The New Mexico Lobos and Boise State Broncos come into their Thursday night matchup with identical records on the heels of similar heartbreaking losses. Bob Davie's Lobos rallied to score 23 points in the fourth quarter of their battle with in-state rival New Mexico State this past Saturday, only to fall short by two points. Meanwhile, Bryan Harsin's Broncos blew a 31-10 lead with 10:53 remaining in the fourth quarter, losing 47-44 to Washington State in triple overtime.
Both teams will need to shake off those losses and refocus for an important early-season divisional battle in the Mountain West.
New Mexico at Boise State
Kickoff: Thursday, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Boise State -16.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Boise State’s ability to take care of the football
Turnovers were only reason the Broncos had to go to overtime against Washington State in the first place. A fumble return and an interception — both for touchdowns — changed the game and kept the Cougars in it. With Brett Rypien likely out for this game as he recovers from a head injury, all eyes will be on quarterback Montell Cozart to take care of the ball against an opportunistic Lobos defense.
2. A faster start from New Mexico’s offense
The Lobos can’t afford to wait to start scoring points if they are going to keep pace with an offense the caliber of Boise State's — with or without Rypien. Starting slowly on offense cost the Lobos against New Mexico State and also allowed FCS member Abilene Christian to hang around longer than it probably should have the week prior. That may require quarterbacks Lamar Jordan and Tevaka Tuioti to force the issue through the air early to test the Boise State secondary.
3. Can Boise State find a running game?
Sure, it’s not their bread and butter, but this Broncos team is not built like some of the squads we’ve seen on the blue turf in recent years. They are going to be in some close games against teams they usually beat soundly. This contest could be one of those games. To avoid a repeat of the Washington State debacle, head coach Bryan Harsin needs to figure out a way for his team to kill clock on the ground when his team has the lead. That means extra carries for Alexander Mattison down the stretch.
Even without Brett Rypien, Boise State has the horses to push the Lobos around from the start in this one. Again, however, it’s going to be about taking care of the football, getting a lead and closing out the game on the ground as opposed to extending it through the air and allowing a dangerous New Mexico team to hang around. Truth be told, the Lobos probably have a slight advantage in terms of coaching acumen on the sidelines. The longer the game remains close, the more it works in New Mexico’s favor. Look for Boise State’s physicality on the defensive line to be the difference in a tough Thursday night Mountain West tilt.
Prediction: Boise State 38, New Mexico 27
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, Bleacher Report and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.