Boise State vs. San Diego State: Keys to a Broncos Win, How to Watch, Odds, Prediction
The Broncos head to Carson for a Black Friday showdown with SDSU. Here’s how to watch and what to watch for against the Aztecs.
The biggest Mountain West game of the year?
WEEK 13: Boise State Broncos (7-4, 5-2 Mountain West) vs. #19 San Diego State Aztecs (10-1, 6-1 Mountain West)
WHEN: Friday, November 20 — 10:00 AM MT/9:00 AM PT
WHERE: Dignity Health Sports Park; Carson, CA
WEATHER: Sunny, high of 80 degrees
STREAMING: Fans can sign up to receive a free one-week trial of Fubo, which includes FS1, by following this link.
RADIO: The Boise State broadcast can be found throughout Idaho on the affiliates of the Bronco Radio Network, including flagship 670 AM (KBOI) in Boise. The San Diego State broadcast can be found on either XTRA 1360 AM or 101.5 FM (KGB).
SERIES RECORD: The all-time series is tied, 3-3. In the last meeting on October 6, 2018, the Aztecs defeated the Broncos, 19-16, in Boise.
LAST WEEK: Boise State defeated New Mexico at home, 37-0, while San Diego State beat UNLV on the road, 28-20.
GAME NOTES (PDF): Boise State | San Diego State
ODDS (as of 11/23, via Vegas Insider): Boise State -2.5
SP+ PROJECTION: Even
FEI PROJECTION: Boise State by 5.7
PARKER FLEMING PROJECTION: San Diego State 51.15% win probability
There’s plenty on the line all across the Mountain West in the final week of the regular football season, but ground zero is in southern California bright and early on Friday morning when the Boise State Broncos clash with the San Diego State Aztecs.
For starters, it’s the only game in the conference this weekend in which both teams still harbor aspirations of reaching the Mountain West championship. San Diego State’s path is clear: Win and you’re in. Boise State, meanwhile, must take down the Aztecs and then hope the suddenly pesky UNLV Rebels can spring a road upset against the Air Force Falcons later on Friday.
With the nation’s eyes on Carson, what can be done to solve one of college football’s best defenses? Here’s how the Broncos can beat the Aztecs.
Three Keys to a Boise State Victory
1. Keep Hank Bachmeier on his feet.
Generally speaking, the Aztecs have been the toughest team to throw against anywhere in the Mountain West this season. Though they are second to Wyoming in terms of opponents’ passer rating allowed (114.98), San Diego State has faced more pass attempts per game (38.5) than anyone in the conference but Hawaii and they have allowed only 6.1 yards per attempt, the lowest figure in the Mountain West and tied for tenth among FBS defenses.
That’s not to say that they haven’t been pushed, though, as Utah, Fresno State, Nevada and, most recently, UNLV each had a fair amount of success against the Aztecs secondary. Giving Hank Bachmeier time to throw will go a long way toward helping the Broncos join that group, but it’s not immediately clear which side will have the upper hand in that regard.
San Diego State’s defensive sack rate is just 6.8%, or 62nd among FBS defenses, while Boise State’s 5.9% sack rate allowed is 5.9% (56th). In particular, this is probably John Ojukwu’s biggest game of the year since he’ll likely be tasked with stopping defensive end Cameron Thomas, who’s far and away the team leader with 9.5 sacks (no one else has more than 3.5, though six Aztecs have at least three). Combined with conflicting reports about Jake Stetz’s status for the game, another offensive line shuffle could disrupt the new equilibrium the Broncos have discovered if they aren’t prepared.
2. Frustrate Lucas Johnson.
The Aztecs are best known for their ground game on offense but, other than a disappointing performance in a loss to Fresno State, Johnson has been rock solid as San Diego State’s quarterback down the stretch. While no one would name him as an all-conference-type player, he’s given the team exactly what it wants with mistake-free and efficient play, completing 76-of-118 passes (64.4%) at 6.4 yards per attempt over the last five games.
Thankfully, Boise State’s pass rush has also been strong in recent weeks and now ranks 24th nationally with a 8.6% sack rate, so while Johnson has the ability to extend plays with his legs and offensive coordinator Jeff Hecklinski isn’t shy about getting his signal-caller on the move with rollouts and the like, the Aztecs have been good but not great about protecting its quarterbacks with a 6% sack rate allowed. If anyone on the Broncos defensive line can take advantage of any weak link that emerges on Friday, it could have lasting consequences.
3. Be prepared to play a long field position game.
To no one’s surprise, Matt Araiza’s record-breaking season has had an outsized impact on the Aztecs’ ability to tilt the field in their favor. San Diego State currently leads the nation in opponents’ average starting field position, beginning at the 23.4-yard line on average, and they are fifth by available yards per drive percentage allowed (32.4%). This is all to say that, assuming the Broncos can’t create the same kind of special teams break that allowed them to separate from New Mexico early last week, the Broncos should be prepared for a lot of failed drives.
The real trick is avoiding too many three-and-outs and, more importantly, the killer mistake. According to The Athletic’s Max Olson, the Aztecs also rank fourth nationally with a 80.2% Stop Rate, meaning that four out of every five drives against this defense ends in a punt, turnover, or turnover on downs. Patience, along with protection, will be a virtue for Boise State here.
This series doesn’t have a ton of history behind it, but it has always been as good as advertised and Friday’s game figures to be no exception. Khalil Shakir vs. Tayler Hawkins. George Holani vs. Michael Shawcroft and Jonah Tavai. Greg Bell vs. Riley Whimpey. What more could you want?
The game will turn on Boise State’s ability to string together long drives, which is going to be easier said than done since the Broncos have earned just 56.6% of available yards per drive when starting from inside the 20-yard line, good for 51st nationally. If they can be better than that, it will provide a substantial advantage, but they’re also going to need to score touchdowns in the red zone, too, which has been another season-long struggle.
When it comes down to it, though, the Aztecs seem just a touch more likely to create a big break for itself, whether on defense or special teams with Jordan Byrd, which has typically been all the separation they’ve needed in what’s been a charmed season. It’ll be a fist fight, but the Broncos will come up just short.
San Diego State 24, Boise State 21