The Broncos and Bulldogs renew their lopsided rivalry on Friday (7:00 p.m. MT, ESPN), and as usual, Fresno is being hyped as a talented, dangerous opponent. Do the Bulldogs have what it takes to knock off the Broncos? Is Pat Hill still their head coach? (See what I did there.)
Join me after the jump for a preview of the Friday night matchup and a look at some key areas for both teams. And don't take these Bulldogs lightly. They play much worse when everyone can see them coming.
No. 5 Boise State vs. Fresno State
- When to watch: Friday, October 7, 7:00 p.m. MT kickoff
- Where to watch: Bulldog Stadium, Fresno, Calif. (Capacity: 41,031)
- How to watch: Live on ESPN with Joe Tessitore and Rod Gilmore
- What to wager: Boise State by 20.5 points, combined score over/under 58.5 points
- What to wear: Forecast calls for clear skies, high of 72, no chance of precipitation
Keys to the game
Like an old-timey WAC game, Friday night's non-conference showdown may be won or lost in the passing game. When it comes to QBs, Kellen Moore is a 10 and Derek Carr is a seven (an eight if you've been drinking in too much Nevada football), and both are good enough to carry their teams to booku points.
The difference is that Kellen Moore won't lose the game for the Broncos with interceptions or bad throws or "pulling a Brandstater." Derek Carr might. He is young and brash and a little ignorant, which is a dangerous combination that can work in Fresno's favor or lead to its demise. Plus, he'll be facing the best defense he has seen in his life. Carr will have to play on the edge on Friday night, and it won't take much of a shove to send him right on over it.
I don't expect Fresno State to run the ball well against Boise State, judging by Robbie Rouse's night of a thousand one-yard carries last year against BSU. The Bulldogs will need to pass in order to set up the run. Boise State, on the other hand, will be throwing Doug Martin into the teeth of the nation's 86th-ranked run defense, so expect big things. Martin has a 30-yarder in each of his last two games and Fresno State has no qualms about making it three in a row. Martin cannot average more than four yards per carry if Fresno wants to win. If he gets to five yards per carry or better, this one's over.
Special teams has been a hallmark of Boise State's success so far this season. Guess who also prides himself on special teams? I'll give you a hint: He's never won an outright WAC championship and he has a caterpillar on his face. When you think of special teams as a key for this game, think about field position. Boise State has been on the plus side in each of its four games this year, and it has been hugely important. How would the Broncos respond if they were starting every drive from inside their own 20? How quickly would Derek Carr fold into a fetal position if all he did was start with his back to his end zone?
Miscellaneous keys for Boise State
- Force three-and-outs. Playing bend-but-don't-break defense is good for the scoreboard but bad for field position. I prefer three-and-outs or, in a perfect world, one-and-defensive-touchdown.
- Win the turnover battle. /obligatory mention
- The new guys at corner. Fresno State has an eight-pack of talented receivers, led by Jalen Saunders and Devon Wylie. And quarterback Derek Carr can get them the ball. So Quaylon Ewing-Burton and Ebo Makinde are going to have quite a different test than they did last week against Isotoner model Tyler Lantrip.
- Penalties. Go and sin no more.
- Coaching. Boise State's staff has out-everythinged Fresno State's staff for the last decade.
Miscellaneous keys for Fresno State
- Break tackles. I seem to remember a certain Fresno running back being good at this last time Boise State visited Pat Hill Valley. Bonus: Missed tackles have been kryptonite to the Bronco defense so far this season.
- Big plays on offense. Can Superman have two kryptonites? Someone check the comic book almanac.
- Win the turnover battle. /obligatory mention
- Logan Harrell. Fresno State has one of the WAC's best interior defensive linemen, and Boise State has a merry-go-round of centers and guards. Advantage: Circus metaphors.
Other things that may matter
- Question: Did Boise State's defense completely obliterate a good Nevada offense or did Nevada play like hot garbage? I ask because I feel like Fresno State poses more problems on offense than Nevada did, but I wonder if this won't matter worth beans if Boise State plays lights out.
Fresno State skill players. Just how good is this Bulldog offense?
"Overall, with this quarterback and this running back and these receivers, this is the best we've seen this year," DB coach Marcel Yates said of Fresno's offensive skill players.
Oh. So pretty good then.
- D.J. Harper. Last time Harper was in Fresno, he was halfway through a career game (107 yards) when he tore his ACL. He had 153 yards the first time he was in Fresno back in 2007.
What are your keys to the game for Boise State and Fresno State? Does the Fresno passing attack worry you? Are you expecting a shootout or a blowout? Share your thoughts in the comments.