Date/Time: Friday, November 12 @ 7:00 pm MST
Location: Boise, Idaho (Albertsons Stadium)
Television: Fox Sports One
Betting Line: Boise State -14 – Over/Under 48.5
Head-to-Head: Boise State has a 14 – 1 lead in a series that has been more competitive than the record would indicate in recent years. The Broncos won the first 10 contests between the schools, with Wyoming winning their only game of the series 30 – 28 in Laramie in 2016. Though the record is lopsided, the last five games have a combined score of Boise State 127 and Wyoming 84 for an average score of Boise State 25 Wyoming 17.
Boise State is coming off a gigantic win on the road against the 23rd ranked Fresno State Bulldogs. The win marks the first winning streak of the season for the Broncos and was definitively the most complete game the Broncos have played all season. The offense’s 40-point scoring outburst was the second highest output of the season, the defense held Fresno well below their scoring average, and the Broncos played magnificent kick coverage while Jonah Dalmas was perfect on his kicks.
Boise State welcomes Wyoming to the Blue Turf on Friday night as the Cowboys look to keep it rolling coming off of an impressive 31 – 17 victory against Colorado State. Wyoming is looking for their first ever win against Boise on the Blue and will look to run all over the Broncos with a pair of talented running backs in Titus Swen and Xazavian Valladay and a running quarterback in Levi Williams.
This week we will look at Wyoming’s pass defense, assess Boise State’s offensive performance since the bye week, and ponder the odds of Boise State running the table and representing the Mountain Division in the Mountain West Conference Championship game.
THREE BURING QUESTIONS
Is the Wyoming Pass Defense as Good as Their National Ranking?
Wyoming is ranked 4th in the country in pass defense giving up an average of just 158 yards through the air per game. Boise State is 26th in the country through the air at 277 yards per game. While showing improvement in recent weeks, the Broncos are 119th nationally in rushing yards per game. This look like it will spell trouble for the Broncos on Friday night, but just how good are the Cowboys against the pass?
When you dig into the numbers that make up that 4th place ranking you don’t come away quite as impressed as you would think. In composite, Wyoming has faced the 88th ranked passing team this season with five of eight FBS opponents ranking 90th or worse through the air. Here’s a list of what the Cowboys defense has faced in 2021 and how they’ve fared:
Fresno State (96 yards vs Wyoming): 331 ypg – 9th nationally
Colorado State (187 yards vs Wyoming): 236 ypg – 63rd nationally
San Jose State (150 yards vs Wyoming): 223 ypg – 75th nationally
Northern Illinois (233 yards vs Wyoming): 212 ypg – 90th nationally
Montana State (200 yards vs Wyoming): 208 ypg - FCS
Ball State (142 yards vs Wyoming): 206 ypg – 95th nationally
UConn (168 yards vs Wyoming): 171 ypg – 114th nationally
New Mexico (136 yards vs Wyoming): 112 ypg – 125th nationally
Air Force (94 yards vs Wyoming): 110 ypg – 129th nationally
Overall, Wyoming has held opponents to 45 yards per game under their season average. If you take away the Fresno State game (we’ll get into that), then teams are averaging 20 less passing yards per game than their season average. Not bad, but there are a few other factors to consider.
First, Wyoming is 90th in the country against the run and 102nd in points scored per game. Teams do not have to pass the ball much to stay in the game against Wyoming. The gameplan against Wyoming is to run the ball for as long as they’ll let you. Second, Wyoming has played an objectively easy schedule, particularly out of conference. Since Wyoming is better than the remaining schedule for a lot of the teams they’ve played, Wyoming should be holding opponents under their season average in pass yards.
Now, about that outlier Fresno State game. It is unfair to just toss it out, but the game script for that one was wild. Fresno State averaged 3.4 yards per completion and completed just 54% of their throws. However, Wyoming turned the ball over six times and Fresno’s average starting field position off those turnovers was the Wyoming 35-yard line. On top of that, Wyoming never threatened to score in the game (they never took a red zone snap) and Fresno was content to run the ball 42 times for 163 yards and cruise to a 17 – 0 road win.
Ultimately, while Wyoming passes the eye test against a relatively weak schedule, they don’t have the pressures, sacks, or tackles-for-loss numbers that most of Boise State’s 2021 opponents do. Boise State may run the ball more than normal which could reduce their passing yard numbers, but the Broncos can pass on the Wyoming defense. While a talented group, the number 4 ranking for the Cowboys is a mirage.
Has the Boise State Offense “Figured it Out” After the Bye?
There was a lot of talk during the bye week from the coaching staff that the Broncos were using the bye week to reestablish the culture, reenergize the way the Broncos prepared each day, and accomplish the self-scouting necessary to get back on track on offense. Boise State is 2 – 0 since the bye week with big road wins at Colorado State and Fresno. Are the changes on offense noticeable? Are they sustainable?
Looking at the most glaring issues on offense going into the bye week, the improvement is clearly noticeable. The biggest concerns were running the ball and second half scoring. In the two games since the bye, against two of the best defenses on the schedule, the Boise State run game has averaged 184 rushing yards per game and extended their undefeated streak in games where they surpass 100 rushing yards. Similarly, Boise State was averaging around eight points per game in the second half going into the bye week and have averaged 23 points per game after halftime the last two weeks.
Are the changes sustainable? Only time will tell. They get a chance to prove it again this week against a Wyoming team that always plays the Broncos tough. Ultimately, if the Broncos continue to run the ball, win the important “middle eight” that Avalos stresses, and can avoid long dry spells on offense then Boise State has a great shot and winning out to end the regular season.
Can the Broncos Still Win the Mountain West?
Boise State fans will never be okay with a 5 -4 record after nine weeks of a football season. However, 10 – 4 with a conference championship and a bowl win would get the hype train chugging for 2022. After winning their first back-to-back games all season, it seems a bit crazy to dream about ending the season on seven game win streak, but it’s not that crazy. The Broncos are two touchdown favorites against Wyoming, will be sizable favorites against New Mexico, and are playing their best ball of the season. San Diego State will be a battle, as would a matchup of any of the three West division champs, but this battle-tested team could pull it off.
Unfortunately for Boise State, the Broncos don’t control their own destiny. Utah State is currently 4 -1 in the Mountain division with a one game lead on Boise State. Air Force is tied with the Broncos and have the head-to-head tiebreaker. Boise State needs the Aggies to lose to one of San Jose State or New Mexico (but beat Wyoming). If they do, Bronco fans should also root for Nevada against Air Force to avoid a three-way tie since Boise State would win a tiebreaker with Utah State.
If Utah State loses and Boise State and Air Force win out, we get a messy three-way tie. The Aggies beat the Falcons, who beat the Broncos, who beat the Aggies. The first tiebreaker would be division winning percentage among tied teams in the division. Here Boise State has one loss (Air Force), Utah State would likely have one loss (if they beat Wyoming), and Air Force has one loss (Utah State). If Utah State lost to Wyoming, they’d be eliminated, and Air Force would win the division.
If Utah State losses to San Jose and beats Wyoming, the next tiebreaker is record against the rest of the division, starting with 4th place to last place, which wouldn’t break the tie. Next, it’s winning percentage against common conference opponents. The only common opponent between all three teams is New Mexico. Both Boise State and Air Force play San Diego State, but frankly, I’m unsure if that would eliminate the Falcons.
Assuming the San Diego State game doesn’t factor in, the last tiebreaker is a composite computer ranking. Here, Boise State would win and play for a Mountain West Championship. That was exhausting.
Wyoming has played Boise State tough in recent seasons, but in seven games on The Blue, Wyoming is 0 – 7 with only one game being a one-score contest. Wyoming, like Boise State before the bye week, has been streaky. They are 1 -1 over the last two weeks with a six-point win in San Jose and a 14-point win at home against Colorado State. Coach Bohl always has the Cowboys ready for the Broncos, but the Boise State defense has been too good this season, and the offense has turned a corner. The Broncos will be too much for Wyoming too handle tomorrow night. Boise State 34 Wyoming 17.