Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: San Jose State vs Boise State

San Jose State hosts Boise State on Friday at 12:30 p.m. PT in hopes to become bowl eligible.

Having won in a 42-23 domination over Hawaii last Saturday on the road, the San Jose State Spartans (5-6, 4-3 Mountain West Conference) return to Spartan Stadium on the Friday after Thanksgiving for the season finale against the Boise State Broncos (7-4, 4-3 MWC). San Jose State needs to win this to reach the required six wins for being eligible for the postseason.

The basics

Site: Spartan Stadium (San Jose, Calif.; capacity 30,456)

Time: 12:30 p.m. (Pacific)

TV: CBS Sports Network

Streaming video: None

Radio: 1590 KLIV (San Jose) and Spartan Radio Network affiliates: 860 KTRB (San Francisco); 1460/101.1 KION (Salinas/Monterey/Santa Cruz); 1280 KWSX (Stockton); 1360 KFIV (Modesto).

Streaming audio: KLIV streams at www.kliv.com and the TuneIn app. KION streams at www.powertalk1460.com and the iHeartRadio app. For the Boise State radio broadcast, listen to the Boise State Bronco Sports Network via the TuneIn website or app.

Note: As is the tradition, Senior Day is observed on the final home game of the season. The 17 seniors will be honored in a pregame ceremony.

Boise State: An overview

A longtime powerhouse in mid-major football, Boise State routinely made the year-end top-25 rankings and New Year’s bowls for the past decade. Barely a decade after moving up from Division I-AA, Boise State became a national brand after completing an undefeated 2006 season with an upset over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl on January 1, 2007. The 2014 Broncos went 12-2 with a win in the Fiesta Bowl over No. 11 Arizona and ended the season ranked #16 in the AP poll.

This year is a disruption. After a 5-1 start and No. 20 ranking, Boise State fell off the polls by going 2-3 in the past five games. Boise State is currently the MW’s leader in scoring, passing, and total offense and pass defense efficiency, as well as third in the conference in scoring and total defense and second in run defense. Yet in the past two weeks, such stats meant little in a 31-24 loss to New Mexico and 37-30 loss to Air Force.

How? In the New Mexico game, Boise State scored just twice (a field goal and touchdown) in six trips to the red zone. The other four possessions? Interception, missed (22-yard!) field goal, fumble (at the two-yard line!), and failed fourth-and-1. Yet Boise State had over twice as many yards on offense (503) than New Mexico (214). Things would reverse the next week, as Air Force got 607 yards to Boise State’s 378.

“We’re probably more of what they face every day in practice, a pro-style offense with some spread offense dynamics into it,” commented San Jose State coach Ron Caragher in his weekly press conference on Monday, about Boise State’s preparation for San Jose State’s offense in contrast with the triple option offenses of New Mexico and Air Force. Earlier, Caragher responded to a reporter’s question about combining deep throws and read-option: “We’re putting in the triple option.”

Boise State has a pass-heavy offense, with freshman quarterback Brett Rypien, nephew of Super Bowl champion Mark Rypien, passing for 2,776 yards and 15 interceptions. Rypien has attempted 40 or more passes in four games this year, peaking at 74 attempts in the New Mexico loss. He also has thrown seven interceptions, six of which were during the losses to New Mexico and Utah State, both games where Rypien attempted 50 or more passes.

“They got a really good offensive line that comes off the ball well,” remarked Caragher on Boise State’s offense. On Boise State receiver Thomas Sperbeck, who has 1,289 yards and eight touchdowns, Caragher said: “He’s just very elusive, got great tremendous hand-eye coordination, running routes, creates separation on defenders.”

Bronco running back Jeremy McNichols, a sophomore, leads the Boise State rushing attack with 1,052 yards and 16 touchdowns.

On defense, Boise State features four pass rushers who have at least three sacks on the season, including defensive lineman Kamalei Correa, a 2014 MWC first-team honoree now on the Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy watch lists. The team has 20 interceptions, with senior safety Darian Thompson and senior cornerback Donte Deayon accounting for nearly half of them.

What’s in it for San Jose State?

In addition to being the sixth win needed to be considered for a bowl game, San Jose State could beat Boise State for the first time in the series history. Boise State is 11-0 in the all-time series that dates back to 1978, the year Boise State moved from Division II to Division I-AA. Even in that circumstance, Boise State upset a Division I-A San Jose State team that went on to be PCAA (now Big West) co-champions in the one meeting between the two before they came together in the WAC in 2001. San Jose State had two close losses against Boise State at Spartan Stadium: a 56-49 overtime loss in 2004 that went to overtime after Boise State blocked a potential game-winning, 30-yard field goal by SJSU and a 23-20 Boise State win decided by a game-winning field goal.

Both Boise State and San Jose State are playing for at least a share of second place in their respective divisions. Depending on Colorado State’s outcome against Fresno State, a Boise State win would give the team a share of second place in the MW Mountain with Utah State, Colorado State, or both. Currently tied at second in the MW West with Nevada, San Jose State would share second place if both win or both lose, outright claim second place with a win and Nevada loss, or drop to third with a loss and Nevada win.

Opponents have exploited San Jose State’s weakness at run defense, even when trailing by multiple possessions. Nevada got a touchdown from a run-heavy drive after being down 21-10, when most teams would prefer a pass-heavy drive in such situations. Hawaii insisted on running the ball even when down by over 20 points. Even so, San Jose State should still score early and often to the point that Rypien is forced to pass more often and risk making a mistake.

This game will be an ultimate test for San Jose State. Having lost by just one point at home to BYU, a team that beat Boise State earlier this year, San Jose State should be able to compete by continuing to play at a high quality level seen against Hawaii last week. The Spartans have gone for two games without a turnover. However, Boise State’s conference-leading defense could prompt the “games without a turnover” sign to be reset to zero. Besides the strategic points already discussed, there are character tests as well. Will the players, especially the seniors who experienced the 2012 season, show that they are hungry for a bowl game? Will Caragher finally coach his team to victory over a quality opponent? Now is not the time to repeat the same quit from last November.

 


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