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Opponent preview: How will the Broncos handle Utah State's Diondre Borel and Robert Turbin?

Utah State QB Diondre Borel and RB Robert Turbin are the Aggie offense. And they could be in for a long night on Friday.

Join me after the jump for a closer look at Borel and Turbin, a comparison to a certain loathsome QB in Reno, and some options for the how the Bronco defense might defend. What do you think will be important for the outcome of Friday's game? Share your thoughts in the comments.

10-0, (5-0)

No. 6 Boise State at Utah State

Kickoff: Friday, 7:30pm MT, TV: ESPN2

Weather forecast: mostly cloudy, high of 49

Spread: Boise State by 23

3-7, (2-4)


What Utah State's been up to

Losing, mostly.

Under new head coach Gary Andersen, the Aggies are 3-7 with solid wins over Louisiana Tech and San Jose State and inexplicable losses to Hawaii and New Mexico State. Speaking of NMSU:

All of Utah State's wins this season have come at home, which is exactly where the Aggies get the Broncos on Friday night. What's so magical about Romney Stadium? Is it the apathetic home crowd? The student section with the BYU inferiority complex? The Deseret Industries in-stadium signage? Whatever voodoo the Aggies work in Romney, they will probably need something a little stronger on Friday.

Utah State on offense

  • OT Spencer Johnson
  • OG Robert Hill
  • C Brennan McFadden
  • OG Philip Gapelu
  • OT Tanner Richins
  • TE Jeremy Mitchell
  • TE Kellen Bartlett
  • WR Omar Sawyer
  • WR Xavier Bowman
  • RB Robert Turbin
  • QB Diondre Borel

The Aggies run the ubiquitous read option/spread option offense, and it fits perfectly with the skill set of Borel. Turbin and Borel combine to form a pretty decent running game. The receiving corps is a work in progress following the season-ending injury to starter Nnamdi Gwatcham and dings and bruises to leading receiver Stanley Morrison.

The Utah State offensive line has given up the most sacks in the WAC this season, partially because they're the Utah State offensive line and partially because Borel is a scrambler by nature. All of which is to say: WINTERSWYK HUNGRY.

Utah State on defense

  • DE Quinn Garner
  • DT Nathan Royster
  • DT Sean Enesi
  • DE Junior Keiaho
  • LB Bobby Wagner
  • LB Kyle Gallagher
  • DB Kejon Murphy
  • DB Quinton Byrd
  • DB Rajric Coleman
  • DB Chris Randle
  • DB Curtis Marsh

The Aggie defense has had its fair share of ups and downs this season. A down? Giving up 360 yards rushing to Hawaii in a loss. An up? Holding San Jose State to nine points. Another down? San Jose State is terrible.

Injuries have played a part. LB Paul Igboeli and S James Brindley have been dinged up. But Anderson thinks that the problems might run a little deeper:

The Aggies (2-6) aren't strong enough in the trenches to win the fourth quarter, Andersen said.

"It is frustrating, but it is where we are," said Andersen, who is in his first year. "It's not easy to fix that in the middle of the season."

In other words: Start Jarvis Hodge in your fantasy league, people.

A closer look at Diondre Borel

The junior QB reminds a lot of people of Nevada's Colin Kaepernick because he is fast, elusive, gangly, erratic, unpolished, dangerous, and comparisons are easy. Is Borel as good as Kaepernick? No. But that's not to say he won't be dangerous.

Borel has showed steady improvement from last season to now both in his decision-making and his passing. But one thing you can't practice? Escapability on bad snaps. Actually, Utah State might practice that.


In case you forgot, Borel didn't even last the first half last season against the Broncos. He was flustered and confused by the Boise State defense, he turned the ball over and made poor decisions, and he found his way to the bench pretty quickly.

I do not believe we will see the same Borel on Friday night. I give him at least a 75 percent chance to last into the third quarter.

Borel has saved his best games this season for the WAC's best teams. See the chart below. Against Nevada and Fresno he put on a show.

2009 Regular Season Game Log Passing Rushing
9/3 @Utah L 35-17 10 26 121 38.5 48 0 1 69.86 14 48 3.4 32 1
9/19 @Texas A&M L 38-30 24 47 334 51.1 49 1 0 117.78 22 34 1.5 18 2
9/26 Southern Utah W 53-34 15 21 316 71.4 77 3 0 244.98 10 29 2.9 14 0
10/2 @Brigham Young L 35-17 20 28 213 71.4 32 1 0 147.11 16 38 2.4 13 1
10/10 @New Mexico State L 20-17 15 25 156 60.0 28 1 0 125.62 10 26 2.6 13 0
10/17 Nevada L 35-32 25 42 353 59.5 77 3 0 153.70 21 48 2.3 31 0
10/24 Louisiana Tech W 23-21 17 31 188 54.8 41 1 0 116.43 6 14 2.3 15 0
10/31 @Fresno State L 31-27 20 31 240 64.5 54 1 0 140.19 22 105 4.8 18 1
11/7 @Hawaii L 49-36 25 38 344 65.8 43 2 2 148.68 19 18 0.9 12 1
11/14 San Jose State W 24-9 7 18 50 38.9 17 0 0 62.22 12 73 6.1 27 0

We'll see which Borel shows up on Friday.

A closer look at Robert Turbin

Turbin was sort of a nobody until this season. Last year, he made a brief cameo against the Broncos, scoring one of the Aggies' TDs on a TD reception. But overall, his 2008 was quiet: 485 yards rushing and 334 receiving.

One area where Turbin excelled was in getting to the end zone. He scored 11 times in 2008, and he has hit paydirt 15 times so far in 2009.

Turbin combines surprising speed with strength and toughness, allowing him to break free from tackles and head off to the races. He's not the battering ram of a DeMaundray Woolridge or the human pinball of a Daniel Porter. He's more Ryan Mathews-esque, but in a smaller package.

He and Borel have a nice chemistry, and it pays off on the read option attack and in the passing game. Boise State will definitely want to keep an eye on Turbin on Friday.

What the Broncos do to spread teams like Utah State

Over the past couple seasons, the Broncos have expertly handled a variety of spread offenses, especially those with a read option/spread option specialty. Take a look at Oregon from this season or Southern Miss from last year or virtually any other Bronco opponent who thought that lining up in the shotgun was a good idea.

How do the Broncos do it? The nickelbacker position is a big part. So, too, is pressure from the defensive line and sound tackling from the secondary and linebackers. The scheme that the Broncos come up with rarely fails. It's guessing what that scheme might be that is the true challenge.

Who do you think will have the honors of defending against Borel? Will it be a one-man job or a team effort? The closest comparison I have to defending Utah State is how the Broncos defended Nevada. While the two teams run different offenses, there are enough similarities that we might see some common defensive approaches to each.

In fact, facing Utah State the week before a big showdown against Nevada seems like perfect timing. The Aggie game is almost a warm-up for what the Broncos will see against Nevada. Thank you, scheduling person. Ask Karl Benson for a raise.

The Broncos used George Iloka as a key player in stopping Colin Kaepernick last season. Iloka was always in position to bring Kaepernick down on running plays, and the linebackers and inside linemen were in place to stop RB Vai Taua. I wouldn't be surprised if we see something similar on Friday against Borel and Turbin.

At the same time, I wouldn't be surprised to see something different. Will Winston Venable - who has showed great hustle and tackling ability this season - be the one with QB responsibilities? Will Justin Wilcox put the onus on Kyle Wilson? Where does Jeron Johnson fit in?

I'd be curious to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Other factors

Stopping Borel and Turbin will be a big part to the Broncos' success on Friday. Here are some others:

  • Scoring in the red zone. I am not naive enough to think that one game fixed all the Broncos' red zone issues. But I am naive enough to think that two games will have fixed it. Here's hoping that Boise State picks up where it left off last week and scores TDs inside the 20. Anything less will only keep the Aggies in the game longer.
  • Friday night football. The last two games the Broncos have played on Friday night were Fresno and LaTech. Throw in a Wednesday game against Tulsa and primetime has not exactly been kind to the Broncos. I'd love to see them make a statement. This is the team to do it against.
  • Short yardage. Who will get the big carries in short yardage for the Broncos? Boise State has not been super in these situations yet this year.
  • Special teams. Titus Young's big return last week could force the Aggies to kick short or away from Young. If so, expect the Broncos to start with great field position.
  • Which offensive line will show up? Hopefully the one that opens holes. That one's my favorite.

Your turn

What is your take on the Boise State - Utah State game? How do you think the Broncos will defend against Borel and Turbin? What factors might come into play? Feel free to share your analysis in the comments.