Boise State at Utah State: Game breakdown

The matchups, players and trends to watch during tonight’s game.

ccripe@idahostatesman.comOctober 12, 2013 

Jack Fields ran for a season-high 46 yards and his first collegiate touchdown Sept. 28 against Southern Miss.

KYLE GREEN — Statesman file

BRONCOS WITH THE BALL

Rising sacks total: The Broncos have allowed seven sacks in the past two games and nine this season. They allowed 10 last year, the fifth straight year that they finished in the national top 10 in sack prevention. They’re 62nd this year. “To me, there’s nothing that shows up different from what it’s been in the past, protection-wise,” offensive line coach Chris Strausser said.

Multiplicity: The Aggies lead the Mountain West in total defense, scoring defense and rushing defense. They use a 3-4 scheme that allows the flexibility that can confuse opponents. “They’re multiple — I think that’s almost an understatement,” Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick said. “Their playbook is pretty thick, probably as thick as we’ve seen so far.”

AGGIES WITH THE BALL

It comes in threes: Utah State has lost three offensive starters in the past two games — quarterback Chuckie Keeton, tailback Joe Hill and offensive lineman Kyle Whimpey. They don’t expect to make many changes to accommodate the new quarterback. “It’s game seven of the season,” coach Matt Wells said. “These guys have been using the same system since they got here.”

Turnover time: Boise State has forced 11 turnovers this season, but six of those takeaways came in one game, against Football Championship Subdivision member UT Martin. “We’ve got to be able to create turnovers,” defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said. “We can’t just rely on offenses to give us the ball.”

SPECIAL TEAMS

A showdown in the kicking game: Boise State is off to a strong start on special teams this season — producing a bevy of big plays, including two blocked field goals, a couple of long kickoff returns and consistently productive punt returns without allowing much in coverage. Utah State, though, has one of the nation’s most experienced teams, and it shows on special teams. The kickoff coverage is dominant. “Huge challenge for us,” Boise State special teams coach Scott Huff said. “And they have been really good for a lot of years now.”

No worries for Goodale: Boise State kicker Dan Goodale missed two PATs against Southern Miss. However, neither was his fault, Huff said. One was a protection issue and the other a hold issue.

TODAY’S KEY MATCHUP

BOISE STATE’S YOUNG TEAM VS. A SOLD-OUT CROWD

The Broncos are 3-0 at home and 0-2 on the road this season. It’s the first time they’ve lost two road games since 2007 (Washington, Hawaii).

Utah State expects its third straight sellout crowd — a program first. It’s a whiteout, too.

“It’s never as good as playing at home — that’s the bottom line,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. “It feels much different. We’ve just got to be able to handle noise. It just comes down to executing and being able to handle noise.”

The Broncos admittedly didn’t handle the hostile environment well in the opener at Washington. When adversity struck early in the second half, a tight game turned into a rout.

They adjusted much better in the second road game, at Fresno State. The Bulldogs took a 34-19 lead in the third quarter and the Broncos answered with three straight touchdowns to take the lead.

“It was a little different feel for sure, from Washington to on the road at Fresno,” senior quarterback Joe Southwick said. “Some of the young guys handled it a little better. There was more energy. We were down in Fresno and we kept swinging and fought our way back into that game. That’s something to be really proud of.”

BOISE STATE PLAYERS TO WATCH

TAYLOR LOFFLER, Safety

The sophomore sat out the first two years of his college career with torn anterior cruciate ligaments. He tore the ACL in his right knee in high school and re-tore it at Boise State. Now he’s finally living his college football dream — starting on three special teams units. He already has won the Hammer once.

“It’s been great to finally get back out there,” he said. “I was hurt for two years. Being able to come back, it’s just such a good feeling. Watching your teammates out there is one of the hardest things and being out there with your team is one of the best things.”

Loffler (6-foot-3, 212 pounds) could see more action on defense the rest of the season, too. He began the season as a third-teamer but the season-ending injury to backup Ebo Makinde elevated Loffler to the backup spot at rover, behind Jeremy Ioane.

“I went from reps here and there to going consistently with the twos,” he said. “So I’m getting a lot more reps. … It’s hard being injured — I went through it — but, yeah, it’s a big opportunity to step in and take reps.”

JACK FIELDS, tailback

Coach Chris Petersen has raved about Fields since he arrived in the summer of 2012, but the emergence of Jay Ajayi last year and Aaron Baltazar this year prevented Fields from getting much of a chance in the backfield.

That could change this week, with Baltazar sidelined for the rest of the season with a torn ACL.

Fields has 27 carries for 91 yards — mostly in a mop-up role.

“All the guys in our running back room are capable of playing,” Fields said. “... I feel really good about the offense and where I fit. I understand the concepts and what we’re trying to get done.”

TROY WARE, wide receiver

Ware, whose dad played at USC and in the NFL, grayshirted in 2010, redshirted in 2011 and didn’t make a catch in 2012. His opportunity arrived three weeks ago at Fresno State, where he scored on his first college catch. He has played on the outside and in the slot to help fill injury voids. The key to more playing time, he said, is speed. “I know I’m fast enough to make a difference, but playing fast,” he said.

UTAH STATE PLAYERS TO WATCH

KYLER FACKRELL & CO., linebackers

Utah State’s Mountain West-leading defense is led by an outstanding corps of linebackers. Fackrell, a sophomore, was a first-team All-WAC pick last year. He has 41 tackles, eight tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and four sacks this season. Junior Zach Vigil, a second-team All-WAC pick last year, has 57 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. And senior Jake Doughty, who made All-WAC last year, has 64 tackles and five tackles for loss.

“They’re good at movement,” Boise State senior left tackle Charles Leno Jr. said. “The D-line moves really well and it cleans up the lanes for the linebackers to run right through.”

TRAVIS VAN LEEUWEN AND TRAVIS REYNOLDS, wide receivers

Van Leeuwen has 24 catches for 308 yards and two touchdowns this season — all career highs. Reynolds has 25 catches for 353 yards and three touchdowns — also career highs.

The two seniors will need to stabilize the passing game with quarterback Chuckie Keeton injured.

“I’ve been happy with the (wide receivers) group and the leadership of both Travises,” coach Matt Wells said. “They’ve made a lot of contested catches.”

Reynolds tells his younger teammates how fortunate they are to play for the Aggies in an era of success.

“Winning college football is very hard — nothing is given to you,” he said. “We were winning three or four games (early in my career). That’s the best part — going from nothing to something successful.”

CRAIG HARRISON AND DARELL GARRETSON, quarterbacks

Harrison and Garretson competed in practice this week to replace injured starter Chuckie Keeton, who is out for the year. Harrison replaced Keeton last week against BYU and struggled. Garretson was on a redshirt track but those plans appear over.

“We’re trying to give both of them an opportunity to show that they can lead the offense,” Utah State offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven told The Salt Lake Tribune. “... The game plan doesn’t change for either one of them. Both of them are going to have to rely on the linemen and the skill guys around them to play well. Hopefully that happens, and one of these guys will be ready to manage the offense.”

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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