WEEK 3: Boise State Broncos vs. Idaho State Bengals
WHEN: Friday, September 18, 7:00 PM MST
WHERE: Albertsons Stadium, Boise, ID (37,000)
CONFERENCES: Mountain West Conference – Big Sky Conference (FCS)
2015 SEASON: Boise State, 1-1 (0-0 MW); Idaho State, 1-1 (0-1 Big Sky)
COACHES: Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin, 2nd year (13-3, 20-8 all time); Idaho State head coach Mike Kramer, 5th year (15-32, 92–107 all time)
TV: CBS Sports Network
RADIO: Bronco Radio Network: KBOI (670 AM) and KKGL (96.9 FM) in the Boise area; Bengal Radio Network: KSEL (930 AM) and KMGI (102.5 FM) in the Pocatello area
SERIES RECORD: Boise State leads, 24-6-0
It has been nine years since the Boise State Broncos and Idaho State Bengals have faced each other on the gridiron. The former Big Sky rivals first squared off back in 1964, and the last time the Bengals won in Boise was in 1987, a year after Boise State first installed their blue field.
But those kind of old records are a small concern to Bengal head coach Mike Kramer. His teams are used to breaking records. His Bengals finished last year 8-4 and a 6-2 mark in Big Sky Conference play. But his offense rewrote the record books with 6,744 total yards and 64 touchdowns. The Bengals chalked up 2,567 rushing yards, breaking a school record that had stood since 1957. Kramer himself finished seventh in the voting for the Eddie Robinson Award and was named the 2014 Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year.
On the other side of the field head coach Bryan Harsin and his Boise State Broncos will be coming back home after an away game loss to the BYU Cougars last Saturday in Provo, Utah. In a sloppy game filled with crippling penalties, a lackluster performance by the Broncos offense, and poor coverage in the defensive secondary, the Broncos fell out of the top-25 national rankings in a game they should have won.
Now the Broncos are faced with the daunting task of going undefeated for the rest of the season to be considered for at-large berth in one of New Year’s P-5 bowls. They need to right their ship in this contest if they expect to be ready for the upcoming game with Virginia in two weeks. All is not lost and the season is still young.
I wrote off Boise State after last year's loss to Air Force (@tbhawkes reminds me often) and BSU won rest of games, including Fiesta Bowl.— Brian Murphy (@murphsturph) September 13, 2015
What to expect when Idaho State has the ball: Gone is former Bengal QB Justin Arias who was a finalist for the Walter Payton Award and a third-team All-American-first-team all-conference player. But without missing a beat QB Michael Sanders, 6-3, 221 lbs, has stepped into the starting lineup. In the first two games he has completed 35 of 57 pass attempts for 455 yards and 7 TD’s. One of his favorite targets? Senior WR Madison Mangum, 6-2, 212 lbs, who has caught 8 passes for 112 yards. Why does Mangum’s name sound so familiar? Because he’s the older brother of BYU QB Tanner Mangum, who took the Boise State Broncos to the wood shed last week. Besides Mangum, Sanders likes to spread his passes around to a group of wide outs: Josh Cook, 6-3, 220 lbs, Hagen Graves, 6-1, 179 lbs, and KW Williams, 6-1, 212 lbs for instance. All the receivers will get plenty of chances to catch passes if Kramer and his offensive coaches watched the BSU-BYU game film from last week’s debacle in Provo.
The Bengal offense has averaged 279.5 passing yards per game so far this season. That might be the only area where the Bengals can make any real yardage. Expect them to go for the big plays against the Boise State secondary. One player the Bengals might target is cornerback Jonathan Moxey, 5-10, 188 lbs. He made 6 tackles last week and recorded a quarterback sack, but that play was marred by committing crucial penalties at critical times. On the other hand any passing attack could still be problematic for the Bengals going against safeties Darian Thompson, 6-2, 210 lbs and Dylan Sumner-Gardner, 6-1, 201 lbs, and cornerback Donte Deayon, 5-9, 155 lbs. Deayon, for example, had 5 tackles (three solo) and two interceptions against the Cougars last week and leads the Broncos in pass defense.
That doesn’t mean the Bengals won’t try and run the ball. Running backs Xavier Finney, 6-3, 220 lbs, Jakori Ford, 5-8, 185 lbs, and Braedon Mitchell, 5-11, 223 lbs, have combined for a total of 447 yards in two games. In fact, Idaho State has averaged 4.6 yards a carry and 196.5 yards a game coming into this contest. But any running game will be going up against the 11th best run defense in the nation. It's led by LB Ben Weaver, 6-0, 231 lbs, and Tanner Vallejo, 6-1, 228 lbs, who led the Broncos in tackles last season and is the leader again so far this season. Their defensive line held BYU to 72 rushing yards on 39 attempts last week, translating to just 1.8 yards a carry. So far this season the Broncos have given up an average of just 50.5 yards per game on the ground.
The Boise State defense will clearly be a challenge for the Bengals offense, but the Bengals have a way of making things happen. They are not afraid to go for it on 4th down and have a 3-7 record doing so that has resulted in a conversion ratio of 43%. They are also 5 of 5 in red zone scoring. Eight of their 10 touchdowns this season have been through the air, a Boise State weakness.
What to expect when Boise State has the ball: In spite of the loss last week QB Ryan Finley, 6-4, 200 lbs, had a fairly decent performance in his second outing of the season. He was 25 of 38 pass attempts for 297 yards including a touchdown. The backbreaker was that he also tossed 3 interceptions with two coming in the 4th quarter when he was trying to make something happen. He could have a tough time of it this week with Idaho State as well because the Bengals are allowing just 94 passing yards per game this season. WR Shane Williams-Rhodes, 5-6, 158 lbs, will continue to be one of the main recipients of Finley’s passes after grabbing 11 last week for 107 yards. Look for WR Chaz Anderson, 5-11, 187 lbs, to continue to be one of his favorite targets as well.
The running game was nonexistent last week. Finley failed to scramble and get any yardage, as did the lackluster performance by the entire Boise State backfield, a reliable staple which has carried the Broncos to victory the past few years. RB Jeremy McNichols, 5-9, 205 lbs, has struggled and none of the other Broncos rushers have really stepped up. Last week the offense hammered out just 64 yards with an average of a paltry 2 yards a carry. This week you can expect the Broncos to try and reset their backfield and use this game to put some training wheels under it. It could be a serious problem long term because the Boise State rushing offense is ranked 11th of the 12 Mountain West teams in the conference. Only Hawaii is worse.
It will be interesting to see how the Bengal defenders handle the Boise State rushing attack. One of the anchors in that defense is Santa Barbara City College transfer Jake Pettit, 6-3, 232 lbs. Last year he had 111 tackles, three sacks, 14 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and three pass break ups and was named the Santa Barbara Junior College Defensive MVP. Already this year he is tied with LB Hayden Stout, 6-2, 230 lbs, with 16 tackles each. Still, last week Portland State ran for 272 yards and averaged 4.5 yards a carry against the Bengals. If the Broncos do anything less Friday, it will say volumes about the Boise State offensive program, or lack thereof.
Special Teams: Bengal PK Zak Johnson, 5-11, 180 lbs, is a redshirt sophomore out of Meridian, Idaho. His punts average 41.1 yards per punt. He also handles kickoffs and averages 63.2 yards a kick with 7 of 12 being touchbacks. Jakori Ford will be handling the kickoff returns.
Boise State punter Sean Wale, 6-2, 185 lbs, had quite a day in Provo: 8 punts for 332 yards for an average of 41.5 yards per punt. Kicker Tyler Rausa, 5-10, 195 lbs, will continue to do the kicking duties after booting a 31-yard field goal and going 3 of 3 on extra points last week. Jeremy McNichols will handle the kickoffs and Williams-Rhodes will field the punt returns for the Broncos.
Overview: Boise State is in need of getting their game figured out. Sloppy play, penalties, and turnovers won’t win many games. They have a chance to fix some of that with this game against Idaho State. The Bengals are expected to mount a passing attack and that should give the Broncos secondary a little practice and a chance for the coaches to reinforce a little discipline and self-control among several key players. Turnovers have been the bane of the Broncos along with costly penalties.
The odds-on favorite is Boise State, 35-3. I am a little less optimistic and say Boise State, 31, Idaho State, 10.