BOISE STATE (9-3, 8-0 MWC) VS FRESNO STATE (8-4, 7-1 MWC)
Location: Boise, Idaho (Albertsons Stadium)
Date/Time: Saturday, December 3rd at 2:00 p.m. (Mountain Time)
Streaming: Fox sports app
Radio: KBOI 670 AM / 93.1 FM
Head-to-Head: All-time, Boise State leads the series 17-7. The Broncos have won the last two, including a win on The Blue earlier this season 40-20. The last time these two met in the Mountain West championship, the Bulldogs won in overtime in Boise 19-16.
While many aren’t surprised that Boise State has made it this far, the way in which they began their season was troubling say the least.
How We Got Here
For Boise State, it took less than one quarter into the 2022 season for the fanbase to be puzzled and blindsided. Having multi-year starter Hank Bachmeier back in the fold with second-year offensive coordinator Tim Plough fostered cautious optimism for an offense that averaged less than 30 points per game for the first time in a decade. I’m not going to rehash the entirety of the Oregon State debacle, but it was the first time that Boise State fans had a chance to see Taylen Green highlight what he is capable of.
The boat was steadied for a brief moment as the Broncos won two gimmies before what was thought to be a noneventful trip to El Paso, Texas.
A putrid offensive output spilled into the effort on the defensive side of the ball and, before we knew it, the UTEP Miners were marching down the field in the 4th quarter, killing clock and finishing drives. A final score of 27-10 sent shockwaves throughout college football, including the likes of Pat Forde and Chris Vannini commentating on what was one of the worst losses in Boise State football history.
Not even 24 hours later, Tim Plough was relieved of his duties and it was announced that senior analyst and former head coach Dirk Koetter would take over for the remainder of the season. The following day, it was reported and later confirmed that Hank Bachmeier would transfer out of Boise at season’s end, ending his time as a Bronco.
In my time following Boise State, that was the craziest 72 hour span I had ever seen.
All eyes were focused on the new tandem of young buck Taylen Green and wise football mind Dirk Koetter as the most pivotal three-game stretch of the season approached.
San Diego State...22-point win.
Fresno State...20-point win.
Air Force...five-point win.
Somehow, by some miracle, the Broncos made it out of that stretch unscathed. Taylen Green was beginning to look more comfortable as a passer and Ashton Jeanty was proving to be a tremendous option behind George Holani.
One last matchup with rival BYU remained and, despite the Cougars’ return to earth, they still put on a great performance, clipping the Broncos with a last-minute touchdown via a spectacular catch by Puka Nacua. That was the first loss of Taylen Green’s career as a starter.
As of now, it still remains that way.
Heroics in the late stages of the Wyoming game by JL Skinner clinched the division title and allowed the Broncos to gear down last week in a game that was about pride and pride alone.
That pride was too much to overcome for the Aggies as Boise State sent the Bronco seniors off with one final regular season win on The Blue and capped an undefeated conference slate for the second time as a member of the Mountain West.
Three plays by three underclassmen iced the game.
A Gabe Hunter interception in the red zone.
A Taylen Green 91-yard rushing touchdown, the longest run from scrimmage in Boise State football history.
And a Seyi Oladipo pick-six to rub it in.
The beginning to 2022 was as sour as old milk, making the ending that much sweeter.
The Game Itself
Comparing the game in October to Saturday’s rematch is akin to comparing apples and oranges.
It just doesn’t apply.
Fresno State was without star quarterback Jake Haener, forcing backup Logan Fife to start. It wasn’t much of a fair fight as their passing game was anemic and they couldn’t get anyone going on the ground other than Jordan Mims. Jalen Moreno-Cropper only had four receptions for 20 yards. Since then, he has had three games with over 120 receiving yards. Boise State was much healthier on the defensive line at that point with George Tarlas and Demitri Washington suited up.
It shouldn’t be undersold that Taylen Green was just getting his feet wet and that the playbook was extremely abbreviated for him at the time. Both Holani and Jeanty combined for over 250 yards rushing and tight end Riley Smith led the receiving corps that day with 44 yards. At that point, Eric McAlister was hardly on the radar of any defensive game plan.
Both squads are trending in opposite directions in regards to injuries. Fresno State has gained back playmakers in recent weeks, led by Haener. The biggest question for the Bulldogs is the availability of defensive end David Perales after he suffered an ankle injury in last week’s win over Wyoming. For Boise State, their depth has been tested with season-ending injuries to Jared Reed, George Tarlas and Austin Bolt. Multiple players exited the Utah State game last week, including Tyreque Jones and George Holani. Jones was carted off the field after being cleated in the foot, but reports by local media indicated that he was practicing in pads early this week. Holani signaled to the sideline to take him out late in the second half when he landed on his shoulder as he dove for the pylon. He stayed out for the rest of the game with ice wrapped around his right shoulder.
I believe this will be a high-scoring affair that will resemble the shootouts of the WAC days. When both of these offenses are clicking on all cylinders, there are not many defenses in the country that can stop them. I would have had more confidence in Boise State’s defense early in the year, but in the last few weeks, the deep ball has burned the Broncos and allowed opponents to stay in games longer than they should. Andy Avalos needs three players to step up, those being Holani, Ezekiel Noa, and Tyric LeBeauf.
Holani allows Jeanty to thrive and the pass game to become a threat.
Noa, alongside DJ Schramm, can plug the second-level run game and force teams to become pass happy. Remember, Haener is not much of a runner compared to quarterbacks Boise State has faced in recent weeks.
LeBeauf is, in my eyes, the biggest X-factor if Jones can’t go. He has been beaten over the top on deep balls, but he has the length to be disruptive and cause problems.
This is also the biggest game to date for the man under center.
He has improved by leaps and bounds over the past two months, posting his most efficient performance last week with four touchdowns through the air and one on the ground. Green hasn’t thrown an interception in his last five games and has only been sacked twice.
Already ahead of schedule, he has the chance to end his redshirt freshman campaign with a Mountain West title in hand and a future so bright that sunglasses won’t help you.
This game should be much closer this time around. You would hope that both teams are near 100% and that injuries don’t play a major factor in the result. With a senior-heavy class for the Bulldogs, this may be their best chance at a championship in the near future. While the Broncos do have some key players experiencing their last year on The Blue, the future has arrived early in Green, Jeanty, Latrell Caples, and McAlister on the offensive side of the ball while Ahmed Hassenein, Gabe Hunter, and Rodney Robinson load up on defense.
Weather will not be a big hinderance as there is no precipitation forecasted for Saturday. The temperature at kickoff is projected at 35 degrees and should stay around the freezing point as the game finishes.
These are two of the most talented teams in the conference and have worked tirelessly to get here.
Boise State gets the home crowd into it early, but can’t find the play needed to create breathing room. The game enters the fourth quarter as a one-possession game and both teams trade scores.
I see Taylen Green having a shot to drive the offense down the field for a game-winning score and putting a bow on a tremendous turnaround.
Boise State 38 - Fresno State 35