Boise State at Colorado State: Game breakdown

The key matchups, players and story lines for tonight’s Mountain West football game.

ccripe@idahostatesman.comNovember 2, 2013 

Boise State wants to see more running from quarterback Grant Hedrick, who scampered for 115 yards and two touchdowns in relief two weeks ago against Nevada. In his first start last week against BYU, Hedrick gained only 24 yards on nine attempts, numbers that included two sacks for 2 yards.

Broncos with the ball

Start No. 2 for Hedrick: Boise State backup quarterback Grant Hedrick makes his second start and, if coach Chris Petersen’s postgame comments at BYU are any indication, the offense will look a little different this time. He wants to see more throws down the field and more quarterback runs. Offensive coordinator Robert Prince also expects quicker decision-making. “(Hedrick) has got to get better,” Prince said. “He did some great things this last game. Just his reads, getting to them a little bit quicker is going to help him. That was Grant’s first start. I thought he did a tremendous job for his first start.”

Turnover problems: The Broncos have 15 turnovers this season — on pace for their most since 2008 (26).

Rams with the ball

Alabama-like offense: Colorado State coach Jim McElwain is the former Alabama offensive coordinator, and it shows in his scheme. He runs a pro-style offense built on a strong run game, play-action passing and limited risk for the quarterback. The tight ends play a key role in the pass game, where eight different players average at least 10 yards per catch.

Pack mentality: Tackling problems continue to haunt the Broncos’ defense — and the issue came into focus when the team watched video of last year’s game against Colorado State. “One guy misses it, then there’s two, three, four guys — the posse’s right there,” defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said. “It’s all 11 to the football.”

Special teams

Happy returns: The Rams average 13.9 yards per punt return and 24.7 yards per kickoff return, which is strong production. They cover kicks well, too, and kicker Jared Roberts has made all but one kick this season.

Personnel losses mount: The Broncos’ injuries have taken a toll on the special teams — with some players missing and others limited because of growing roles on offense or defense. In the first half of this game, the Broncos will be without punt protector Dillon Lukehart (targeting suspension). Tailback Charles Bertoli is the backup.

Block oddity: Only two players in the nation have blocked two field goals in a game this year: BSU’s Demarcus Lawrence and CSU’s Shaquil Barrett.

Key matchup

BOISE STATE’S SLOW STARTS VS. COLORADO STATE’S POOR FINISHES

Neither of these teams has been able to play complete games this season.

Boise State has been hampered by slow starts, particularly in its three losses. The Broncos have outscored opponents just 48-41 in the first quarter — their lowest-scoring quarter. They have scored 108 points in the second quarter.

Coach Chris Petersen emphasized the need for better starts this week in practice by sending the team into the locker room for a break after stretching.

“We have to make up our minds and do the dang job in the first half,” Boise State senior center Matt Paradis said.

The defense has been particularly different after halftime. In the past three games, the Broncos have allowed 51 points in the first half and 20 in the second.

“I felt like everyone’s urgency went up when it should have been up from the get-go,” sophomore cornerback Donte Deayon said.

Colorado State, on the other hand, has won the first half 168-109 and lost the second 136-99. They blew second-half leads in three of their four losses. “We’ve definitely stumbled,” coach Jim McElwain said.

Boise State players to watch

JAKE HARDEE, TE

The sophomore walk-on from Bishop Kelly High has become a key contributor this season. He has five catches for 73 yards — the most receiving yards by a Broncos tight end.

“Jake’s done a great job, he really has,” coach Chris Petersen said. “He’s really smart, extremely conscientious. He’s one of those guys who stays after practice every day. It’s awesome to see how far he’s come. … He seems to get better each week.”

Hardee averages 25 to 30 plays a week. He’s in his third year as a tight end after playing wide receiver in high school.

“Just getting in there and getting some reps has really helped me grow as a player and as a teammate,” he said. “I’m having a blast.”

JAY AJAYI, RB

Ajayi, a sophomore, is 83 yards away from his first 1,000-yard season. He averages 5.8 yards per carry and is tied for the national lead with 12 rushing touchdowns.

Ajayi would be the fourth Bronco to rush for 1,000 yards in the past five years, joining Jeremy Avery (2009), Doug Martin (2010-11) and D.J. Harper (2012).

“That’s a great number for him,” senior center Matt Paradis said. “I feel like it’s a great thing for our entire offensive unit. … It’s cool to watch him run by you and then just run someone over and make a juke. That Utah State run, when he spun around, that was cool to watch.”

The one negative for Ajayi: fumbles. He lost his third fumble of the season last week at BYU.

“He’s done a nice job,” coach Chris Petersen said. “Clean up the turnovers and it’s a really nice job.”

TRAVIS AVERILL, RT

Less than a month ago, the redshirt freshman was the backup center with little hope of playing significant snaps this season.

On Saturday, he likely will make his first career start — as the latest right tackle.

Averill replaced fellow freshman Steven Baggett on the third series last week at BYU and finished the game. Now it’s Averill’s turn to fill in for injured starter Rees Odhiambo (week to week) and injured backup Jake Broyles (out for the year).

“He’s not necessarily a tackle,” coach Chris Petersen said. “He’s pretty sharp and he battles hard. He’s a physical player.”

Colorado State players to watch

KAPRI BIBBS, RB

The junior college transfer has rushed for 554 yards and nine touchdowns in the past four games as he has emerged as the Rams’ featured back. He has 62 carries in the past two games; he had 65 in the first six games.

“Kapri’s a talented guy who runs behind his pads and has great timing and patience,” Colorado State coach Jim McElwain said. “He’s really grown as a young man.”

At a high school outside Chicago, Bibbs rushed for 61 touchdowns in his last two seasons combined and set state records with 520 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in one game. He played at Snow College in Utah in 2011 and took classes at Front Range Community College in Colorado in 2012 before joining the Rams.

Bibbs is one of three Rams running backs with at least 295 rushing yards this season.

“Their line is good,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. “They do a nice job of getting on guys and playing physical, and then (Bibbs) packs a punch with him.”

GARRETT GRAYSON, QB

Grayson is in his first season as the full-time starter for the Rams. He started three games as an injury replacement in 2011 and five games in 2012, when he was named the starter out of fall camp but got hurt in late September.

He already has thrown for more yards this season (1,847) than any Colorado State quarterback since 2008. He has 14 touchdown passes and six interceptions. He doesn’t run much now, but he came to Fort Collins as a dual threat and rushed for 193 yards as a freshman. His mission: Don’t lose the game.

“Take what the defense gives you — eventually they give you the game,” coach Jim McElwain said of what he expects. “Making the other team earn it, not giving the ball away.”

SHAQUIL BARRETT, DE

Barrett’s production has dropped off because of an injury. If he’s healthy, he’s one of the Mountain West’s most dynamic defensive players — and, for at least some of the game, he likely will face a freshman right tackle making his first start. Barrett has 7.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss, an interception and two forced fumbles.

“When he’s got 1-on-1 with the tackle, it’s not good for the tackle,” Boise State offensive coordinator Robert Prince said.

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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