The Broncos continue their unofficial redemption tour after avenging one of their four losses from 2015 last week when they took down the Aggies of Utah State 21-10.The Lobos were another one of the painful losses last season, and they were the first of two games in-a-row Boise State lost at home. The other defeat was against Air Force, but the Broncos will have to wait for that rematch until the final week of the regular season.
Lobos Head Coach Bob Davie was so happy about his team's 31-24 win in Boise last year, that he made sure his team took an impromptu photo on The Blue. Something that may, or may not be, bulletin board material this week in Boise. When asked about it during his weekly press conference Boise State Head Coach Bryan Harsin said, “As far as the picture goes, we don't control what they do or the decisions they make.” He then added, "It was up to them to do that.”
The Lobos had a breakthrough season in 2015 finishing 7-6 overall, and losing a close game to Arizona 45-37 in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl to finish their season. They have nine returning starters on defense, and some key offensive players still on their roster. This year's Lobos squad is averaging 347 yards rushing per game. That's good enough for second in the nation, and first in the Mountain West. They are also number one in scoring in-conference achieving 38.8 points per contest.
New Mexico's defense has been successful getting pressure on quarterbacks, and currently are No.35 in the nation with 11 sacks. Junior defensive lineman Garrett Hughes leads the team with four sacks, and has a total of 13 tackles. Senior lineman Nik D'Avanzo leads the team in tackles with 24, and senior linebacker Dakota Cox has 21 of his own. Junior linebacker Kimmie Carson is second on the team with 23 tackles. In the secondary New Mexico has a lot of experience and talent as well. Senior safeties Daniel Henry and Ryan Santos have 39 tackles between them. However, the Lobos only have two interceptions on the season, and both of them were by linebackers.
On offense New Mexico runs a version of the triple option, something that has given Boise State trouble over the years. As previously mentioned the Lobos are racking up the rushing yards, and they currently have six players on the roster that have over 100 yards on the ground. Senior running back Teriyon Gipson leads the team with 399 yards, and sophomore running back Tyrone Owens is second with 308.
At quarterback New Mexico normally has a dual-headed monster which includes senior Austin Apodaca, and junior Lamar Jordan. However, Apodoca has been sidelined with a collarbone injury, and will be out against Boise State. Both quarterbacks, when healthy, are dangerous throwing or running, but Apodaca is the best passer of the two. However, Jordan can still do some damage throwing the ball, and the Lobos have several decent receiving targets. They also do a good job of spreading the ball around when they do pass.
Many Boise State fans cringe when they hear the dreaded words, “triple-option.” However, this year's Boise State defense is running with a new mindset. Defensive coordinator Andy Avalos has brought a toughness, and attitude that doesn't allow his team to be “victims” out there. Instead, Avalos teaches his squad to go out, and be the aggressor. To defend the option it takes a balanced approach. A defense has to be both aggressive, and disciplined to have success. If a team is too aggressive, the option can take advantage of that, and one missed assignment or missed opportunity can mean huge gains.
Avalos and his defense seem to be doing a good job this season with the kind of balance needed to defend against the Lobos. They have executed specific game plans in a way that has been very effective against a variety of opposing offenses. Against Washington State the scheme Avalos and the other coaches came up with allowed the Cougars “Air Raid” offense some room, but it kept everything in front of the defense. WSU was able to gain some yardage in the middle of the field, but they were frustrated once inside Boise State territory.
In the same way you can expect New Mexico to get some yardage. The option offense will usually get some gains on the ground, but the key to Boise State stopping the Lobos will be to limit big gains on first down, and to force the Lobos into long second, and third-down situations. Blitzing isn't always the best idea either when defending the option, and the Broncos have done well this year with a simple four-man rush. That probably continues Friday night.
Coach Harsin seems confident in his defense going into this game as well, “We've prepared for it,” he said. “There's going to be one-on-one match-ups, you gotta make the one-on-one plays,” he added. Harsin also said that they looked at the option in the Spring, and in fall camp, and noted, “I think that you're able to recall that a little bit faster going into a short week... It's just a matter of being consistent, and going out there and doing your job,” he said.
Last season Apodoca hurt the Broncos on long pass plays that resulted in first downs at crucial moments in the game. Jordan also had a single throw for a big gain of 46 yards. Boise State actually held the Lobos to under 200 yards rushing on the night, but big plays on the ground and in the air were the difference.
Boise State's defensive line will be absolutely critical Friday night. If this group can seal their gaps, and stop those dive plays from achieving any kind of success, it will force the quarterback to move the ball laterally. This will allow an athletic group of linebackers for the Broncos to play to some of their strengths which are speed, solid open-field tackling, and outside containment. However, it won't be easy because of the fact that the quarterback can cut up field, take the outside, or pitch to one of his talented running backs. This is when being over aggressive can hurt a defense, and missed assignments and tackles can allow huge gains.
On offense Boise State has been sputtering a bit lately. In the last two quarters against Oregon State, and in the first half against Utah State, the Broncos didn't execute like a standard BSU offense. However, all the components are there to put up serious yardage and points. The Lobos have an experienced defense, but last week they allowed 314 yards passing, and 129 yards on the ground against against San Jose State.
This week Boise State should be able to move the ball, and success will begin with Jeremy McNichols. If the Broncos can chew up yardage, and limit the possessions the Lobos have on offense, it should give the Broncos an early lead. The Lobos offense is not built for comebacks, and big plays like last season's game have to be stopped by BSU so as not to allow New Mexico to keep this game close on their home field going into the fourth quarter.
Last year Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien went 41-of-75 on the night with two touchdowns, and three painful interceptions. Hardly what BSU coaches were looking for. McNichols had some success on the ground rushing for 128 yards, and a score. However, the story of the night was turnovers, lost opportunities on offense, and allowing big plays on defense. It was the perfect recipe for disaster.
This season do not expect a replay of 2015. Boise State is better, and they have more talent on offense which includes a veteran offensive line that should be able to dominate the Lobos at the line of scrimmage. Jeremy McNichols has elevated his game, and Brett Rypien, despite some struggles lately, is primed for a breakout game.
The Broncos defense is one of the best in the Mountain West, and they have shown the kind of discipline needed to combat the triple-option. Avalos will have his guys ready, and you can expect a solid performance from his group. The Lobos will be without senior quarterback Austin Apodaca, and although Lamar Jordan is a great athlete, and a decent passer, he will not be able to create the kind of success the Lobos achieved in 2015.
The Broncos have been playing well on the road this year, and have plenty of motivation going into this game. Yes, New Mexico will get their yardage on offense, and it will frustrate some Boise State fans. But, BSU should be able to limit big plays by the Lobos, and create some of their own when Rypien and the offense are on the field.
Score Prediction: Boise State 45, New Mexico 28