The Boise State Broncos overcame a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit at Colorado State last week, and escaped with a 59-52 overtime victory to remain the only undefeated team in Mountain West Conference play. As a result, the Broncos (8-2, 6-0 MW) in conference, have an opportunity to wrap up the Mountain Division title Saturday against Air Force. A victory over the Falcons would secure Boise State its first conference championship game appearance since 2014 — but it won’t come easy. Air Force (4-6, 3-3) is playing to stay in bowl contention, and also has a three-game winning streak in the series.
Air Force at Boise State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 18 at 10:15 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Boise State -17.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Strength vs. strength
As usual, Air Force ranks among the nation’s leaders in rushing offense. The Falcons have averaged 310.1 rushing yards per game this season, which leads the Mountain West and ranks fifth in the country. It’s been a team effort: seven (!) players have gained 200 or more yards so far. Quarterback Arion Worthman leads the way with 821 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground, followed by running back Timothy McVey, who has 684 yards with six TDs on 114 carries. Ronald Cleveland, the team’s second-leading receiver, has gained an outstanding 9.7 yards per carry while racking up 379 rushing yards and three scores. Overall, the Falcons average a steady 4.91 yards per carry.
It’s never easy to defend Air Force’s option attack (the Falcons have averaged 309.7 rushing yards during their three-year winning streak against Boise State), but the Broncos are suited to stop the run. Boise State ranks second in the Mountain West in rushing defense (121.9 ypg), which also ranks among the top 20 in the country. The Broncos have held five separate opponents to fewer than 100 yards on the ground this season, most impressively a San Diego State squad led by the nation’s second-leading rusher, Rashaad Penny. However, Colorado State exposed the Boise State last week and racked up 261 rushing yards and 5.0 yards per carry one week after Nevada averaged 4.9 yards per attempt. Overall, the Broncos have limited opponents to 3.47 yards per carry.
Simply put, Worthman is the MVP of the Air Force offense. Not only has been the busiest ball carrier on the team (103 more carries than anyone else) with twice as many rushing touchdowns (13 vs. 6), he’s also capable of making big plays with his arm. Air Force ranks fifth nationally with an average of 9.9 yards per pass attempt, and though Worthman has completed just 49.5 percent of those attempts, he has 1,100 passing yards and 10 touchdowns with only four interceptions.
Boise State has its own playmaking quarterback. Actually, it has two as backup/red zone signal-caller Montell Cozart has accounted for 684 passing yards and a 9:1 TD-to-interception ratio along with 329 rushing yards and four scores (both of which rank second on the team). Starter Brett Rypien has completed 63.0 percent of his passes for 1,691 yards and 11 touchdowns with four interceptions this season. Rypien, who averages 7.4 yards per pass, struggled early in the season and missed a game due to injury, but has returned to his previous All-Mountain West form in recent weeks. Over his last three games, Rypien has completed 62 of 97 attempts (63.9 percent) for 849 yards and nine touchdowns with just one interception.
3. Boise State RB Alexander Mattison
Rypien’s resurgence is a big reason for Boise State’s improved offensive performance over the past three weeks, during which the Broncos have averaged 47 points and 551 yards of total offense per game, but Mattison also deserves a great deal of credit. The sophomore posted a career-high 242 rushing yards and three touchdowns last week against Colorado State, including a four-yard TD in overtime that proved to be the game-winner. It was the fourth time this season in which Mattison surpassed 100 rushing yards. Overall, he has 919 rushing yards (fifth in the Mountain West) on 163 carries (5.6 ypc) with 10 touchdowns on the ground (fourth). Mattison also is a valuable receiver with 21 receptions for 204 yards and a touchdown.
Not only is Mattison running well, he’s set to face a struggling Air Force run defense that has surrendered 234.7 rushing yards per game this season — worst in the Mountain West and 122nd in the nation. While the numbers are slightly skewed given the Falcons have played fellow option teams Army, Navy and New Mexico (allowing an average of 408.7 rushing yards while going 0-3 in those games), Air Force has surrendered an ugly 5.97 yards per carry this season — worst among all 129 FBS teams.
The Falcons have had Boise State’s number in each of the last three seasons, so there is plenty of reason to believe in an upset. However, the Broncos have been one of the best in the Mountain West in slowing down opponents on the ground. Also, Brett Rypien and Alexander Mattison have been two of the best offensive performers in the conference in recent weeks, while Air Force has struggled mightily against the run. The Falcons need a win to keep their bowl hopes alive, but Boise State is gunning for a division title. Expect the Broncos to get it.
Prediction: Boise State 42, Air Force 24
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, a member of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.