Boise State defensive coordinator talks Utah State
On one end of the spectrum was the quintessential picture of elation. On the other side of Maverik Stadium was a disheartening image of defeat.
Then-No. 21 Boise State traveled to Logan, Utah, on Oct. 17, 2015, to face a Utah State squad desperate for a win. The Aggies had not beaten the Broncos since 1997, a streak that spanned 12 games. Utah State had been outscored by an average of 29 points per contest in its past five meetings with Boise State.
If the Broncos are the gold standard of underdogs trying to make their mark on the national stage, the Aggies were hoping to join them at the table by shoving them to the side. If only for a fleeting moment, it looked like they finally found a seat.
Utah State forced seven first-half turnovers en route to a 52-26 thrashing of Boise State. When the clock hit zero, players ran to midfield to embrace ecstatic fans. You could have sworn the Aggies had won the national championship.
Bronco players, on the other hand, walked toward the vistors’ locker room, heads down in utter disbelief.
Utah State defensive lineman Ricky Ali’ifua fondly remembers his teammates’ smiles.
“With what they had done to us the year previous (a 50-19 BSU victory), it was definitely a huge win,” Ali’ifua said. “Our postgame was just a genuine happiness.”
But defeating Boise State didn’t necessarily catapult the Aggies to the heights they imagined. In reality, it might have had the opposite effect.
After what Aggies head coach Matt Wells deemed “an unbelievable win for our program,” Utah State stumbled to a 2-5 finish, ended last year 6-7 and started this season 2-2. All four teams that beat Boise State in 2015 suffered setbacks that lingered for multiple weeks.
BYU shocked Boise State with a late Tanner Mangum heave that sent Provo into a frenzy. The Cougars lost their next two games.
New Mexico triple-optioned its way to a victory at Albertsons Stadium that inspired the Lobos to snap photos on The Blue after their first win over the Broncos in seven meetings. They immediately threw up a clunker against Colorado State, losing 28-21, and dropped two of their final three games.
Air Force represented the Mountain Division in the Mountain West Championship after beating the Broncos. The Falcons lost their final three games of the season by an average of 11.3 points, including a 27-24 defeat to West Division champ San Diego State in the MW title game. Overall, Mountain West teams that defeated Boise State 2015 combined to go 3-10 after taking down the Broncos.
Teams outside of Power Five conferences have circled Boise State on their calendars for years, but usually to no avail. When the opportunity to take the Broncos down arrives, it means something. To be the “Next Boise State,” you have to beat Boise State.
“It was so big because to win the Mountain West, you had to knock (Boise State) off the throne. They were the big guys,” said quarterback Kent Myers, who accounted for four touchdowns in last year’s game. “Once we beat them, I think we just really thought we had (the division) in the bag.”
Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin has seen both sides of the emotional upset coin, having witnessed the Aggies and Lobos celebrate at his expense while also pulling off his own unexpected victories as a member of the Broncos’ staff. He believes there is something to be said for emotional letdowns after monumental victories.
“That certainly happens. We’re all human. And I think sometimes you can get caught up a little bit,” Harsin said. “You see that in sports in general. When there’s a big win, and all of a sudden you think this team is on this next step or this roll and, all of a sudden, it’s a negative the next week. I think that’s the hard thing.”
The team breathed a sigh of relief after taking down the Broncos, according to Ali’ifua. The Aggies finally slayed the beast; how hard could the rest of the schedule be?
“A lot of it was just us getting comfortable with the win. We got a bit complacent. Our heads were still, in a sense, in the clouds,” Ali’ifua said. “It as a tough lesson to learn. But it was a much needed lesson for the program.”
Finishing games was a point of focus for Utah State in the offseason. Of the five losses the Aggies endured after their Boise State win, three were decided by a touchdown or less.
In addition, Utah State players have tried to keep last year’s victory over the Broncos in perspective. As exciting as it was, that was almost 12 months ago. Different year, different team. As Ali’ifua, Myers and the rest of the Aggies learned, one win doesn’t make a season.
“No motivational speech has to hype me up. To win the Mountain West, we have to go through them,” Myers said. “This is not last year’s Boise team. We beat last year’s Boise team. The (Utah State) logo did. Not this team.”
Utah State at No. 24 Boise State
- When: 8:15 p.m. Saturday
- Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf), Boise
- TV: ESPN2 (Roy Philpott, Tom Ramsey, Alex Corddry). ESPN2 can be found on Cable One (channel 134 or 1134 for HD), DirecTV (209) and Dish (143)
- Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender).
- Records: Boise State 3-0 (0-0 Mountain West); Utah State 2-2 (0-1 Mountain West)
- Kickoff weather: High 60s and mostly sunny, no chance of precipitation
- Vegas line: BSU favored by 20 1/2
- All-time series: Boise State leads 15-5
- Last five meetings: 2015 — USU def. BSU 52-26; 2014 — BSU def. USU 50-19; 2013 — BSU def. USU 34-23; 2010 — BSU def. USU 50-14; 2009 — BSU def. USU 52-21.
- Years as FBS-level program: Boise State (21), Utah State (102)
- Bowl appearances: Boise State 16 (11-5); Utah State 10 (4-6)
- Number of times ranked in the AP Poll and highest ranking, according to Sports-Reference.com: Boise State — 128 weeks ranked (high of No. 2 in 2010); Utah State — seven weeks ranked (high of No. 10 in 1961)
- Did you know? In its 15 all-time wins against Utah State, Boise State is averaging 44.3 points per game. In five losses to the Aggies, the Broncos have averaged 17.2 points per game.
- Next road game: at New Mexico, Friday, Oct. 7, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Utah State’s results since beating Boise State on Oct. 17, 2015 — 4-7 overall, 2-4 against Mountain West foes:
Oct. 23, 2015
at San Diego State
Oct. 30, 2015
Nov. 7, 2015
at New Mexico
Nov. 14, 2015
at Air Force
Nov. 21, 2015
Nov. 28, 2015
Dec. 22, 2015
Sept. 1, 2016
Sept. 10, 2016
Sept. 16, 2016
Sept. 24, 2016
*Famous Idaho Potato Bowl at Albertsons Stadium
Utah State at a glance
- Nickname: Aggies
- Location: Logan, Utah
- Head coach: Matt Wells (27-18 overall, fourth year)
- This year’s record: 2-2, 0-1 Mountain West (lost to Air Force on Sept. 24, 27-20)
Wells’ team lost a tight home game to Air Force last Saturday, 27-20. The Aggies have just one win over an FBS opponent this year, beating Arkansas State 34-20 on Sept. 16. Utah State’s other victory came against Big Sky member Weber State.
The Aggies defeated then-No. 21 Boise State last year for their first win in the series since 1997, forcing seven first-half turnovers in a 52-26 rout. They are 4-7 since.
Led by dual-threat quarterback Kent Myers (four touchdowns vs. BSU in 2015), the Aggies average 382.3 yards of offense per game. The team features four different players with at least 100 yards rushing this season (Myers, Devante Mays, Justen Hervey and Tonny Lindsey). Myers threw for 360 yards, a touchdown and an interception last week.
Utah State’s scoring defense is fourth in the Mountain West (24.5 points per game).
PLAYER TO WATCH: ANTHONY WILLIAMS, LB
Utah State had a huge hole to fill at linebacker with the departures of Nick Vigil (144 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss) and Kyler Fackrell (82 tackles, 15 tackles for loss). Williams has been up to the task thus far, however, as the redshirt senior linebacker leads the Aggies in tackles (30) and is fifth on the team with one sack. He also has two tackles for loss.
Williams redshirted in 2015 and had just 10 tackles in 2014, his first year with the program. He transferred from Pierce Junior College after the 2013 season.
- What BSU is saying about Williams: “Very good player, very good blitzer. (He’s) a guy that will get after you. He certainly brings it when he is bringing pressure.” — Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin