First place in the Mountain West Mountain Division is on the line Saturday night in Logan as the Utah State Aggies host the Boise State Broncos. Utah State improved to 6-4 overall and 5-1 in conference play with its 26-21 victory over Wyoming last week. The Aggies are now tied with Air Force in the division standings, one game behind Boise State.
The Broncos beat New Mexico State 42-9 last week and improved to 9-1 overall and 6-0 in Mountain West play. Boise State came in at No. 20 in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings, two spots behind No. 18 Memphis for the all-important top spot among programs from Group of 5 conferences.
Boise State at Utah State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 23 at 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Boise State -8
When Boise State Has the Ball
Jaylon Henderson made his first start of the season for the Broncos last week and became the third Boise State quarterback to start this year. Henderson followed true freshman Hank Bachmeier and sophomore Chase Cord, both of whom suffered injuries that have sidelined them multiple games. Last week, Henderson completed 15-of-28 pass attempts (53.6 percent) for 292 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.
Bachmeier has completed 63.2 percent of his passes for 1,760 yards and nine touchdowns and four interceptions but has missed the last two games. Cord has completed 60.0 percent of his pass attempts for 670 yards and nine touchdowns with three interceptions. Cord has been the most effective runner of the bunch, having gained 100 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Regardless of which quarterback starts or who in the group sees playing time against Utah State, Boise State has a deep and talented receiving corps on hand. John Hightower leads the Broncos with 754 receiving yards and six touchdowns and has averaged a team-high 20.38 yards per catch on 37 receptions. Khalil Shakir leads the Broncos with 44 receptions and ranks second with 615 receiving yards and four touchdowns, followed by CT Thomas (27 rec., 410 yds., 3 TDs) and Akilian Butler (22, 256, 2).
Freshman George Holani has been the top ball carrier for the Broncos this season and leads the team with 692 rushing yards on 131 attempts. Holani and Robert Mahone, who ranks second on the team with 411 rushing yards and 82 carries, have both scored five times on the ground.
When Utah State Has the Ball
Utah State also has a quarterback situation in flux. Jordan Love is one of the most talented and productive players in the Mountain West. Love has completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 2,684 yards and 13 touchdowns with 14 interceptions across 10 games this year. Last week, he completed 18-of-29 pass attempts for 282 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Unfortunately, Love was also sidelined with an undisclosed injury in the third quarter and did not return to the game.
If Love is unable to play against Boise State, sophomore Henry Colombi would likely get the start. Colombi was 3-for-6 passing for 35 yards in relief of Love last week, and he is 14-for-18 passing for 143 yards and two touchdowns without an interception in four games this year.
Siaosi Mariner, a senior graduate transfer from Utah in his first season with the Aggies, has emerged as Love’s top target. Mariner leads the team with 49 receptions, 753 yards and seven touchdown receptions. Wide receivers Jordan Nathan (36 rec., 433 yds., TD) and Deven Thompkins (34, 423, 3) have played strong complementary roles, as has tight end Caleb Repp (28, 359, 2), who, like Mariner, is a grad transfer from Utah.
With the possibility that Love could be sidelined against Boise State, there could be an even bigger role for the running back duo of Gerold Bright and Jaylen Warren against the Broncos. Bright has led the way with 670 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 132 carries (5.08 ypc), with Warren close behind with 482 rushing yards and five scores on 88 carries, which equates to a team-high 5.48 yards per carry. Love has provided some value as a runner as well, having gained 143 rushing yards on 62 carries.
Boise State and Utah State are evenly matched on offense, ranking No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, in the Mountain West in total offense. However, the Broncos have averaged 6.33 yards per play, compared to the Aggies' 5.91 — figures that sit third and seventh on the conference leaderboard, respectively.
Defensively, the Broncos also have a slight edge. Boise State ranks third in the league in both total defense (338.0 ypg) and yards allowed per play (5.14). The Aggies rank ninth in total defense (431.0) and fifth in yards allowed per play (5.50). Boise State has been far more successful rushing the passer, having recorded 29.0 sacks this season, compared to Utah State’s 19.0 sacks as a unit. But it’s also worth pointing out that star defender Curtis Weaver, who has recorded 12.5 sacks on his own this year and is the all-time leader in that category in Mountain West history, suffered a foot injury and is questionable to play against Utah State.
Love’s health will have a huge impact on the outcome of this game. If he is unable to play, Utah State will turn to a backup for the first time this season. And given Love’s talent (he is highly regarded as a pro prospect and is a candidate to declare early for the 2020 NFL Draft), it would be damaging to the Aggies’ chances. Boise State, meanwhile, is well versed in rotating its quarterbacks and has not seen a significant drop-off whether starting or playing its first-, second- or third-team signal-caller.
As a result, odds are high the Broncos will prevail in this important Mountain Division clash and secure their spot in the conference title game.