The Boise State Broncos are well known for bringing excitement to the gridiron. These days, however, the Utah State Aggies are doing their share of that. No wonder CBS is coming to Maverik Stadium in Logan for Saturday’s game between the two Mountain West programs.
“We need it packed and loud and crazy," new Utah State head coach Blake Anderson told reporters in the lead-up to the conference opener for both teams. “We need the student section on point — everything we can do to create a hostile environment for Boise coming in. We need help. Call all Aggie Nation to come out in huge numbers for an early Saturday kick. I love that we’re playing at home on an early Saturday morning — get up, eat breakfast and go play against a really good opponent.”
Nationally televised games aren't exactly commonplace for the Aggies, but they deserve some attention given their terrific — and perfect — start to the season. It’s a first for the program in 43 years.
Utah State (3-0, 1-0 MW) is coming off a 49-45 barnburner on the road against Air Force after opening with a 26-23 thriller at Washington State and a 48-24 home victory against FCS member North Dakota.
And all three wins have come with big excitement. The Aggies trailed in each game by double digits only to rally and outscore the opposition a combined 51-10 for the back-to-back-to-back wins.
Not bad for a team coming off last year’s tumultuous one-win season and not expected to improve by leaps and bounds in 2021.
Their confidence should serve them well against highly regarded Boise State, especially with that program having stumbled out of the gate, at least where wins are concerned.
The Broncos come in 1-2 after last week’s 21-20 home loss to Oklahoma State. Boise State also dropped a tough one on the road to UCF (36-31), a game that featured a lengthy weather delay, but bounced back from that loss to easily dispatch UTEP 54-13 in the Broncos' home opener two weeks ago.
In a total flip from Utah State’s late-game success, Boise State has been a mess in the third quarter, which has seen the Broncos blow a pair of double-digit leads. But those two losses also came against quality competition, so don't be surprised if Boise State goes back to its winning ways against its Mountain West brethren.
Boise State at Utah State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 25 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Boise State -9
When Boise State Has the Ball
The Broncos throw the ball, mostly because they have quarterback Hank Bachmeier for the job but also because they haven’t been able to run. But there’s a "burst" of optimism from offensive coordinator Tim Plough about the rushing game.
“I do think it’s gonna come,” Plough told reporters. “I’m a believer in it. Hopefully, everyone’s not jumping off the ship. I do believe that the running game is gonna come. We have talent … I believe in the guys.
“We just got to stick with it. It’s gonna come. I know it’s gonna burst.”
If it does, it’ll help Boise State immensely. Through three games, the Broncos have amassed just 67.3 rushing yards per game — not nearly enough to put together a balanced attack.
That can change in a hurry, though, with Utah State entering this game at 217 rushing yards allowed per game, the hosts allowing a whopping 217 yards per game on the ground. That average is the worst in the Mountain West and a number that's surpassed by only 11 other FBS teams.
Ten Boise State players have gotten touches to run with the rock, but not much real estate has been rolled up. Senior running back Cyrus Habibi-Likio has gotten the most work with 23 carries but he's produced a paltry 61 yards with them.
So the Broncos rely heavily on Bachmeier to get it done through the air. The junior is 64-of-97 for 845 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. His main target has been senior Khalil Shakir, a playmaking wide receiver with 20 catches for 335 yards and two scores.
But without much of a run game, the offense has been pedestrian, with the 281 total yards per game certainly unlike what the Broncos are used to.
When Utah State Has the Ball
Expect the Aggies to run the ball if they know what’s good for them. After all, the Broncos just can’t stop it and Utah State has looked strong doing it.
In the early going, Boise State has allowed 202 rushing yards per game, which puts them 114th nationally, just a few spots ahead of the Aggies in this department.
That calls for a big dose of running back Calvin Tyler Jr., a transfer from Oregon State who’s been a star out of the backfield for Utah State. He’s been a workhorse with 47 carries for 288 yards and four touchdowns, helping to give the offense a balanced attack. In fact, the Aggies are averaging more than 200 yards a game on the ground so far this season.
But wait, there’s more good news from the Utah State offense.
The quarterback situation has been solid, with Logan Bonner bringing plenty to the table and Andrew Peasley pitching in as well, such as mopping up last week after the "fearless" Bonner briefly departed the game against Air Force with an injury.
Bonner has sparkled since following Anderson from Arkansas State, going 59-of-91 for 786 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. Fellow junior Peasley is 18-of-31 for 285 yards and three scores.
Wide receiver Deven Thompkins leads the Mountain West in both receptions (25) and receiving yards (454), to go along with his three touchdowns.
“The kids deserve all the credit — they really do,” Anderson told reporters. “They are resilient and are giving us unbelievable attitudes and effort every day, and they're growing together as a family and really enjoying what they're doing, and it's making our jobs very easy.
“Stressful, but easy."
Even with their struggles running the ball, Boise State is averaging 35 points per game, which is good for fourth in the Mountain West.
And defensively, despite the 412 yards allowed per game, the Broncos are only surrendering 23 points per game, which puts them in the middle of the conference rankings.
So the Broncos are not far off from being their dominant selves.
“We understand what the standard is here, and we are about meeting that standard each and every day,” new Boise State head coach Andy Avalos told KTVB. “That’s where the consistency has to come into play. We’ve obviously shown flashes of what we’re capable of becoming, we just need to be way more consistent ... The beautiful thing is, our goal is always about the conference, and that’s what’s right in front of us now. It’s time to lock in on that.”
It helps that Boise State is 20-5 all-time versus Utah State and has won 17 of the last 18 meetings, including the last five with the 2020 matchup in Boise a 42-13 no-doubter.
But with such a solid start by Utah State, it won’t be easy for the Broncos in Logan.
There’s plenty to like about this Aggies team that wasn’t forecast to be too good. They are good.
We’ll find out just how good on national TV against a program that has been the standard-bearer for the Mountain West for an extended period of time.
Prediction: Boise State 40, Utah State 37
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