Boise State’s game this week against the New Mexico Lobos will be one of the 19th-ranked Broncos’ toughest games thus far this season. It’s not because New Mexico is an elite football team, but rather because Boise State has yet to play anyone of note outside of Washington State through four games.
Washington State looks like a playoff contender in comparison to the rest of the Boise calendar heading into early October. In fact, the Cougars are the only team Boise has played that has a Football Power Index rating in positive integers, including the coming Lobos. But Boise State played WSU at home and won by a field goal.
There isn’t a very difficult game anywhere on Boise State’s schedule, including this week, but that doesn’t mean New Mexico should be overlooked. On the contrary, when a team like the Broncos has an undefeated season in its sights, games against supposedly inferior foes are the ones that players specifically need to get up for.
No one needs to be coerced into bringing their best effort against an elite opponent. Instead, facing New Mexico on a Friday night is when the coaching staff needs to earn its salary by encouraging and preparing its players.
Quarterback Brett Rypien is certainly looking forward to facing a Lobo defense that is allowing more than 32 points per game. The ground game has been more potent for Boise State though, led by Jeremy McNichols, back-to-back Mountain West Player of the Week award-winner. Despite being held out of the end zone last week, McNichols already has seven rushing touchdowns on the season and ranks in the top 20 in the country in yards. And he is an asset to Rypien out of the backfield. It is going to be hard for New Mexico to stop McNichols’ in this one.
On the opposite side, the Lobos also rely heavily on their running game, and it is a pretty good one. The carries are spread around to numerous ball carriers; six different backs already have at least 20 carries this season, and the unit averages a robust 6.5 yards per carry. They are led by Teriyon Gipson’s 12.9 average. The group ranks second in the country in rushing, trailing only the triple option of Army.
Fortunately for Boise State, it has made quite the statement defending the run this year. To match UNM’s potent unit, Boise has the fifth-best rushing defense in the nation by yards-per-game allowed. This will be strength against strength when New Mexico is on offense. Whichever side gets the better of that matchup will control the pace of the game.
Of course, then the Lobos still need to stop Boise State, which seems like a taller task. Interestingly, New Mexico has what can only be deemed the opposite of a bend-but-don’t-break defense. It doesn’t bend much at all, to the tune of allowing fewer yards per game than all but 17 other schools in the country. But it also gives up a slew of points. At 32.8 points per game allowed, New Mexico stands alone; no other school in the top 40 in yards allowed even gives up more than 30 points per game.
That adds a level of intrigue to the festivities, if New Mexico can indeed hold down McNichols both in the backfield and out of it, but it would still seem as though Boise State has too much talent to fall in this game. The Broncos will also have revenge on their mind. New Mexico toppled them in 2015 for their first home loss of the season. This time around, even a road loss will ruin Boise’s season. The Broncos have at least an outside chance at a New Year’s Six bowl invitation.