Hey, it's the "biggest game in Boise State history," or whatever. Hyperbole is out in full force for this one as the Broncos face their last road game of the season with BCS bowl and national title implications on the line. Oh, and the WAC title, too, I guess.
Join me after the jump for my breakdown of the game, and share your thoughts on what you think will be most important for a Bronco win. What is the key to stopping Colin Kaepernick? Can Nevada's defense do anything against Boise State's offense? Let's discuss.
No. 4 Boise State vs. No. 19 Nevada
- When to watch: Friday, November 26, 8:30 MT kickoff
- Where to watch: Mackay Stadium, Reno, Nev. (Capacity: 29,993)
- How to watch: Live on ESPN with Joe Tessitore and Rod Gilmore (also available on ESPN3.com)
- What to wager: Boise State by 14 points
- What to wear: Forecast calls for possible snow showers, wind gusts, 36 degrees
Three matchups to watch
DE Dontay Moch vs. OT Nate Potter and OT Matt Slater
Moch is the reigning WAC DPOY and his senior season has been arguably better than his DPOY year. Potter and Slater will likely draw the assignment on slowing Moch down, and while keeping the Nevada star off of Kellen Moore's back would be nice, it will be just as important to keep Moch from wreaking havoc in the run game. He is the nation's active leader in TFLs with 60.5 for his career.
OG Jordan Mudge and OG Chris Parker vs. DT Billy Winn
Not often enough do I single out Billy Winn versus the other team's interior line when I do these matchups. But really, Winn vs. whoever seems to make or break games almost on its own. If Nevada's inside guys cannot control Winn, the Wolf Pack are toast. So much of their offense is predicated on the inside run and so much of Billy Winn's play renders all things inside null and void.
WR Brandon Wimberly and WR Rishard Matthews vs. CB Brandyn Thompson and CB Jamar Taylor
I don't pretend to know Boise State's gameplan going into this one, but let's assume that the defense chooses stopping the run as its main priority. That puts the onus on Thompson and Taylor to hold their own on their own more often than usual. Wimberly and Matthews represent an improvement over the glorified blocking dummies that used to consciously fear Colin Kaepernick's heat-seeking passes. Still, with how Thompson and Taylor have played in recent weeks, advantage goes to the Bronco DBs. The Nevada WRs will have to prove some people wrong (like me).
For Boise State:
- D.J. Harper out for season with knee injury
- Tommy Gallarda out for regular season with broken foot
- Byron Hout out for at least regular season with broken foot
- Joe Kellogg questionable with leg injury
- WR Chris Wellington out for year with knee injury
- WR L.J. Washington out for year with knee injury
What Nevada can do to win
Read any newspaper (and hurry, before none exist anymore!) and you'll likely see a story on how the Nevada offense needs to start fast. The past two years, Boise State has jumped out to 31-10 and 27-3 second-quarter leads over the Pack, and all season long, BSU has scored first and put games away before halftime. Nevada must score touchdowns early to at least keep pace. Ideally for them, building a lead against the Broncos would be nice.
To do so, Colin Kaepernick must have a great game. Pat Forde put it best in his Forde Yard Dash:
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick needs to be the best player on the field Friday night.
Forde goes on to detail Kaepernick's improved passing numbers this season. But then, perspective.
But his production has decreased each year in three starts against the Broncos, from 420 total yards to 311 to 172 as Boise's defense has improved. And this is the best Boise defense yet.
I believe Kaepernick needs 420 total yards - a performance similar to his tour de force against BSU his freshman season - for Nevada to win this one.
What Nevada can do to lose
People say the Nevada defense is better this year, which probably just means a change in distinction from "terrible" to "passable." The defense can lose this game for the WolfPack by giving up big plays, folding on 3rd down, or failing to make Boise State one-dimensional. Shoot, Fresno basically turned the Broncos into a passing team and still lost by 51. Basically, Nevada cannot win without a defensive stop at some point. You know Boise State is going to get one. Will Nevada?
What Boise State can do to win
Some people might say that the Boise State offense and the Nevada offense basically cancel each other out in this one, which I don't really buy but whatever. However, there's no denying that the Bronco defense and the Wolf Pack defense are galaxies apart. And really, that should be the difference in this one. Boise State will win comfortably if the defense continues to play as well as it has in recent weeks. Even a slight dip would be okay. When you are playing as well as the Broncos are playing on defense right now, there is quite a bit of margin of error before you even begin looking like a typical Division I-A defense.
And another thing: Turnovers. Hawaii beat the Wolf Pack by forcing them, something that Nevada was more than happy to let happen. The Broncos will win comfortably if they win the turnover battle by three or more.
What Boise State can do to lose
Scoring touchdowns in the red zone will be a priority for the Broncos. Nevada gives up points 80 percent of the time from inside the 20, but they only allow touchdowns half the time. Last week's two 20-yard field goals from the Broncos make this one appear dicey, but remember that one of those field goals happened because time ran out in the half and after two consecutive Austin Pettis jump balls fell incomplete (something that will never happen again as long as we live). I say Boise State can afford one field goal on a red zone drive but no more.
To borrow some hyperbole from the national media: Has there ever been a game in the history of football where missed tackles were more important? I don't think so! I have no doubt that Boise State's defense will be in the right position to make plays, and based on the past several weeks, I have no reason to believe that the Broncos will get sloppy with tackling. That said, let's revert to LaTech defense on Friday, mmkay?
Boise State defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski. This will be the first Nevada game where Pete Kwiatkowski will be in charge of the defense. The past two times Kaepernick has been contained were under the watchful eye of Justin Wilcox, and while I'm sure Coach K had lots to do with those gameplans, this is the first time the onus will fully be on him. Speaking of Justin Wilcox, I wonder what he's up to this weekend.
- Nevada defensive coordinator Andy Buh. Also, this will be Buh's most challenging week ever, trying to dream up a way to slow the Bronco offense. And he only gets five days to do it.
Nevada RB Vai Taua. He will almost certainly be first-team All-WAC at the end of the season, but I have a hard time seeing him make much of an impact on Friday night. Taua gets his yards right up the middle as the dive man in Nevada's Pistol offense. Boise State's strength is up the middle. Billy Winn and Chase Baker alone could clog up the middle, leaving the rest of the Bronco defense to chase Kaepernick. Perhaps the most vulnerable spot on the Bronco D is off tackle, between the DT and DE where the linebackers have to hit the hole and fill. If Nevada wants to be successful, that's the place I would target.
- Boise State's running game. It was not its usual self against Fresno, which is a testament to the great play of the Fresno front seven. I don't believe that Nevada has that great of a front seven, apart from Dontay Moch (who himself has been pretty quiet in Bronco-Wolf Pack games the past couple years). If the weather turns bad, I'd like to think that the Broncos can get away with running the ball up and down the field at will.
- Deep passes. Again, depending on the weather, deep passes may not be the best idea on Friday night. For Boise State, this is fine since the Bronco offense can adapt to virtually any means of moving the ball up and down the field (short passes, screens, etc.). I would be more worried about the Nevada offense. Many of Kaepernick's plays occur outside the pocket with receivers breaking free deep over the field. Kaepernick lacks the touch to make the short passing game work. Then again, if he throws the ball as hard as he does, perhaps gale force winds won't really matter.
- Spying Kaepernick. Who will get the call this year? George Iloka was the man in 2008 and the Broncos used a variety of players in 2009. Then again, might we see something completely different? Coach Pete said this week that the Nevada offense is a different beast when Kaepernick throws the ball well. If that is how Boise State approaches this one, you have to wonder if their defensive gameplan might look entirely different than it has the past two years. Still, I can't imagine the Broncos playing without a spy. My best guess is Winston Venable on the field side and one of the linebackers (J.C. Percy or Aaron Tevis, maybe) on the boundary.
How do you see this one going? Does the Nevada offense stand a chance against the Boise State defense? What could doom the Broncos? What could doom the Wolf Pack? Share your thoughts in the comments.