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LA Bowl Preview: Boise State battles Big Ten-bound UCLA

A season marred by uncertainty, the Broncos now have stability with Spencer Danielson preparing to coach his first official game as Boise State’s head coach.

2023 Mountain West Championship - Boise State v UNLV Photo by Ian Maule/Getty Images

BOISE STATE VS. UCLA

Location: Inglewood, California (SoFi Stadium)

Date/Time: Saturday, December 16th at 5:30 p.m. (Mountain Time)

Television: ABC

Streaming: ESPN app

Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KBOI 93.1 FM (Bronco Radio Network)

Head-to-Head: These two programs have only met once. UCLA won in resounding fashion in September of 1999 by a score of 38-7 in Pasadena, CA.

Tale of the Tape

OFFENSE

  • Despite not playing since December 2nd, there has been an abundance of news regarding Boise State’s offense.

Taylen Green entered the transfer portal and has found a new home in Fayetteville with the Arkansas Razorbacks.

His offensive coordinator?

Good ‘ole Bobby Petrino.

Best of luck to TG10 and I hope that he succeeds with the Hogs.

On the flip side of the portal, Spencer Danielson and company may have hit the biggest home run that they could, keeping Ashton Jeanty from leaving Boise. He was able to ink a lucrative NIL deal worth $300,000, a residence for 12 months, and an upgrade on his current vehicle.

It may not seem gigantic in the scope of “big-time” college football, but it goes to show that the Broncos have the ability and resources to pony up some cash when they need to.

The last big announcement deals with who will start at quarterback against the UCLA Bruins. The two signal-callers fighting for the spot were true freshman CJ Tiller and redshirt sophomore Colt Fulton.

We received an update on the battle this week when Spencer Danielson announced that CJ Tiller is expected to start this Saturday. Fans are excited to see what Tiller has in store in hopes of him being the long-term solution at QB.

  • There are also veterans that are lacing it up for one final time as a Bronco.

Looking at you, George Holani.

Ashton Jeanty being back, Breezy Dubar looking to have a bigger in 2024. All of these storylines can wait.

Mr. Holani has been with Boise State since 2019 and has battled through injury struggles throughout his career. However, when he has been on the field and 100%, there are few as shifty and adept at seeing lanes open up.

Let’s see #24 end his college career with a bang.

  • At wide receiver, Billy Bowens had one of his best games against UNLV. Add onto that the threats of Prince Strachan and Austin Bolt and the Broncos now have a more fleshed-out attack on the perimeter.
  • The UCLA Bruins are in a bit of a tizzy, losing their five-star QB in Dante Moore to the portal. They do have experience with Ethan Garbers, a former Washington Husky, in the fold.
  • At running back, there is concern on the Bruin side that Carson Steele may be out. According to reports, he didn’t practice Monday or Tuesday. However, it is finals week for UCLA, so he could be fulfilling his role as a student-athlete. Steele isn’t their lone option, sharing carries with T.J. Harden.
  • Out wide, Logan Loya and J. Michael Sturdivant have led the way in 2023, combining for 90 receptions, 1,105 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Loya is a prototypical possession-first target while Sturdivant is a long-stride threat down the sideline.
  • Overall, UCLA is in the middle of the pack when it comes to passing yards per game with 229 yards, good for 59th (One spot behind Boise State). When it comes to the ground attack, the Bruins rank top-25 in the nation, averaging 191 yards per game.

DEFENSE

  • Boise State’s defense was flying around the gridiron in Las Vegas, holding the Rebels to less than 300 total yards.
  • Alexander Teubner had a heck of a performance, undertaking the role of enforcer in the secondary. He was also able to help limit any substantial runs that UNLV attempted to create with unique blocking schemes and pre-snap movement.
  • Boise State played with energy and controlled aggressiveness throughout the entirety of the Mountain West championship. That’s what was missing throughout the early part of 2023.

The Broncos were playing timid, afraid to make mistakes.

That’s not the way this program plays football.

  • It was of note that Danielson highlighted Gabe Hunter in his presser, telling the media that he placed Hunter on scholarship after this year’s medical setbacks due to his strength and fortitude in attempting to fight his way back onto the field.
  • UCLA has an elephant in the room that can’t be ignored.

Defensive lineman Laiatu Latu has elected to skip the LA Bowl to prepare for the NFL Draft.

The reason this matters so much?

Latu just won the Bednarik award (best defensive lineman), was named the PAC-12 Defensive Player of the Year, and is a high-end first round draft prospect.

Not exactly a small piece of this Bruin defense.

  • Linebacker Darius Muasau leads UCLA with 64 total tackles and co-leads the team with five pass breakups this season. Gabriel Murphy will have to take on an even larger role within the defensive line with Latu out. Murphy has accounted for seven sacks and 15 tackles-for-loss in 2023. When it comes to interceptions, look no further than defensive back Alex Johnson. He has registered four interceptions on the year.
  • Where the rubber is going to meet the road is that UCLA has the best rushing defense in the nation, allowing a miniscule 69.6 yards per game.

To top it off?

They have only allowed three rushing touchdowns all season.

For reference, Boise State averages 214 rushing yards each game and has found the endzone on the ground 32 times.

  • Neither team has had tremendous good fortune when it comes to turnover margin this season. UCLA enters Saturday at +1 while Boise State sits at -2.

SPECIAL TEAMS

  • Jonah Dalmas is the man. He went a perfect three of three in the MWC title game, including a 50-yarder that swayed momentum towards the Broncos.

Punter James Ferguson-Reynolds does what he needs to do. Luckily, he has been called on less and less over the last three weeks.

No concerns with what Boise State has in this unit.

  • UCLA’s punter, Will Powers, has done alright this season. Powers averages a shade under 43 yards a punt and has only placed 12 of his 44 punts inside the 20.

The same cannot be said for their kicking unit.

For the first half of the season, the Bruins utilized R.J. Lopez, but he had rather subpar results (6-11, 55% accuracy). In fact, he missed at least one field goal attempt from 20-29, 30-39, and 40-49 yards out.

This forced head coach Chip Kelly’s hand and soon after, Blake Glessner would take over kicking duties.

The redshirt junior hasn’t been much better, going 2-6 with a long of 35 yards.

Why UCLA Will Win

Chip Kelly is able to keep his troops motivated and focused despite the departure of different coaching personnel and multiple transfer portal entries. It would take a Herculean effort considering all eyes are on 2024 with the Bruins’ inaugural season in the Big Ten. A loss to Cal-Berkeley by 26 in the season finale and losing three of their last four doesn’t bode well for a matchup with a Mountain West school.

However, “blue bloods” don’t take Boise State lightly.

Kelly has seen this first-hand.

For the Bruins to stymy Boise State, they need to limit Ashton Jeanty and the running attack. This would force CJ Tiller to try and beat UCLA through the air in his first start as a Bronco.

Not ideal for Spencer Danielson and crew.

Why Boise State Will Win

If retained offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan can call anything close to the near-perfect game he did against UNLV, the Broncos have the upper hand. With Tiller expected to start, there will be some instances of miscommunication and green mistakes. However, the Rancho Cucamonga alum can spin it and with the reassuring presence of Ashton Jeanty in the backfield, the hope is that the transition isn’t as rocky as it could have been.

Defensively, Spencer Danielson’s unit needs to keep the same energy it had against the Rebels. The Broncos can’t sit on their hands and rely on the “bend, but don’t break” philosophy.

This is the reward for the players and coaches sticking out 2023 and staying in the fight together.

Getting to play a national brand and a P5 opponent in a NFL stadium on ABC in primetime.

DraftKings Odds

Spread: Boise State +4 (-108), UCLA -4 (-112)

Total: 49.5 points (-110 for the over and under)

Straight Up Money Line: Boise State +150, UCLA -180

Prediction

Spencer Danielson loves his players.

He especially loves his seniors that have been through hell and gone during their time as a Bronco.

Three head coaches (Bryan Harsin, Andy Avalos, Spencer Danielson).

COVID-19

Cancelled First Responder Bowl in 2018.

This would only be their second bowl win as a graduating class.

Saturday’s game is for the DJ Schramms, the Riley Smiths, and the Billy Bowens, amongst the other 18 Broncos that were honored on Senior Day.

Spencer Danielson gets his first win as the official Boise State head coach against a P5 program.

And the excitement begins to heighten for 2024...

BOISE STATE BRONCOS 27

UCLA BRUINS 21