on all cylinders, they should have a very good night against a New Mexico team that gives up an average of 407.9 yards per game, about equally to both the run and the pass.

Keys to victory for the Boise State defense: The Broncos defense has used the bye week to get ready for two of the biggest threats to their entire season: Air Force and New Mexico and their triple option attacks. Last year that option attack allowed Air Force to hand Boise State one of their two seasonal losses and for New Mexico to give the Broncos that scare down in Albuquerque I mentioned earlier. Both the Air Force and New Mexico rushing offenses are ranked #1 and #2 respectively in the conference. The immediate threat this Saturday is the Lobos’ offense and the 235 rushing yards they average per game. That yardage on the ground is mostly generated by a trio of playmakers: running backs Teriyon Gipson, 5-8, 182 lbs, and Jhurell Pressley, 5-10, 203 lbs, and QB Lamar Jordan, 5-10, 190 lbs. Those three alone have combined for 1,557 yards and average 5.5 yards per carry. Jordan’s 500 rushing yards and 5.88 yards per carry make him the top rushing quarterback in the league. But don’t let his rushing stats fool you---Jordan is also a pretty fair passer. He has completed 54.4 percent of his passes so far this season, with a very respectable 129.6 rating.

All of that suggests that any key to a Boise State victory will rely heavily with their defense. Fortunately for the Broncos, defensive coordinator Marcel Yates has created one of the top rush defenses in the nation. Boise State gives up a paltry 83.4 rushing yards and less than one rushing TD per game. But the defense has been banged up as the season has worn on. At the time of this article, LB Tanner Vallejo is questionable for Saturday while DB Gabe Perez, DB Rondel McNair, S Dylan Sumner-Gardner, and DB Donte Deayon are all still out indefinitely. This week will be a real test in the Broncos depth.  It will be up to anchors like DL Kamalei Correa, 6-3, 248 lbs, and LB Ben Weaver, 6-0, 228 lbs, to step up big, hold it together, and stop the option.

Keys to a victory for the Boise State special teams: New Mexico is 1st in the conference defending against the punt return, giving up an average of just 3.47 yards per return. Boise State, on the other hand, is last in the conference and gives up an average of 14 yards per return. Any hope of a big turnaround for the Broncos this late in the season would be great, because many games are won or lost every season due to the play of special teams. But honestly, if there is a key to victory here for the Broncos punt return defenders, I can’t find it.

Boise State’s kickoff unit is also in need of some luck---or a rebuild. The Broncos are near the bottom of conference in defending against kickoff returns, losing an average of 20.88 yards per return. This week they will be going up against New Mexico’s WR Carlos Wiggins, 5-8, 166 lbs. Wiggins is ranked #2 in the MWC in kickoff returns and averages 29.5 yards a pop, with one for a TD. Obviously, New Mexico has the edge here so the Broncos need to stay alert and keep their ducks in a row.

New Mexico kicker Jason Sanders, 5-11, 186 lbs, leads the conference in kickoffs with an average of 64.17 yards a kick, with 33 of 47 kicks being touchbacks. Boise State’s kicker, Tyler Rausa, 5-9, 183 lbs, is up there with the best and averages 63.37 yards per kickoff, with 41 of 67 kicks being touchbacks.

Another key worth mentioning: Boise State continues to struggle with committing penalties. They are 6th in the conference in penalties with an average of 6.7 penalties per game. In their last outing the Broncos committed 8 and were penalized by a loss of 51 yards. In the recent past, penalties have cost the Broncos entire games.

Prediction: A lot is at stake in Saturday night’s matchup with New Mexico. With Utah State’s loss last week Boise State can climb right back into the driver’s seat heading toward the Mountain West Conference Championship. The trouble is a win by New Mexico would propel them in the same direction. The boys in Vegas have Boise State favored over New Mexico by 30 points. That could be a little much.

Boise State 45, New Mexico 17.