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Boise State 101: WSU road warriors again

LAS VEGAS SEES Boise State as a substantial, double-digit favorite over Washington State. Maybe so, but the Bronco defense didn’t see anything in Week One that remotely resembles the Cougar offensive attack. And the BSU offense should also see a decidedly different Cougar D on Saturday night (7:15 p.m., ESPN 2).

But first, I have to weigh in on the season opening loss to Eastern Washington. Ok, it happened. But what was “it” exactly? Eastern gave Oregon fits last season. They nearly beat Washington the year before. They did beat Oregon State the year before that. The Cougs narrowly escaped in 2012, and this time they got beat. “It” happens. In all five games of those games the home team came away asking “what the heck was wrong with our defense.” The answer turned out to be less than they thought: Eastern was what was wrong.

The Eagles have averaged 42 points per game in their last five Pac-12 matchups. Losing to Eastern hurts the ego, but it most assuredly does not end WSU’s season goals, and those include a Rose Bowl berth. Oregon, Washington, and OSU all made bowl games after struggling against the Eagles.

The bad news is the Cougs now head to Boise to take on an offense that is, in my estimation, more talented than what they faced last week. Another shootout looks probable, but the Cougars have ability win that way if they need to. It’s also a challenge for the crimson stop corps – let’s see how the Cougar D responds. On to the 101 ...
 
AT A GLANCE: Cougars (0-1) vs Broncos (1-0)

KICKOFF:
7:15 p.m. PT

WHERE:
Albertsons Stadium (36,387)

TELEVISION:
ESPN 2

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
Boise by 11 ½

LAST MEETING:
Washington State won 41-20 in Boise in 2001.

THE SERIES:
Washington State leads 4-0.

MATT MOORE’s PREDICTION:
Cougs 47, Broncos 44 in OT

THE BRONCOS ON OFFENSE:
QB Brett Rypien: The biggest recruit in BSU history also represents one that got away for WSU. Rypien was as good as advertised in his freshman year, throwing for 305 yards per game, but he still made typical freshman mistakes. The initial season results suggest he is continuing to improve, as he gashed Louisiana-Lafayette (picked to finish 5th in the Sun Belt media poll) for 347 yards and two scores and no picks. If there is any good news, it is that Rypien is not much of a running threat, which proved highly difficult for the Cougars to handle in Week One.

RB Jeremy McNichols: The do-everything back is probably the best offensive weapon in the Mountain West. He had 1,800 total yards  last year (1,337 rushing) and scored an NCAA-best 26 touchdowns as a sophomore. Against the Ragin’ Cajuns, McNichols racked up 148 total yards and three scores on just 12 touches.

WR Thomas Spurbeck: The senior set a school record with 1,412 receiving yards last year, and could easily break his mark this season. He is more of a possession receiver than a true deep threat, but WSU was nickel-and-dimed to death last week.

Overview
Essentially Boise State runs the same type of offense Eastern does, but with the added threat of a running QB. McNichols is as good running the ball as catching it, but more of the offense is starting to flow through Rypien.

Strategy
Blitz. Or more specifically, attack the backfield. WSU lost its defensive identity against Eastern, blitzed barely at all, and relied on their athletic talent to try and save them. The Cougar defense is at its best when it is attacking, come what may. They need to wreak havoc, force turnovers, and create some momentum changing plays. Yes, McNichols and Rypien are going to burn them from time to time when employing such a strategy, but they will burn them every time if the Cougs sit on their heels.

Key Stat
12.2 yards per pass. Rypien ran a more controlled passing attack in 2015 but got the green light to go deep early and often in the opener.

THE BRONCOS ON DEFENSE:
OLBs Tanner Vallejo and Ben Weaver: The strength of the Bronco defense is their linebackers. They are quick and very smart. They will be relied on to support a rebuilt defensive line.

CB Jonathan Moxey: BSU doesn't have a lot of other experience at corner, but Moxey is a competent two-year starter.

Overview
Boise ran a base 4-2-5 last year but is transitioning to a more traditional 4-3 defense. While the new defensive coordinator being Boise's old linebacker coach has something to do with it, the change is mostly due to a shortage of proven defensive backs and a surplus of quality linebackers.

Strategy
Drown the Broncos in weaponry. WSU's defense got a legitimate wake up call this past Saturday. Louisanna-Lafayette, on the other hand, offered nothing like what Boise will face against the Cougs this week. The difference could come as a shock to the Broncos. Falk distributes the ball much quicker and more accurately than the Cajun's quarterback was able to last week. WSU's may need to win a shootout, but they absolutely can do it.

Key Stat
5 sacks. Boise got really good pressure on the Ragin Cajuns. Even when they didn't get to the quarterback, they forced short, ineffective, passes.

THE BRONCOS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Boise return both their kicker and punter from last year. Tyler Rausa is automatic from short range, but struggles as the try moves back.

FINAL THOUGHTS
* WSU won four out of six road games in 2015, continuing an unusual trend in the Mike Leach era. Three of those four wins came against bowl-bound opponents. While the program continues to stumble at home when the pressure is off, it still rises to the occasion on big stages. It will get another chance to prove it this week.

* While there wasn't much to brag about last week, the RB position looked brilliant. Wicks and Morrow combined to contributed nearly 200 all-purpose yards in what should have been a backbreaking left jab to Luke Falk's passing. If the Cougs can avoid silly mistakes, Boise State will have their hands full come Saturday night.

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