The initial edition of Pac-12 After Dark for the 2022 season will provide a sneaky-good matchup for college football fans across the country. Boise State and Oregon State will meet at Reser Stadium in a battle of two teams that are coming off seven-win seasons in 2021 and looking for more this fall. The Broncos lead the all-time series 5-4, and they won the last matchup back in 2016 when they defeated the Beavers 38-24 in Corvallis.
Boise State spent the 2021 season in foreign territory, alternating wins and losses for the first eight games before putting things together down the stretch to finish 7-5, which was still the worst record for the Broncos since 1998. Head coach Andy Avalos is looking to get the program back to the Boise State standard in 2022, starting with controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football and punishing opposing defenses with a creative, balanced offensive attack that keeps defenses off-balance.
It was a roller-coaster 2021 campaign for head coach Jonathan Smith's Beavers as they started off 5-2 with wins over USC and Washington, which looked great on paper, but the victory over eventual Pac-12 champion Utah was by far the biggest when they outlasted the Utes 42-34 in late October. However, a 2-4 finish, including a 24-13 loss to Utah State in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl, took some of the shine off what was still Oregon State's first winning season and bowl appearance since 2013.
Beaver Nation also has plenty to be excited about with the renovation of Reser Stadium, as the west side of it was imploded back in January. Now the hope is that the team will continue to play well in its refurbished digs after going 6-0 at home last season (vs. 1-6 in away games). Beating Boise State would be a great way for Smith to offer further proof he has the Beavers going in the right direction entering his fifth year at the helm of his alma mater.
Boise State at Oregon State
Kickoff: Sat, Sept. 3 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Oregon State -2.5
When Boise State Has the Ball
Hank Bachmeier returns at quarterback, which should help the offense hit the ground running. George Holani will look to improve on his 569 rushing yards in nine games. Holani dealt with some injuries last season, although he also needs more support from an offensive line that has experience but struggles with consistency. The Broncos averaged 120.4 rushing yards per game, which ranked 110th nationally, and the line surrendered 27 sacks and far too many hits on Bachmeier. When given time, Bachmeier has shown he can be productive, but he also will need to find a new go-to target following the departure of two-time All-Mountain West wide receiver Khalil Shakir, a fifth-round pick in this year's draft.
Oregon State's defense had its up and downs last season but also found ways to make some key plays in wins over Washington, USC, and Utah. The big thing for this unit is to play with more consistency under new defensive coordinator Trent Bray, who was previously the inside linebackers coach. The secondary is led by NFL-caliber prospect Jaydon Grant at safety, but the back end as a whole must improve after allowing 244 passing yards per game in 2021, which ranked 11th in the Pac-12 and 92nd nationally. The leader of the defense is linebacker Omar Speights, a two-year starter who recorded 89 tackles a year ago. One of Bray's focuses will be increasing pressure on the quarterback after Oregon State collected just 20 sacks last season.
When Oregon State Has the Ball
The Beavers return quarterback Chance Nolan, who needs to act like a basketball point guard and get the ball to his playmakers. Taking care of the football will be another key this week, as the last thing that can happen is for Nolan to turn the ball over and give Boise State life in the early stages of this game. Last season, Nolan threw for 2,677 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. Three of Nolan's top four targets from last season also return, including tight end Luke Musgrave and wide receiver Tre'Shaun Harrison. But unless the yardage or scoring output increases, Nolan really needs to focus on cutting down on the turnovers. Especially with B.J. Baylor, the Pac-12's leading rusher last season, no longer around to carry the load. Oregon State should still be able to run the ball thanks to a deep stable of options that includes Deshaun Fenwick, Trey Lowe, and intriguing true freshman Damien Martinez. The running game and Nolan also should benefit from an offensive line that returns three starters.
For Boise State, Avalos' defensive background was apparent right away last season as the Broncos led the Mountain West and finished 12th nationally in points allowed per game (19.0). This unit should be strong again, especially with so much starting experience returning. Most of the sack production from 2021 returns, led by defensive tackle Scott Matlock (seven) and edge rusher Isaiah Bagnah (six). The secondary is loaded with safety JL Skinner (team-high 92 tackles) getting plenty of attention from NFL scouts. Boise State was one of 13 FBS teams last season that had more interceptions (13) than touchdown passes allowed (12). So not surprisingly, the Broncos did very well against the pass, ranking 30th in yards allowed per game through the air (206.9 ypg). If the linebacking corps comes together, there may not be much drop-off for this side of the ball. Against Oregon State, Boise State needs to try and control the line of scrimmage and limit the damage the Beavers do on the ground to force Nolan to beat the Broncos D with his arm.
This game should live up to its billing as a typical, entertaining late-night battle out west. Oregon State will come out early and put Boise State on its heels. Then, the Broncos will fight back to make this a contest heading into the fourth quarter. By that point, this game will boil down to a battle of will between the Boise State offensive line and the Beavers' defensive line as both quarterbacks should end up playing good football. In the end, look for the Oregon State defense to find a way to get a crucial stop to fire up the home crowd and give the ball back to the offense. Nolan then does the rest, orchestrating a late touchdown drive to secure a satisfying season-opening victory.
Prediction: Oregon State 30, Boise State 24
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– Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Contributor Network.