This is a series of in depth looks at the opponents the Utah State football team will be facing this season. The series will use Athlon Sports Top 130 pre-season rankings to consider where opponents are at on a national level and each week will preview a different opponent.
Week 4: vs Boise State (September 25th)
Record in 2020: 5-2 (5-1)
Record in 2019: 12-2 (8-0)
Record vs USU: 20-5
Athlon Ranking: 31
Key Losses: Avery Williams (CB/Returner), Jalen Walker (CB), John Bates (TE), Sam Whitney (STUD)
Key Players Back: Hank Bachmeir (QB), Jack Sears (QB), Khalil Shakir (WR), CT Thomas (WR), George Holani (HB), Demitri Washington (DE), Riley Whimpey (LB), Ezekiel Noa (MLB), Scott Matlock (DT), Markell Reed (CB), JL Skinner (S), Kekaula Kaniho (N)
Things are going to look different this Fall with Bryan Harsin not being involved with the offensive game plan after moving on to Auburn. Shortly after Andy Avalos was hired away from Oregon to become the next Boise State head coach, the Broncos brought over a guy who has a lot of success on the offensive side of the ball in Tim Plough. The new coordinator is going to be implementing a new system this season which could be a cause for concern if the offense struggles to get things going but Boise State does bring back a lot of talent. The Broncos have two very capable and experienced quarterbacks in Hank Bachmeir and Jack Sears, two experienced running backs in George Holani and Andrew Van Buren, and the addition of Cyrus Habibi-Likio from Oregon. The Broncos have two veteran receivers in Khalil Shakir and CT Thomas and while the Broncos don’t have a third guy quite yet, there is plenty of talent ready to step up such as Billy Bowens, Octavius Evans, Stefan Cobbs, Latrell Caples, and Shea Whiting. The Broncos return four of their five offensive lineman and though the loss of tight end John Bates hurts, Riley Smith looks ready to step into that role.
Last season, Boise State ranked 98th in the nation in total offense, averaging 349 yard per play and 5.42 yards per play. The Broncos also ranked 27th in scoring offense (33.9 points per game), 49th in passing offense (241.9 yards per game), 115h in rushing offense (107.1 yards per game), 41st in third down conversions (97 attempted, 42 converted; 43.3%), tied for 14th in turnovers lost (four fumbles, three interceptions; seven total), and tied for 15th in red zone offense (22 attempts, 20 scores; 90.9%).
One glaring area that Boise State really needs to improve in and has since 2017 is the rushing offense. The Broncos have been unable to get the run game going and this is in part due to the offensive line not creating enough holes. There needs to be a bigger emphasis on improving the running game because it will open more opportunities for the passing game. As previously stated the Broncos also need to find a reliable third receiver to step up and make plays. Boise State is always pretty successful on offense and that should ring true again this year with key players back.
This is the area where Andy Avalos may be heavily involved. Boise State has to replace Avery Williams and Jaylen Walker, two experienced corners, and this is really worrisome due to the fact that the Broncos face a pass heavy UCF team in the season opener. Looking past this though, the Broncos might have one of the most loaded defenses they have had in recent years. It starts on the line with Demitri Washington, who missed most of last season with an injury. Scott Matlock returns as do Asia Kelemete and Shane Irwin, who are ready to step up on the line. Divine Obichere, Keeghan Freeborn, and Scale Igiehon bring experience to the line as well. Nickle Kekaula Kaniho returns as well and will bring needed experience to the secondary. The middle of the field is going to be held down by Riley Whimpey, Ezekiel Noa, Brock Miller, DJ Schramm, and Oregon transfer Andrew Faoliu.
In 2020, the Broncos ranked 41st in total defense (373.3 yards per game), 52nd in scoring defense (27.14 points per game), 37th in passing yards allowed (209.6 yards per game), 63rd in rushing defense (163.7 yards per game), 2nd in third down conversion defense (27.1%), 94th in red zone defense (31 attempts, 27 scores; 87.1%), and tied for 121st in turnovers forced with three interceptions.
There are two areas to look at that need serious improvement: Red zone defense and turnovers forced. The Broncos needs to do a better of job locking down in the red zone and stopping opponents from scoring. The past couple seasons Boise State has struggled to force turnovers which is one reason why it is good to have Andy Avalos back. Under Avalos Boise State had a lot of success defensively and was able to force opponents into turnovers. If the defensive line can live up to the hype and the linebackers can lock down the middle of the field, the Broncos should have plenty of opportunities to force turnovers if they capitalize.
This is going to be arguably the hardest game of the year for Utah State. The Aggies will be coming off an emotional road game against Air Force and if the Aggies lose to the Falcons, the game against the Broncos is going to be an absolute must win. The game takes place later in September so Utah State has a chance to figure out their own new offense but the key here is how good the Boise State defense looks to be. Utah State hasn’t beaten Boise State since the 2015 season and unfortunately for the Aggies, Boise State should be back to their normal standards after playing in the shortened season last year.