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San Jose State vs. Boise State: Three Burning Questions and a Prediction

Broncos return to The Blue hoping to stay perfect in Mountain West play

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 12 Hawaii at Boise State Photo by Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

SAN JOSE STATE VS. BOISE STATE

Location: Boise, Idaho (Albertsons Stadium)

Date/Time: Saturday, November 28 at 2:00 p.m. (Mountain Time)

Television: FOX

Head-to-Head: Boise State leads the all-time series with 14 wins against zero losses. The series goes all the way back to 1978, and the Broncos have never lost to San Jose State. The closest game in the series was a 23 – 20 Bronco win in 2006. The largest margin of victory for Boise State was a 77 – 14 beatdown in 2003.

Betting Line: Boise State is an 11-point favorite with the over/under at 58 points. The betting markets suggest an outcome of Boise State 34, San Jose State 24.

Three Burning Questions:

How good is San Jose State really?

NCAA FOOTBALL: NOV 26 San Jose State at Fresno State Photo by David Dennis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

San Jose State heads into Albertsons Stadium with a 4 – 0 record and a share of first place in the race for the Mountain West Conference Championship game. They have held each of their opponents to 21 points or less, average nearly 30 points per game, and have wins over traditional Mountain West stalwarts Air Force and San Diego State. How are the Spartans doing it? With an average offense and a solid defense.

On offense they rank in the mid-fifties in yards/game and points/game. They have the 23rd ranked passing offense and the 109th ranked rushing offense. Outside of a legitimately impressive 28-point performance against San Diego State, the San Jose offense hasn’t done anything to thump their chests about. You can only play who is on your schedule, but scoring 17, 38, and 34 points against Air Force, New Mexico, and UNLV doesn’t move the needle.

On defense, the Spartans are much more impressive on paper. They have a top 10 scoring defense, are 30th in yards/game, 34th against the run (and they played Air Force), and 62nd in pass efficiency defense. They are also 12th in sacks/game. Those are great numbers. The caveat, of course, is the schedule. Is it that spectacular to allow 16 points a game against their opponents? Opponent adjusted advanced stats don’t think so.

In Bill Connelly’s SP+ ranking, the Spartans are ranked as the 72nd best team in college football. They are the 48th ranked offense and just the 83rd ranked defense. They score out at 58th on special teams to boot. Meanwhile, Boise State sits at 35th overall, 30th on offense, 50th on defense, and 32nd on special teams. Boise State is the better team in all three phases of the game and deserve to be two possession (or more) favorites.

How much is depth/injury affecting the Boise State defense?

Bowling Green v Boise State Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Through five games of the shortened eight game season it is fair to say that the Bronco defense hasn’t quite lived up to the preseason hype. Outside of the season-opening game against a hapless Utah State team, Boise State’s defense has had moments of letdown in every game. Injury/illness is the most likely culprit.

Boise State returned just five starters from 2019 going into the 2020 season. They replaced all four starters on the defensive line and both safeties. Of those losses, two were transfers that didn’t allow the Bronco coaches to recruit depth, and another was an early entrant to the 2020 NFL Draft. Even with those losses, the starting 11, and even the two-deep depth chart, looked solid heading into 2020. Unfortunately, injury and illness has drastically changed the depth chart.

How does that manifest itself in games? It has two effects. First, the starters must play more snaps than they would have if the unit was healthy. Second, players that could use another year of development are relied upon to play more live snaps. This leads to missed assignments (and a target for the opposing offense to attack), and to fatigue later in games. The scoring numbers back that up. Boise State has allowed:

1st Quarter: 24 points

2nd Quarter: 19 points

FIRST HALF: 43 points (8.6 PPG)

3rd Quarter: 57 points

4th Quarter: 47 points

SECOND HALF: 104 points (20.8 PPG)

Even if you take out the BYU debacle, Boise State allows almost twice as many points in the second half as they do in the first half. It seems apparent that after halftime the Bronco defense gets winded and the opponent adjusts to target inexperienced players that are forced into action due to injury and illness. The group most effected is the defensive line. They are already replacing four players and have lost three more for the season and have had many other less severe injury issues. The good news is that the players replacing the unavailable starters are gaining experience as the season goes on. The bad news is that Boise State won’t be able to weather many more losses on the defensive side of the ball.

How advantageous is San Jose State’s bye week?

The Spartans game last week against Fresno State was canceled due to COVID issues. This allows San Jose State’s undeniably talented coaching staff an extra week to prepare for the Broncos. Good timing, because this is a gigantic game for the Spartans. They are undefeated and play Hawaii and fellow unbeaten Nevada to finish out the season. Win on Saturday and they are in the driver’s seat to win the Mountain West Conference for the first time in program history. How much does the bye week help them accomplish that goal?

First, getting a week off to regroup and refocus after four games is the perfect spot to self-scout and install the finishing touches on your schemes and offensive plays. Also, the extra time to identify the players that are targetable due to injury gives the Spartans ample time to dial up a much better game plan than they could in six days. Lastly, San Jose State should enter the game as the fresher team. Boise State is the more talented team, but the extra week could be enough of an advantage to make the game closer than it would have been if the Spartans had to battle the Bulldogs last weekend.

Prediction:

The bye week and Boise State’s losses on defense might make this game a little too close for comfort, but the real factor in this game is outlined in the first burning question. The Broncos are the more talented team. They have a decided advantage when they throw the ball against the Spartans, and Boise State is more than comfortable throwing the football all night long. The offensive line must keep Hank Bachmeier relatively clean, but the Broncos will prove too much for the unexpectedly undefeated, but still much less talented Spartans. Boise State 35 San Jose State 23