Boise State at Fresno State: Game breakdown

ccripe@idahostatesman.comSeptember 20, 2013 

Boise State defensive lineman Demarcus Lawrence sacks Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr on Oct. 13, 2012, at Bronco Stadium.

DARIN OSWALD — Statesman file

BRONCOS WITH THE BALL

On a roll: Boise State has scored touchdowns on 13 of its past 16 possessions with senior quarterback Joe Southwick on the field. Two of the other three drives ended with turnovers deep in opposing territory. “They’re starting to hit their stride on offense, and that’s going to be a big challenge for us to contain them,” Fresno State safety Derron Smith said.

Tough start for Bulldogs: Like Boise State’s offense, Fresno State’s defense didn’t perform well in the opener. It allowed 543 yards and 51 points to Rutgers. But the Bulldogs were terrific on defense last year, when they finished fourth against the pass. “Fresno’s a different beast than maybe the past two (teams) that we’ve played,” Boise State wide receiver Kirby Moore said. “We need to be ready to go.”

BULLDOGS WITH THE BALL

Another spread attack: Like Washington and UT Martin, Fresno State will spread the field with receivers and throw a lot of short, quick passes to the outside to get its best athletes in space. The talent is similar to Washington’s. “That’s a highly effective offense,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. “We have to have improved from game one.”

Road block: Fresno State hasn’t run the ball as effectively without former coach Pat Hill. The Bulldogs average 121.5 yards per game and 3.9 yards per carry. The run game is a major culprit in the third-down problems — the Bulldogs rank 110th in conversions (27.3 percent). “We’ve got to be able to find a back where when we have a third-and-1, he’s going to find that yard,” coach Tim DeRuyter said.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Don’t kick it there: This game features two of the nation’s most dangerous punt returners — but don’t be surprised if neither gets a chance at a return. Boise State’s Shane Williams-Rhodes has a 23.7-yard average but didn’t get a shot against Air Force. Fresno State’s Isaiah Burse returned two punts for touchdowns two weeks ago against Cal Poly. The wide receiver has averaged 16.7 yards per touch in his career.

Rivalry within the rivalry: These two programs have taken great pride in their special teams abilities throughout the 13-year series. The speed and physicality on those plays should be at or near the peak for the season. “Last year, we both duked it out pretty good,” Boise State special teams coach Scott Huff said. “It is a great rivalry.”

KEY MATCHUP

BOISE STATE’S PASS RUSH VS. FRESNO STATE’S OFFENSIVE LINE

One of the challenges of trying to stop a spread offense is finding ways to pressure the quarterback. Many of the plays are designed to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hand so quickly that pressure isn’t possible. Other times, defenses are forced to rush a limited number of players to protect against the big play.

But to stop the Bulldogs, the Broncos likely will need a sack that leads to a punt or a turnover, which often comes from pressuring the quarterback.

Last year, the Broncos sacked Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr three times. Carr is more mobile this season and the Bulldogs have allowed just one sack in two games.

“He’ll run if he needs to, but he can buy time with his feet,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. “... (Pressure) is really important and hard to do because of the quick (passing) game, because he gets rid of the ball so quickly.”

The Broncos have three sacks this season. Washington and UT Martin, like Fresno State, threw the ball quickly to avoid pressure. Air Force rarely threw.

Carr emphasized sack avoidance in the offseason.

“I’m trying to play more physical,” he said. “In the pocket, I try to be better against pressure.”

More on Friday's game between Boise State and Fresno State

More than just a win at stake for Broncos

Bulldogs taking a different approach this time around

Boise State players to watch

Fresno State players to watch

Mountain West Power Poll

Improved ground attack fuels Boise State's offense

Brian Murphy: The end of great defense?

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