Boise State Football

No extra motivation needed as Boise State tries to end skid against Air Force

Boise State tight end Chase Blakley (86) gets up slowly after the Air Force defense recovered a fumble late in the fourth quarter Nov. 25, 2016, at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs.
Boise State tight end Chase Blakley (86) gets up slowly after the Air Force defense recovered a fumble late in the fourth quarter Nov. 25, 2016, at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs. doswald@idahostatesman.com

Anytime a team beats Boise State, it still leads to raucous celebration — fans stormed the field in September after Washington State came back for a three-overtime win.

Virginia players called their victory here later that month “a program-defining win.”

The Broncos did not forget New Mexico’s photo op at Albertsons Stadium two years ago.

But for Air Force, beating Boise State has become routine. The Falcons are 3-2 against the Broncos, winning three in a row.

“Every offseason we’re reminded of that,” Boise State senior center Mason Hampton said. “We haven’t beat them the last three years. Ever since coach (Bryan) Harsin has been here, ever since I’ve been playing, we haven’t beat them.”

Boise State has lost to a team four straight times just once since becoming a four-year school in 1968 (Idaho from 1982 to 1993). Also, Saturday’s game against the Falcons is senior day, the last chance for the class to beat Air Force.

The Broncos might have the Mountain West Mountain Division wrapped up if Fresno State beats Wyoming earlier in the day, or they can do it themselves with a win should the Cowboys beat the Bulldogs. An Air Force loss eliminates the Falcons from bowl contention.

“We know how big of a week it is for us, in a lot of different ways,” offensive coordinator Zak Hill said.

In his fourth season as head coach, Harsin is 39-8 against everyone but Air Force. He said “there’s no (extra) motivation needed” this week.

When the Broncos have lost to the Falcons, the boogeyman for most has been the triple-option offense, but in reality, it’s been a whole team struggle in those three losses.

But let’s start with the option. Air Force has 335, 607 and 359 total yards against Boise State in the past three meetings. The 2015 loss was the eighth-most yards ever given up by the Broncos, and that included 279 passing yards, the Falcons’ most in 26 years.

The Falcons again are one of the best rushing teams in the nation, with 310.1 yards per game (No. 5 in the FBS), and they sprinkle in some passing, with 117.3 ypg.

“I’m sure that adds fuel to the fire ... we’ve got to come with some urgency to get it done,” Boise State defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said. “They’re triple option, but they can come at you in different ways with different sets and different backfields.”

Even if, in two out of three, the Broncos have kept the Falcons in check, the very nature of their offense affects the other team’s offense. Air Force’s 33:18 time of possession per game is No. 10 in the FBS. Last year, it held the ball for an incredible 41:27 against Boise State.

With limited opportunities, Boise State’s offense has not taken advantage. In 2014, it had seven turnovers in a 28-14 loss. In 2015, it was 6-of-20 on third downs in a 37-30 loss. And last year, the Broncos were 1-of-12 on third down in a 27-20 loss that ended when the Broncos could not score on four plays inside the 5-yard line in the final minutes.

“It gets brought up a lot, and it’s a lot of motivation to be better this week than last year,” Hampton said.

Special teams isn’t immune, either. Air Force has blocked a kick each of the past three years, including a blocked punt that got run back for a touchdown last year.

“We didn’t take care of business last year on special teams. That was a huge factor in the game,” Harsin said.

Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said there is nothing that’s made the matchup better for the Falcons, simply saying “each year is different.” That has definitely been the case, even if the result has been the same. And that last part is what is pushing Boise State this week.

“If it’s not, there’s something wrong with us,” Harsin said.

Dave Southorn: 208-377-6420, @davesouthorn

Air Force at a glance

Nickname: Falcons

Location: Colorado Springs, Colo.

Head coach: Troy Calhoun (81-59, 11th season)

This year: 4-6 overall, 3-3 Mountain West; lost 28-14 to Wyoming last Saturday

TEAM RUNDOWN

Breaking news: The Falcons are going to run. Once again, the triple-option base is in place, as the Falcons are rushing for 310 yards per game, and their 63.2 attempts per game are No. 1 in the FBS. Quarterback Arion Worthman leads the team in rushing, and running back Tim McVey’s 684 yards and six TDs lead the rest of the backfield. The Falcons have just 58 pass completions, but they average 20.2 yards on them.

Ten starters from 2016 graduated, giving way to a young group. Using a 3-4 base defense, the Falcons are 122nd nationally against the run (234.7 ypg) but have played three fellow option teams. Opponents are averaging 143 passing ypg (53.4 percent completion percentage) with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. The Falcons are 92nd in third-down defense, allowing 42.4 percent conversions, and their nine sacks are tied for second-fewest in the FBS.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Arion Worthman, QB: The 5-foot-11, 205-pound junior is the focal point of the Falcons’ attack. He leads the team with 821 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns (seventh among FBS quarterbacks). He also is 54-of-109 passing for 1,100 yards with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions.

“He’s done a really good job ... Worthman’s done a nice job in the pass game,” Boise State defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said. “They’ve added some concepts that are going to be difficult that they’ve got guys on. It’s going to be a huge challenge for us.”

Air Force at Boise State

When: 8:15 p.m. Saturday

Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf)

TV: ESPN2 (Roy Philpott and Tom Ramsey)

Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)

Records: BSU 8-2, 6-0 (beat Colorado State 59-52 in OT last week); Air Force 4-6, 3-3 (lost to Wyoming 28-14 last week)

Series: Air Force leads 3-2 (Falcons won 27-20 in Colorado Springs on Nov. 25, 2016, in last meeting)

Vegas line: Boise State by 17 1/2

Kickoff weather: Upper 30s, partly cloudy

Boise State makes CFP Top 25

Boise State made its first appearance of the season in the College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday night. The Broncos landed at No. 25, third-best among Group of Five teams behind No. 15 Central Florida and No. 21 Memphis of the American.

The ranking extends Boise State’s streak to 16 straight seasons appearing in one of the major Top 25 polls. However, the Broncos still haven’t extended their streak in The Associated Press Top 25. The Broncos entered the season tied for the eighth-longest active streak in the AP poll at 15 seasons. Ohio State has extended its nation-leading streak to 50.

The top-ranked conference champion from the Group of Five at the end of the season will earn a berth into a New Year’s Six bowl, which most likely will be Jan. 1’s Peach Bowl in Atlanta. Also, the top-ranked, division-winning Mountain West team in the CFP will host the conference championship game.

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