Mountain West Football Championship: Three Keys to a San Jose State Win vs. Boise State
Here’s our game preview of how the San Jose State Spartans can claim their first Mountain West football championship by beating the Broncos.
How can the Spartans shock the world again?
MOUNTAIN WEST FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Boise State Broncos (5-1, 5-0 Mountain West) vs. San Jose State Spartans (6-0)
WHEN: Saturday, December 19 — 1:15 PM PT/2:15 PM MT
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium; Las Vegas, NV
STREAMING: Fans can sign up to receive a free one-week trial of Fubo, which includes FOX, by following this link.
You can also find the audio broadcast on TuneIn.
RADIO: The San Jose State broadcast can be found on 1220 AM (KDOW) out of Palo Alto. The Boise State broadcast can be found throughout Idaho on the affiliates of the Bronco Radio Network, including flagship 670 AM (KBOI) in Boise.
SERIES RECORD: Boise State leads the series 14-0. In the last meeting on November 2, 2019, the Broncos defeated the Spartans, 52-42, in San Jose State.
LAST WEEK: San Jose State defeated Nevada at “home” in Las Vegas, 30-20, while Boise State defeated Wyoming on the road, 17-9.
ODDS (as of 12/16, via Bet MGM): Boise State -6.5
SP+ PROJECTION: Boise State by 6.3 (64% win probability)
FEI PROJECTION: Boise State by 4.3
“The biggest game in the history of our school.”
The San Jose State Spartans know exactly what is at stake when they host the Boise State Broncos on Saturday afternoon for the 2020 Mountain West football title. Those were our words three weeks ago, before the first matchup between these two teams got canceled, and they are the words of head coach Brent Brennan, who said as much while preparing for the week ahead.
Here’s how the Spartans can win the Mountain West title game against the Broncos.
Three Keys to a San Jose State Victory
1. Stop Khalil Shakir.
The Spartans defense will play a large role in whether San Jose State wins the game or not, and priority number one is stopping the Broncos’ pass-catching standout. It isn’t just a matter of one person doing their job, though, because if you re-watch last week’s game in Laramie, you’ll notice that Shakir lines up outside, in the slot, and even in the backfield alongside quarterback Hank Bachmeier. He can run the whole route tree and run a fly sweep, which is why he finished third in the Mountain West in averaging 131 yards of total offense per game.
Shakir is so important to the Broncos offense that his 69 targets is a share two-and-a-half times larger than the next busiest Boise State player, CT Thomas, who has 27 himself. Contain the damage he can do and force the Broncos to lean on their other contributors to win the game.
2. Get another strong performance from the running game.
Overall, Boise State has been just okay about defending the run throughout the fall. The Broncos have allowed 4.23 yards per carry while facing more attempts on average than anyone in the conference but Colorado State, but the game-by-game results could be telling for how San Jose State ultimately approaches this matchup. Against Air Force and BYU, their two strongest opponents in that regard, the Broncos gave up 6.1 YPC and eight of the season’s 13 rushing touchdowns.
No one is expecting Tyler Nevens to continue averaging twelve yards per carry, of course, but he and Kairee Robinson need to make sure they’re doing their part against a Broncos defense that has fallen from a top-20 unit in 2019 to a top-50 one in terms of Stuff Rate and Opportunity Rate.
Their muscle could be especially crucial if the Spartans create short-yardage situations. Boise State currently sports an 88.9% Power Success Rate allowed (third or fourth downs with one or two yards to go that yield a first down or touchdown) that ranks 122nd nationally, while the Spartans have made good just 50% of the time in those situations on offense, a figure that ranks 119th.
3. Don’t give away the field position game.
One thing that a lot of opponents haven’t had much success doing this fall is forcing Boise State to work for its points. Big special teams contributions from the likes of Avery Williams, Scott Matlock and others have had a lot to do with this, but there are a few things San Jose State can do to keep the Broncos from tilting things in their favor.
The first is to get a big game from Chris Wood. As noted in our article on the Spartans’ most important players, his touchback percentage is one of the lowest in the country and the fact that four of his 31 attempts have gone out of bounds hasn’t helped matters, either. Playing keep away from Williams is the smart move, but doing that and pinning the Broncos back may be easier said than done.
Elijah Fischer is a key player in this game for the same reason. As a freshman, he’s averaged a solid 40 yards per punt but it’ll be entirely in his hands to keep Williams from doing damage if the Spartans offense stalls.
Whatever it comes down to, giving Boise State a long field is important because, by percentage of available yards per drive earned, the Broncos have been just okay when starting from within its 20-yard line after being one of the country’s best last fall. It could mean the difference between a crucial field goal and forcing a punt.
It’s been a long and delightful season for the long-suffering Spartans faithful, but this game will probably come down to a few crucial elements. First, what can the defense do to slow a Broncos offense that, even with George Holani on a possible snap count, is potent but heavily reliant on a couple playmakers? Can Nick Starkel make plays in high-leverage situations one more time? Will his receivers create yards after the catch one more time, too? And will the running game provide the same explosiveness we’ve seen in the last two weeks against a depleted Broncos defensive line?
Over the last month, Boise State’s offense has been pretty lackluster on a per-play basis but the defense has taken care of business against flawed opponents. They will find that harder to do against San Jose State and, at the end of a season with so many unexpected twists and turns, Boise State’s good fortune will finally run out.
San Jose State 24, Boise State 23