Welcome readers! Our word of the weeks is “physical.” The Bulldog players and their fans took a small piece of Bryan Harsin’s post game presser from last year’s Mountain West Championship and used it as bulletin board material. Bulldog defensive backs were heard yelling about it before the game. Fresno State had all of the motivation on their side: they had never won in Boise, they were climbing up the rankings, and they had a realistic chance to challenge UCF for a birth in the New Year’s Six. All of those hopes and dreams came crashing down when a banged up Boise State outplayed the Bulldogs and came away with the victory. Let’s revisit my keys to the game and see how they played out:
Can the Broncos piece together a team that can challenge the Bulldogs?
The Broncos were without some key contributors in their most important game of the season: their most explosive receiver, John Hightower, and three starters on defense in David Moa, DeAndre Pierce, and Riley Whimpey. They were also without tight ends Garret Collingham and Matt Pistone. Starting defensive end, Durrant Miles, saw little to no action as he has been limited in recent weeks.
All of these injuries would have left the Broncos with a perfect excuse to lose this game. However, through pure heart, determination, and an excellent defensive game plan, Boise State kept Fresno State more than 23 points below their season average.
Can Rypien recover?
The answer to this question is yes. Rypien was very accurate against the Bulldogs. Outside of one bad pass that was intercepted in the first half, Rypien was sharp. I thought he would have to air it out for the Broncos to be successful. Boy, was I wrong. Rypien did finish the game with 269 yards passing, including a game-winning 49 yard touchdown to true freshman Khalil Shakir. Surprisingly, Rypien was also effective with his legs on Friday. He did an excellent job extending plays and coming up with some crucial runs on third downs.
Can the run game be productive?
Not only was the running game productive, it was dominant in the second half. Alexander Mattison finished the game with 144 yards on 30 carries. Mattison was a workhorse in the second half, constantly breaking off seven and eight yards gains. The effectiveness of the run game allowed the Broncos to dominate the time of possession and keep the Bulldog offense off the field for most of the second half. Mattison will get most of the credit, but the offensive line was spectacular Friday night.
Will the secondary rise to the occasion?
This is a tougher question to answer. Tyreque Jones was replaced by Jordan Happle, and Jalen Walker saw more action at cornerback. The secondary wasn’t great by any stretch of the imagination; they missed tackles and allowed McMaryion to throw for nearly 300 yards. However, they kept the ball in front of them and kept the Bulldogs from throwing the ball down the field. While they weren’t great, they did enough to keep Fresno from getting in the end zone.
Get some pressure on McMaryion:
This was the story of two halves. The Broncos finished the game with three sacks, two of which came in the second half. While that may not seem like much of a difference, McMaryion had less time to throw in the second half, and his production took a noticeable dip. It was an excellent adjustment by the coaches, which resulted in holding the Bulldogs to seven points in the second half.
Win the turnover battle:
This was a pretty clean game in regard to turnovers. A Rypien interception and a blocked, Fresno field goal were the only turnovers. The Bulldogs marched down the field and kicked a field goal after Rypien’s interception. I was wrong here; I thought the Broncos would need to win the turnover battle and turn them into points. That wasn’t the case.
Vegas Line: Bulldogs -3. Broncos win by seven. Vegas was off by 10 here. I do have to say, considering the recent play of both teams, I thought this line was more than fair.
My Prediction: Fresno State 24, Boise State 17
Result: Fresno State 17, Boise State 24. Nailed the score. Flip the teams. While I was close with the score, the game did not play out as I envisioned. I thought both teams would struggle to accumulate yards, and turnovers would play a factor. Both teams moved the ball with relative ease, but failed to finish drives.
Will the Bulldogs have a chance at revenge? The Mountain West has to love the fact that they will likely see play in games for both divisions over the next two weeks. The Mountain West will come down to four teams. The fate of the West Division will be sealed next week when the Aztecs head to Fresno. The fate of the Mountain Division will be decided in two weeks when Utah State travels to Boise. If both teams can take care of business on their home field, we will have a rematch in Boise on December 1st.