Fresno State (4-2, 2-0) at No. 24 Boise State (4-1, 1-0)
Kickoff: Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
Television: NBC Sports
Radio: KMJ (AM 580), ESPN Deportes (1600 AM)
Keys to the Game
Protect the Football – Boise State is second in the nation behind the Bulldogs in total turnovers caused. However, BSU’s turnover margin is slightly better (2.00 to 1.67). The Broncos caused five turnovers last week at Southern Miss and will look to take advantage of a Fresno State offense that has had its share of inconsistencies. FS is just one game removed from a four-turnover game versus San Diego State. Furthermore, sure handed Robbie Rouse has put the ball on the ground in three consecutive games – losing three of four fumbles after fumbling just once in his previous 42 games.
Establish the Run – Rouse has been productive but as stated above, he needs to protect the football. He still ranks among the nation’s best, yet he has not taken over a ball game with his legs. This may be the game where the Bulldogs need him to be a catalyst for the offense as it takes on a Bronco defense that is No. 6 against the pass.
Touchdowns over Field Goals – Neither team has been stellar in the kicking game. However, Fresno State’s Quentin Breshears has fared better in 2012. Nevertheless, the Bulldogs can’t expect to kick field goals and win on the Blue Turf. Points will be a premium on Saturday, the ‘Dogs must take advantage of their opportunities in the red zone.
Pressure – Whether it’s pressuring Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick or the entire Bronco offense to score, Fresno State’s defense has to turn up the pressure. BSU has been far from explosive on the offensive side of the ball through five games. The Bulldog defense has to play relentless if they expect to compete.
Create Turnovers – The winner of the turnover battle likely wins on Saturday. Fresno State hasn’t lost a turnover battle this season but have yet to play a complete game for four quarters and have lost two games along the way.
Stop Harper – Boise State want to establish the run to set up their play action pass and ultimately their gadget plays. Bronco running back D.J. Harper is a load and five years ago he shredded Fresno State for 153 yards as a true freshman. Two years ago, he had 107 yards before suffering a season-ending ACL injury against the ‘Dogs. He’s had great success against the Bulldogs as the primary back, and he will get his final chance versus FS. But it’s not the same FS defense.
Fresno State is 2-0 in the Mountain West Conference and sit atop the conference with Nevada. Boise State is right behind them at 1-0. The Bulldogs enter Saturday just a touchdown underdog. It’s the first time FS has not been a double-digit underdog versus BSU since 2009.
The ‘Dogs have never beaten Boise State on the Blue Turf, their last win in Boise was in 1984, two years before Bronco Stadium installed the infamous blue playing surface. BSU has lost just one regular season game On the Blue in the last 11 seasons – a one-point loss to TCU last season. But FS has won twice On the Blue in bowl games (2004 vs. No. 18 Virginia and 2007 vs. Georgia Tech). The 2004 Humanitarian Bowl win over the Cavaliers is also the last time Fresno State beat a Top 25.
FS has not played very well on the road and Boise is statistically the toughest place to play in all of college football the last decade. All signs point to another Bulldogs loss.
However, this is not the same coached Bulldogs team. Moreover, this is not the same Broncos team that has dominated FS over the last six seasons.
The ‘Dogs will show different looks, especially on defense. And the defense will be the reason Fresno State has a chance to pull the upset.
FS played horribly in the final three quarters on the road against now 6-1 Tulsa and Breshears missed two extra points and a field goal. Despite the lackluster effort, Fresno State led by nine points in the second half and lost by just one-point.
Boise State is better than the Golden Hurricane. And the Bronco defense is significantly better than Tulsa’s as well.
The Fresno State offense will have more opportunities to score and Breshears will be a factor. But the ‘Dogs must play near perfect to win. BSU is an opportunistic team and makes few mistakes. The Bulldogs could outgain and outplay the Broncos and still come up short.
Fresno State 19, Boise State 21