Everyone knows Colorado State’s Nick Stevens is going to try to get the ball to Michael Gallup. As for stopping the connection, most teams are still trying to figure out how.
Stevens, a senior quarterback, leads the Mountain West in passing yards, touchdowns and efficiency. Gallup, a senior wide receiver, leads the Football Bowl Subdivision with 1,196 receiving yards, and his 76 receptions are third-most.
“Probably one of the best in the country, if not the best,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said of the combo. “Gallup is a special player, Nick Stevens has played really well. They’ve been explosive on the offensive side.”
Gallup’s worst game of the season came last Saturday in a 16-13 loss at snowy Wyoming, with four catches for 29 yards. He’s had at least five catches and 58 yards in the other nine games.
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In his last 18 games for the Rams, including last season against Boise State, Gallup has gone for more than 90 yards 13 times. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Gallup likely will be an NFL Draft pick next year.
“He’s got that big, strong body and has that explosive playmaking ability,” Stevens told The Denver Post. “I think you could compare him to a lot of really, really good receivers.”
Stevens has quietly been perhaps the best passer in the conference since last Oct. 15’s game at Boise State. Last season, he was benched following a disastrous opening start against Colorado, then backed up Faton Bauta and Collin Hill before an injury to Hill put Stevens back into the No. 1 role.
Including that start against Boise State, Stevens has completed 323 of 505 passes (64 percent) for 4,724 yards with 41 touchdowns to 12 interceptions in 17 games.
“He was the starter, then wasn’t the starter, then he was the starter, handling that (is impressive),” Harsin said. “... He’s played really well in their system, what they’re doing offensively fits him.
“Just handling the back and forth ... he’s just getting better.”
The duo has said part of why the connection is even better this season — Gallup had 76 catches for 1,272 yards in 2016 — has been an ability to hit on longer passes. Gallup’s 17 receptions of 20 yards or more are tied for tops in the FBS.
“It doesn’t matter who they’re playing, including Alabama, they’re making plays against them,” defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said. “They’re both really good players. I’m sure they spent a lot of time together in the offseason.
“You look at the statline and it shows, you look at the film and it shows even more. We’re definitely going to have our hands full with those two.”
Boise State has handled most passing attacks well this season, ranking 22nd in the FBS in pass efficiency defense (112.2), and has allowed opponents to complete 53.1 percent of passes during its five-game win streak, with four touchdowns to seven interceptions.
As with most potent passing attacks, the Rams’ is helped by some balance. They’re averaging 197.1 yards per game on the ground, which is 37th nationally.
Having those two factors has presented a lot of versatility, and an ability to convert in key situations. The Rams are No. 4 in the FBS in sacks allowed (six) and third-down conversions (50.7 percent).
“They’re extremely balanced and productive,” Avalos said. “Some teams, they’re pretty good at one or the other.”
Colorado State at a glance
Location: Fort Collins, Colo.
Head coach: Mike Bobo (20-16, third season)
This year: 6-4 overall, 4-2 Mountain West; lost 16-13 at Wyoming last Saturday
The efficient, balanced offenses Bobo led at Georgia are a hallmark of the Rams’ success. They are 16th in the FBS in total offense (483.6 yards per game), with QB Nick Stevens on pace for more than 3,500 yards, WR Michael Gallup for 1,500 and RB Dalyn Dawkins for 1,300. The offensive line has allowed only six sacks, and CSU is one of six teams nationally to convert 50 percent or more of third downs.
A handful of injuries have factored into the defense’s performance, as the Rams are 86th nationally, allowing 406 yards per game. As good as the offense has been on third down, the defense is 98th, yielding a 43.5 percent conversion rate. The 13 turnovers gained are middle of the road nationally as are the team’s 19 sacks. LB Josh Watson leads with 84 tackles, with no player having more than three sacks thus far.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Zack Golditch, OT: The senior from Aurora, Colo., has started all 10 games this season, moving between left and right tackle, helping a line that is among the nation’s best. He’s started 34 of the last 35 games. On Tuesday, he was named one of 20 semifinalists for the inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award. He frequently visits children’s hospitals since being hit by a bullet fragment while at the theater in the 2012 Aurora mass shooting.
“I feel like it would be selfish if I didn’t try to do something positive out of what happened,” Golditch told the Idaho Statesman in December.
Boise State at Colorado State
When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: CSU Stadium (36,500, FieldTurf)
TV: CBS Sports Network (Rich Waltz, David Diehl, Jenny Dell)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: BSU 7-2, 5-0 (beat Nevada 41-14 last week); Colorado State 6-4, 4-2 (lost to Wyoming 16-13)
Series: Boise State leads 6-0 (Broncos won 28-23 in Boise on Oct. 15, 2016, in last meeting)
Vegas line: Boise State by 5 1/2
Kickoff weather: Mid-30s, clear
Another receiver leaves
Attrition has hit the Boise State wide receiving corps again.
Sophomore Bryan Jefferson has left the team, the school confirmed Tuesday. Jefferson did not have a catch in his career with the Broncos, but did see some playing time this season.
Jefferson, a 5-foot-11, 193-pounder from Leesburg, Fla., is the second scholarship receiver to leave this season. Redshirt freshman Julian Carter left Oct. 10. Over the summer, sophomore Bubba Ogbebor transferred to Arkansas State.
The Broncos have been stocking up on players at the position, getting four verbal commitments for the 2018 class in the past two weeks. Three seniors are on the roster: Cedrick Wilson, Austin Cottrell and Brock Barr. The latter two have not made a reception this season and are primarily special-teams players.