If Boise State was at full strength, this would be a much different story, but they’re holding it together with young contributors and duct tape by this point while San Jose State has the newly crowned Defensive Player of the Year in Cade Hall and another linemate, Viliami Fehoko, who had a pretty good case himself.
Don’t take this to mean the Broncos will get pushed around all of a sudden, however. Shane Irwin has been a revelation as a pass rusher and Scott Matlock can disrupt in the interior, but Isaiah Bagnah, Jackson Cravens, and Casey Kline will need to bring their best against a Spartans front that knows how to help its quarterbacks get the ball out quickly. Advantage: San Jose State
This mostly comes down to a contrast of styles and responsibilities, but our staff thinks pretty highly of the Broncos linebacker duo, Riley Whimpey and Ezekiel Noa.
By contrast, Kyle Harmon is a tackling machine but the Spartans have done some tinkering among its other starters throughout the season. Hadari Darden has started five games, Alii Matau has four starts and Tysyn Parker has three. It may not be a large difference, but Boise State probably has the best player in either unit. Advantage: Boise State
Interestingly, this was one of two positions in which the perceived edge was a unanimous one. Nickelback Kekaula Kaniho, with a Boise State-best five pass breakups, may have a lot to do with this, though the Broncos have also allowed a completion rate of just 50% (albeit against a relatively soft slate of passing offenses, BYU aside).
Another wrinkle? Both team’s corners have combined for exactly one interception in 2020, courtesy of Tyric LeBeauf. Are Avery Williams and Jalen Walker getting by more on reputation here, then? Tre Walker and Bailey Gaither will test that theory pretty quickly, one way or the other, because that duo had 303 receiving yards, at 17.8 yards per catch, against Williams and Walker a year ago. Advantage: Boise State
Boise State has had some shuffling at one of its safety spots throughout the year — Kaniho, Evan Tyler and Tyreque Jones have all started opposite of JL Skinner at some point — but the sophomore Skinner has had a pretty solid campaign and won’t make it easy for the Spartans to attack the middle of the field.
You have to wonder, though, whether a lack of name recognition hurts San Jose State here. Tre Webb and Tre Jenkins have started every game as the Spartans’ last line of defense and both have had an active hand in the fact that SJSU allows fewer yards per attempt than the Broncos have in 2020. They’ve combined for 80 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and five pass breakups, so Boise State won’t have it easy down the field, either. Advantage: Boise State