Saturday's game will be a Mountain West contest chock full of emotion. The Boise State Broncos are out to beat back criticism, clinch their division, and add one more vital win to their resume for a New Year's Day bowl berth. Meanwhile, the New Mexico Lobos are looking for the win in honor of fallen teammate, Nahje Flowers, who died Nov. 5.
When the two teams meet Saturday night at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, it'll be the first time the Lobos take the field since the passing of 21-year-old defensive end Flowers, whose cause of death has yet to be revealed. New Mexico's game against Air Force last weekend was rescheduled.
"We all know there should be many, many more chapters to Nahje's story," New Mexico head coach Bob Davie told reporters this week. "But with that said, you see young men deal with adversity, deal with tragedy and become men. It's sad, but it's what life is and how you respond to things, and how you respond to adversity is part of the growing experience. But there's no question it's an absolute, absolute tragedy."
Even with a sudden bye for New Mexico coming into Boise, that doesn't change the fact New Mexico is a struggling team coming in off six straight losses. The Lobos are 2-7 overall and winless in five Mountain West games. New Mexico has also only won one of its nine matchups against Boise State, which came in 2015 by one touchdown.
On the other side of the field, No. 21 Boise State is 8-1 overall and hoping to stay on course for that coveted bowl bid. An expected win this week would help that cause in addition to also clinching the Mountain Division. That would give the Broncos, who are 5-0 in conference play, a spot in the Mountain West championship game for another chance to prove they belong in a high-profile bowl.
But recent weeks haven't been easy on the Broncos, who needed overtime at Albertsons Stadium to upend the pedestrian Wyoming Cowboys 20-17 in Week 11, just two weeks after losing 28-25 at BYU. Still, the Broncos are keeping their hopes up and not listening to what anyone else is saying about them.
"We're an 8-1 football team making a run toward the end of the season — let's not forget that," Broncos head coach Bryan Harsin told reporters early this week. "Let's keep everything in perspective a little bit in what opportunities we have."
New Mexico at Boise State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 16, at 10:15 p.m. ET
Spread: Boise State -27.5
When New Mexico has the ball
Look for Ahmari Davis to get the rock plenty. The senior running back is really the Lobos' only weapon and the key reason why the team boasts one of the nation's top rushing attacks. The Lobos rank 30th in the nation with 5.0 yards per carry and 35th at 200.2 yards per game.
Davis is the focal point with 823 yards on the ground at 6.0 yards per run. He has seven touchdowns and seven carries of 20-plus yards on the year. When he's on the move, the Lobos are in games. Take for instance the 45-31 loss to Hawaii three weeks back when he went 200 yards. The two other times Davis has cracked the 100-yard rushing mark this season are games that New Mexico has won.
A focus on the ground attack will be paramount for the Broncos. And that's OK by them since Boise State ranks 25th in the nation by holding opponents to 117.0 rushing yards per game. Additionally, they have key injuries in their secondary and New Mexico's paltry passing attack doesn't offer much of a threat.
When Boise State has the ball
Whether it's Hank Bachmeier or Chase Cord at the controls, the Broncos should be on the attack through the air. That's because New Mexico struggles against the pass, allowing conference offenses to complete 64.9 percent of their attempts for 9.2 yards per pass.
Besides, the Lobos are solid against the run, ranking 57th nationally at 149.7 yards per game. A sharp linebacking corps — highlighted by Alex Hart, Moana Vainikolo, and Jacobi Hearn — is the reason for that. It's the pass defense that's an issue, where they rank last in the FBS at 340.4 yards per game allowed.
Bachmeier, the Broncos' stellar freshman quarterback, was a surprise late scratch ahead of last week's edge of Wyoming, meaning he's missed two of the last three games — presumably because of a bum shoulder — and was limited in the other contest. Sophomore Cord did enough in last week's victory to give the Broncos confidence that he can make it happen again against the lowly Lobos.
The prevailing thought is the Broncos need a healthy Bachmeier in the saddle for the rest of the season if they want to secure that elusive New Year's Six bowl. Who starts this week? Stay tuned.
The possibility of an upset on the blue turf is two-fold. The Lobos will no doubt come in with emotion fresh off the loss of Nahje Flowers. It's a wounded program with a real reason now to get up for the game. For the Broncos, they had better not get caught looking ahead to what is considered the biggest game of the year in Week 13 when they play the host Utah State Aggies. But the criticism being leveled Boise State's way should be enough to keep them sharp, along with hopes of making a New Year's Six bowl game.
Prediction: Boise State 40, New Mexico 20
(Top photo courtesy of @BroncoSportsFB)