It's a must-win situation on Thursday night at Albertsons Stadium in Boise as the Colorado State Rams and the Boise State Broncos will be looking for a critical win in their quest to get to the Mountain West Conference Championship Game. Boise State has dominated the series, winning all nine previous matchups against Colorado State, which have occurred since the Broncos joined the Mountain West Conference in 2011.
The Rams (1-1) bounced back from the Fresno State loss in "guys being dudes" fashion, as they knocked off Wyoming 34-24 to bring the Bronze Boot back home to Fort Collins last Thursday night. Patrick O'Brien was efficient in the passing game, completing 18-of-26 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns. Dante Wright (10 receptions, 146 yards) and Trey McBride (5 receptions, 90 yards, 2 touchdowns) did a nice job of making plays for O'Brien.
The defense also did its part, including a 30-yard interception return by cornerback Marshaun Cameron to open the scoring. Overall, the defense recorded six sacks and 13 tackles for a loss, and Cameron and linebackers Cam'ron Carter and Dequan Jackson each registered 10 or more tackles. Defensive end Manny Jones was a load to handle up front, with seven total tackles (four for a loss) and two sacks.
Boise State (2-1, 2-0 MW) had a rough night last Friday, as undefeated BYU overwhelmed the Broncos 51-17 on the blue turf. Boise State was short-handed with starting quarterback Hank Bachmeier out and backup Jack Sears leaving the game after suffering a concussion in the first quarter. Third-stringer and true freshman Cade Fennegan took over, and while he didn't play poorly (15-for-26, 182 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception), the Broncos' offense just wasn't the same without Bachmeier and running back George Holani. A bigger issue was the defense, however, which couldn't contain Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (360 passing yards, 2 touchdowns) or BYU's running game (213 yards, 4 touchdowns).
Colorado State at Boise State
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 12 at 8 p.m. ET
Spread: Boise State -13
When Colorado State Has the Ball
The Rams' offensive line will need to give Patrick O'Brien enough time to throw the football, which should set up some opportunities in the running game. The last time these teams met, Boise State limited Colorado State to just 90 rushing yards and dominated the time of possession battle (37 minutes vs. 23) as a result. O'Brien will need to take care of the ball, something he did not do last year against the Broncos in throwing two interceptions.
Trey McBride and Dante Wright should expect to see plenty of looks against a Boise State secondary that got worked over last week by BYU. The Rams also will need to do their part to keep drives moving. They are just 8-for-28 (28.6 percent) on third down thus far, which ranks last in the Mountain West and tied for 114th out of 123 active FBS teams. Even though the Broncos are coming off of a game in which they gave up 51 points and 573 total yards, Colorado State's offense (357.0 ypg) is nowhere near as explosive as BYU's (533.4 ypg), so the Rams need to make the most of their possessions.
When Boise State Has the Ball
Broncos head coach Bryan Harsin is keeping the quarterback situation close to the vest this week since health still remains an issue at that position with Hank Bachmeier and Sears already missing time this season because of injuries. Protecting whoever is under center on Thursday night is a key to this game. Colorado State Chuck Heater has to be pleased with his pass rush thus far, which has generated 10 sacks in just two games. On the other side, Boise State gave up three last week to BYU but has overall done a decent job of protecting the quarterback, surrendering a total of six in three games.
Wide receiver Khalil Shakir was a bright spot for the Broncos' offense last week, with 10 catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns against a solid Cougars secondary. Shakir is among the nation's leaders with 117.3 receiving yards per game, and he also has four touchdown catches in three games. Holani, who led the team with 1,014 rushing yards last season, went down with a knee injury two weeks ago against Air Force and missed the BYU game. In his absence, Andrew Van Buren has assumed the role of lead back. After struggling to get much going against the Cougars (45 yards on 16 carries), he'll go up against a Colorado State defense that is giving up 114.0 yards per game on the ground (24th nationally) and making teams work for it by yielding just 2.5 yards per carry (4th nationally).
Boise State will look to get back on track this week despite dealing with several key injuries. If Cade Finnegan gets the start at quarterback, head coach Bryan Harsin will probably put together a game plan that puts a little pressure as possible on the true freshman. The key for Finnegan will be to take care of the ball and try and not to do too much, especially if Colorado State is able to generate consistent pressure. The Rams will put together a solid effort and get this game into the second half with a chance to win. However, the Broncos will come up with a couple of second-half turnovers to eventually secure home victory on Thursday night.
Prediction: Boise State 33, Colorado State 24
Podcast: Week 11 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Parler @Scottwhittum.
(Top photo courtesy of @BroncoSportsFB)