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Boise State vs Virginia: a MWC face-off with the ACC

The Broncos are in Charlottesville, Virginia to take on the Cavaliers Friday night

Sep 18, 2015; Boise, ID, USA; Boise State Broncos quarterback Thomas Stuart (3) rolls out during the first quarter against Idaho State Bengals at Albertsons Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 18, 2015; Boise, ID, USA; Boise State Broncos quarterback Thomas Stuart (3) rolls out during the first quarter against Idaho State Bengals at Albertsons Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

WEEK 4: Boise State Broncos vs. Virginia Cavaliers

WHEN: Friday, September 25, 6:00 PM MST

WHERE: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, VA (60,000)

CONFERENCES: Mountain West Conference – Atlantic Coast Conference

2015 SEASON: Boise State, 2-1 (0-0 MW); Virginia, 1-2 (0-0 ACC)

COACHES: Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin, 2nd year (14-3, 21-8 all time); Virginia head coach Mike London, 6th year (24-40, 48-45 all time)


WEB: watch ESPN

RADIO: Bronco Radio Network: KBOI (670 AM) and KKGL (96.9 FM) in the Boise area; Virginia Sports Radio Network: WINA (1070 AM) and WWWV (97.5 FM) in the Charlottesville area

SERIES RECORD: First meeting

WEB SITES: Boise State official Virginia official

It has been five years since the Boise State Broncos traveled to the east coast and took on an ACC member. That matchup resulted in a 33-30 win over Virginia Tech in the 2010 season opener. Now, once again the Broncos are traveling to the state of Virginia to prove their worth against another ACC team: this time the Virginia Cavaliers.

Virginia has found some momentum after last week’s 35-29 win over William and Mary and while the Cavaliers are 1-2 on the season that record can be a little deceiving. The two losses was by way of the away game opener at #13 UCLA followed by a seven point loss two weeks ago at home against #9 Notre Dame.

Boise State has a little juice of their own after a decisive win over former instate rival, Idaho State last week. Unfortunately, that victory was undercut by the loss of starting quarterback Ryan Finley who is out indefinitely with a severe ankle injury. But the game itself allowed the Broncos to shore up the discipline in the defensive secondary and try to repair some cracks that were starting to show in both the offensive backfield and the special teams. The Broncos know this game is pivotal in seeking a return to the top-25 national rankings and to remain in contention for the at-large berth in one of New Year’s P-5 bowls.

What to expect when Virginia has the ball: Matt Johns is a 6-5, 210 pound Pro-Style Quarterback from Chalfont, PA. He is the second-leading passer in the ACC with 792 passing yards, and a 66.7% completion rate. That works out to 263 yards per game and 8.2 yards per pass attempt. His two favorite receivers are WR Canaan Severin, 6-2, 205 lbs, and RB Taquan Mizzell, 5-10, 195 lbs. Both are ranked respectively as the 3rd and 4th best receivers in the ACC. What makes Mizzel so dangerous is that he is also the leading rusher on the Virginia team. His 39 rushing attempts have averaged 4 yards a carry.

But the running game is also the Achilles heel of the the Virginia offense. They sit near the bottom of the ACC in that category and are ranked 115th nationally with an average of 111.67 rushing yards per game. Now consider that the cadre of Cavaliers ground-pounders will be going up against the 2nd best run defense in the country, thanks in part to DE Kamalei Correa, 6-3, 248 lbs. He leads the Broncos with four tackles for loss and is tied for fifth on the team with 12 tackles. He also has a couple of sacks. As a whole the Broncos defense is giving up an average of just 45.67 rushing yards per game. Two other big guns in the Broncos stellar run defense are LB Ben Weaver, 6-0, 231 lbs, and Tanner Vallejo, 6-1, 228 lbs. One word describes the Broncos defensive line: awesome.

That is why you can expect a vigorous air campaign mounted by Johns. The Broncos pass defense is one area where the Cavaliers could generate some serious yardage. Look for them to attempt to pick apart the Boise State secondary because it is no secret that the Broncos give up 240 passing yards on average per game. But that Boise State secondary is steadily improving. Cornerbacks Jonathan Moxey, 5-10, 188 lbs, and Donte Deayon, 5-9, 155 lbs, are tied at 6th in the conference in passes defended and together they account for 3 of Boise State’s 4 interceptions this season. The Cavaliers will also have to contend with safeties Darian Thompson, 6-2, 210 lbs, and Dylan Sumner-Gardner, 6-1, 201 lbs. Last week all those defenders helped the Broncos to their first shutout against an opponent since the New Mexico game in 2011.

What to expect when Boise State has the ball: The loss of Finley has left the Broncos with no clear starter under center and head coach Bryan Harsin is non-committal on which quarterback will start Friday. He will only say that both sophomore Thomas Stuart, 5-11, 196 lbs, and freshman Brett Rypien, 6-2, 199 lbs, will play. So we’ll resort to a history lesson here. Last week Stuart came into the game and threw for 69 yards, added a touchdown, and rushed for 46 yards after filling in for Finley in the first half. But he was also sacked three times. The second half was all about freshman Brett Rypien, the highly-touted recruit out of Washington and nephew of former Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien. Brett was the first true freshman quarterback to play at Boise State since 1993. But he didn’t disappoint. He scored on all four of his possessions leading the Broncos to three touchdowns and a field goal, and finished 8-of-9 in pass attempts for 126 yards. One was a 46 yard deep throw to WR Thomas Sperbeck, 6-0, 175 lbs.

Here’s my two takes on the quarterback situation: (1) Harsin and company are aware of the risks of failure in trying to implement a two-quarterback system and (2) the Broncos would not have burned their future star Brett Rypien’s redshirt unless they intended to give him significant playing time. In his place they could have sent in QB Alex Ogle, 6-3, 209 lbs. Look for Stuart to start and Rypien to step in after the Broncos jitters settle down.

The Broncos will seek to control the ball and will want to establish a running game against the Cavaliers. Last week the Broncos worked hard on the run. RB Jeremy McNichols, 5-9, 205 lbs, rushed for 69 yards on 15 carries and charged in for three touchdowns; RB Kelsey Young, 5-10, 198 lbs, had eight carries and added two rushing touchdowns; his brother, RB Cory Young, 5-10, 200 lbs, ran for 69 yards on nine carries; and Devan Demas, 5-8, 175 lbs, the second leading rusher on the team, added 65 yards and a touchdown. In total, the Broncos amassed 344 rushing yards on 58 carries last week. But that won’t happen Friday night.

The Virginia defense gives up an average of 444.7 yards per game but only 183 yards of that is on the ground. That is why the Broncos will also roll out a stout passing game. So far they have amassed an average of 234.3 yards per game, but those numbers will certainly change with a new quarterback under center. But whoever is tossing the ball the talent is there to make the receiving plays. WR Shane Williams-Rhodes, 5-6, 158 lbs, will continue to be one of the main targets while Thomas Sperbeck is also a rising playmaker. He grabbed 7 passes last week for 99 yards. Another is TE Holden Huff, 6-6, 226 lbs, who latched onto 4 more for 56 yards.

Special Teams: Virginia PK Ian Frye, 6-6, 215 lbs, has made all 9 of his extra points this year and is 3 of 3 on field goals with a long of 42 yards. P Nicholas Conte, 6-3, 225 lbs, has only had to punt 10 times this season but is averaging 49.6 yards a punt. One was a 59-yarder.  Taquan Mizzell handles the kickoff returns..

Boise State special teams continue to be an enigma in 2015. Two weeks ago punter Sean Wale, 6-2, 185 lbs, had 8 punts for 332 yards for an average of 41.5 yards per punt against BYU. Last week against Idaho State he had three but averaged 36 yards. But to give them their due, the Broncos Special teams are improving. They blocked a punt and a field goal last week and set up the offense for a couple of scores. Kicker Tyler Rausa, 5-10, 195 lbs, had a 45-yard field goal and made all 7 of his extra points last week, accounting for 10 of the Broncos 52-point win.

Overview: Boise State looked good last week in spite of losing starting quarterback Ryan Finley. The improvements in the running game and reduction in penalties were evident. But any expectations have to be tempered when comparing last week’s FCS Big Sky team against an Atlantic Coast Conference team this week. Penalties and turnovers will continue to be key to any victory. The Broncos appear to have made significant changes in both the offensive backfield and the defensive secondary so the Cavaliers should have all they can handle and then some. The odds-on favorite is Boise State by 2.5. I’m going a little further and say the Broncos win, 27-21.