Aggies Present Matchup Problems for Broncos

On paper, tonight's game between Boise State and New Mexico State appears one-sided. Or does it? The weaknesses of this Aggie team may not be exploited by this year's Broncos. Add in the fact that the 2006 Boise State team, far more respected in the nation than this year's Broncos, had to struggle in Las Cruces before finally winning 40-28.

Boise State will try to atone for a poor performance two years ago in Las Cruces, New Mexico when the Broncos challenge New Mexico State tonight.


Aggie Coach Hal Mumme (105-93-1) is in his 17th year as a head coach.  Mumme's team is still trying to recover from an embarrassing 20-14 loss to Idaho last week.  The Moscow school had not beaten a major college team in two years until the victory over New Mexico State.


When you play a trap game such as this one, however, you want to be careful not to take your opponent lightly.  The Fiesta Bowl team of 2006 waltzed to an early lead and then took the lead for granted before finally holding off New Mexico State 40-28.  Current Aggie quarterback Chase Holbrook torched the Bronco secondary for 526 yards in that game, just 20 yards shy of the school record.  Holbrook, who hit 49 of 65 passes in the battle, connected on 16 straight during one stretch.  The Aggie signal caller broke a school record by hitting 78.7% of his passes in the loss last week.  Holbrook has a chance of breaking no less than nine NCAA records this season.  He has already thrown for 10,547 yards and 76 touchdowns in his career. 


There are plenty of reasons why Boise State has matchup problems this year with the Aggies.


New Mexico State allowed 271 rushing yards against Idaho last week and has been vulnerable all year.  Problem is, Boise State is not one of the best running teams in the land; in fact they rank all the way down at 62nd.  Bronco fans would hope the team would do a little better on the ground against the Aggies, but that's not a given.  Their weakness is also New Mexico State's weakness.


One bright spot for the Aggies has been senior free safety Derrick Richardson, who leads the nation with 81 tackles.  In fact, the Aggie secondary is the strength of the team.  The passing game of Boise State also happens to be theirs.  In four of New Mexico State's games, the Aggie defense has held its opponent to under 100 yards passing.  NMSU is #1 in the nation in pass defense, allowing just 126.3 yards per game.  Alphonso Powell is a rising star in the defensive backfield as well with 48 tackles, four tackles for loss, an interception and three pass breakups.  Linebacker Nick Paden (65 tackles on the season) is also a dangerous coverage man with two interceptions and a pass breakup.  Bronco quarterback Kellen Moore may want to keep an eye on Paden. 


What happens when you have not been able to run and New Mexico State halts the passing game?  Well, I guess you would punt.  Oops, another problem there—New Mexico State is 7th in the country in punt returns.


According to Mumme, the defense "is playing well, especially up front."  Senior La'Auli Fonoti has moved to nose guard and has done very well, racking up 32 tackles and two tackles for loss.


Offensively, New Mexico State is an enigma.  They rank sixth in the country with 324.1 passing yards but have a losing record.  However, Chris Williams will challenge the talented Bronco secondary.  He has amazing speed and if he gets past someone, it's touchdown New Mexico State.  He will often draw double coverage, opening up holes elsewhere.  Williams aggravated Boise State's great secondary in 2006 with 13 catches for 191 yards.  He is the all-time school leader in receiving yards (3,048), has 15 100-yard receiving games and has caught 214 passes for 27 touchdowns.


The main guy to benefit from too much attention focused on Williams has been A.J. Harris, the career leader in receptions with 237.  He also has 15 touchdowns in his four years at Las Cruces and recorded 81 receptions last season.


The Aggies are now out of the race for the Western Athletic Conference title and will be hard-pressed to make a postseason bowl game because of the loss to Idaho. 


The Broncos, meanwhile, have the best conference record since 2002, the best home winning percentage since 2003, are the nation's winningest program this decade and have the nation's second highest winning percentage away from home since 2003.  Boise State is 34-5 when nationally-ranked.  The five losses are to top-five Louisville in the 2004 Liberty Bowl, top-five Georgia to open the 2005 season and the three disappointments of last season—Sugar Bowl-bound Hawai'i, Washington and East Carolina in the Hawai'i Bowl.


Kickoff for the game is set for 5 p.m. Boise time and will be televised by KTVB.

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