It hasn't been vintage Boise State Broncos college football in 2021. But that doesn’t mean this team is not championship-worthy this year. Thanks to a three-game win streak, the Broncos (6-4, 4-2 Mountain West) have found their way back into the Mountain Division race. They still need a lot to fall their way, beginning with a home win Saturday night over New Mexico.
"I know this week, we're gonna have a team that's going to come in here and give us their very best to accomplish their goal on The Blue," Broncos head coach Andy Avalos told reporters. "They've got coaches that are extremely, extremely good at what they do and very well admired throughout this game, and so our focus is always on the task at hand."
That's high praise for a young Lobos team that's 3-7 and coming off of 34-7 lopsided loss to Fresno State. New Mexico is just 1-5 against conference foes and 1-4 on the road, so it doesn't matter if this Boise State team hasn't fired on all cylinders the majority of this season.
"It's great opportunity for us," New Mexico head coach Danny Gonzales told reporters. "They will have a great crowd, and they have everything to play for, and it will be a challenge."
The Broncos are just a game behind Utah State for the division lead and own the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Aggies, so a late stumble could propel Boise State in front. But the Broncos also would need to finish ahead of Air Force (also 4-2) since the Falcons defeated Boise State on the blue turf a month ago.
Last week's 23-13 lassoing of Wyoming gave the Broncos that all-important sixth win to make them bowl eligible. Even though there's still more to play for, all they can do is take care of their own business, and that's beating New Mexico. That's something Boise State has done four straight times and all but once in the 11 head-to-head meetings with the Lobos.
New Mexico at Boise State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 20, at 9 p.m. ET
Spread: Boise State -27
When New Mexico Has the Ball
Freshman running Aaron Dumas has been a bright spot for the Lobos this season. He leads the team and is 10th in the Mountain West with 622 rushing yards. He had a season-high 143 last week against Fresno State, as he was responsible for 73 percent of his team's total output (196 yards).
"I ran for 143 yards," Dumas told reporters after the loss. "That's pretty on paper. But at the end of the day, we didn't win the ball game."
Indeed it was an ugly showing outside of Dumas. Quarterback Isaiah Chavez completed just two of seven pass attempts for 34 yards with an interception, and New Mexico managed a total of seven first downs.
But it hasn't been real pretty for this offense all season. The Lobos are last in the FBS (130 teams) in scoring at just 13.6 points per game, and only Southern Miss averages fewer yards per game than their 251.6.
It's pretty telling when you see that New Mexico is averaging the same number of passing yards (126.6) as rushing (125.9) per game and the latter only places them eighth in the conference.
The Lobos will likely try and stick to the run on Saturday night against a Boise State defense that has had its issues in this department. The Broncos are giving up 170.2 rushing yards per game but have tightened things up considerably lately. You also know they will pay plenty of attention to Dumas, who is averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
But Dumas and his teammates need to be wary of a Boise State defense that is second in the Mountain West in takeaways with 21, including nine fumble recoveries.
When Boise State Has the Ball
The Broncos won 23-13 last week against Wyoming, but it was not a vintage performance by the offense. Boise State put up 385 total yards, although running the ball was once again a bit of an issue and the explosive plays in the passing game just weren't there. In fact, the Broncos' second touchdown, which didn't come until halfway through the fourth quarter, was set up by an interception.
Fortunately, quarterback Hank Bachmeier and Co. have not been beating themselves. Boise State has just one turnover during this three-game winning streak and, for the season, is tied for the conference lead in differential at plus-10.
Bachmeier has been a big part of this, His overall numbers (2,711 passing yards, 17 touchdowns) may not be in line with some of his peers, but he is No. 1 when it comes to interception rate (1.47 percent, 5 total), and he's also completing 65 percent of his passes.
New Mexico ranks near the bottom of the Mountain West in sacks (20), so Bachmeier should have plenty of time to find open receivers. And hopefully, he can do this early to give the home crowd something to cheer about.
"We definitely started way too slow on offense," Avalos told reporters of last week's game. "We're going to make sure that we pick that up. That was not a good look, and we need to clean that up as we move forward and make sure that we’re more efficient."
Bachmeier has a major weapon in senior wide receiver Khalil Shakir, who is second in the conference with 927 yards on 64 receptions (14.5 ypr). Octavius Evans and Stefan Cobbs are both approaching 400 yards for the season and have combined for seven touchdown catches.
When the Broncos stick to the ground, George Holani (385 rushing yards), Cyrus Habibi-Likio (321), and Andrew Van Buren (210) are typically involved. Holani has put together back-to-back 100-yard games, a positive sign for a ground game that ranks second to last in the Mountain West (111.4 ypg).
Despite its record, the Lobos haven't been pushovers on defense. They are sixth in the conference in total yards allowed per game (349), although they have given up 29 points per game to Mountain West foes.
As bad as it was for New Mexico in the 34-7 loss to Fresno State last Saturday, the Lobos acknowledged it could've been worse.
"Fresno State was trying to score, and if we didn't play hard and stay disciplined, it could have been 70-7," Gonzales told reporters. "Our attitude, effort and want-to are still really good, and that is something we can build on for the future."
A fourth win on the year to make this team feel even better about the future might have to wait, though. After all, Boise State is still in the hunt for a shot at a Mountain West title, so the Broncos are not about to take this game lightly.
It's also senior night in Boise for the last home game on the slate. So that should provide enough spark to help the Broncos get the job done on the blue turf.
Prediction: Boise State 42, New Mexico 17
Podcast: Week 12 Predictions + Picks Against the Spread, CFB Playoff Rankings, and the Latest in Coaching Searches