Boise State Football

Boise State vs. Air Force: Who gets the edge, players to watch on Broncos’ senior day

Boise State players, coach Bryan Harsin on the Broncos' 14 seniors

Boise State football players and coach Bryan Harsin provide some insight on the Broncos' 14 seniors.
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Boise State football players and coach Bryan Harsin provide some insight on the Broncos' 14 seniors.

WHO GETS THE EDGE

When the Broncos run the ball ...

Boise State is coming off one of its best rushing performances in recent years with 310 rushing yards at Colorado State, its most against an FBS team since racking up 312 at Wyoming on Nov. 22, 2014. During their six-game winning streak, the Broncos are averaging 187.2 yards per game rushing.

“(Alexander Mattison) is just seeing the field real well, he’s just going out there and playing ball,” offensive coordinator Zak Hill said of the sophomore who had 242 yards last Saturday. “He’s one of those guys we need to get touches.”

The Falcons have allowed 234.7 rushing ypg (122nd nationally) but have played three fellow option teams. They’re yielding a more respectable 160.1 ypg in the other seven games, but even the 4.8 yards per carry in those contests isn’t great. All FBS foes have rushed for at least 100 yards.

ADVANTAGE: Boise State

When the Broncos pass the ball ...

All of a sudden, Boise State is potent passing again. The ground game has opened it up a bit, but junior quarterback Brett Rypien has been on fire, with 849 yards, nine TDs and one interception in his last three games. The Broncos also have spread it around, with at least seven pass catchers in those games.

[Air Force at Boise State, 8:15 p.m. Saturday, ESPN2 — click here for fans guide]

Air Force is No. 1 against the pass in the FBS, allowing 143.1 ypg. That’s thanks in part to playing run-heavy teams and teams that see an advantage they can exploit. Opponents’ 131.82 passer rating ranks 53rd nationally. The Falcons’ nine sacks are tied for second-fewest.

“They’re going to come out physical. ... Last year, we didn’t connect in the first half. I think we definitely could’ve had the game,” Boise State wide receiver Cedrick Wilson said. “They bring a lot of pressure, they feel their guys are better than ours. We have to win the one-on-ones.”

ADVANTAGE: Boise State

rypien ol
Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien throws at Colorado State last Saturday. Allison Corona Boise State University

When the Falcons run the ball ...

Everyone knows Air Force will run, and run again. But it’s not so easy to stop, the up-tempo mixed with the triple option and the constant cut blocks. The Falcons are No. 5 in the FBS with 310.1 rushing ypg, and tops with 63.2 attempts per game. They’re averaging 406.8 ypg in wins, 245.7 ypg in losses.

“You still have the triple-option component ... there’s not much difference from that standpoint,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “There’s a misconception that’s all they do, like they only have five or six plays. That’s not the case, they do a really good job game-planning.”

The Broncos allowed a season-high 261 rushing yards at Colorado State, owner of the sort of balanced offense that’s given them issues. But Boise State has been good at making teams one-dimensional, still ranking 19th at 121.9 rushing ypg allowed. In their three straight losses to Air Force, the Broncos are allowing 309.7 ypg.

ADVANTAGE: Air Force

When the Falcons pass the ball ...

Though it is certainly not their forte, the Falcons pose a threat when they decide to throw. Their 58 completions are fourth-fewest in the FBS, but they average 20.2 yards per catch, trying to lull teams into defending the run, then throwing over the top.

Boise State allowed 309 yards through the air at Colorado State, but even including the Virginia loss, the Broncos are allowing 140.6 yards per game at home. Two years ago in Air Force’s last visit, the Falcons had 279 yards on nine completions, their most in 26 years.

“I think it teaches us a lot of discipline and eye control ... you’re going to be all right if you have that,” junior linebacker Leighton Vander Esch said. “You just have to relax and play ball.”

ADVANTAGE: Boise State

Special teams ...

Boise State’s turnaround continues to impress, with the Broncos scoring on two punt returns while kicking well, too. Kicker Haden Hoggarth is third in the nation with a 92.3 percentage (12-of-13) on field goals. The Broncos are No. 16 nationally in punt-return defense (3.5 yards per return).

Air Force kicker Luke Strebel is 7-of-10 on field goals and punter Charlie Scott is solid with a 41.8-yard average. The Falcons have allowed a punt-return touchdown and their 17.4 yards per return allowed is 128th nationally. They have blocked two kicks, which is interesting since they have blocked kicks against Boise State for three straight years (two field goals, one punt).

ADVANTAGE: Boise State

PLAYERS TO WATCH

AIR FORCE

Ronald Cleveland, wide receiver

He’s small, but the definition of a playmaker. The 5-foot-9, 174-pound junior caught four passes for 162 yards last year, scoring three touchdowns. This season, he is second on the Falcons with 10 catches and 245 yards. He also has 39 carries for 379 yards and has five total TDs.

“It was just a matter of when the opportunities came. He certainly cashed in on them,” offensive coordinator Mike Theissen told The (Colorado Springs) Gazette.

Arion Worthman, quarterback

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.”

Worthman
Air Force quarterback Arion Worthman celebrates after rushing for the go-ahead touchdown against UNLV on Oct. 24 in Colorado Springs, Colo. David Zalubowski AP

Grant Ross, linebacker

A 6-1, 225-pound senior inside linebacker, Ross is second on the team with 79 total tackles and leads the team with six tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. He’s the lone returning starter on the defense from last season, when he was third with 67 total tackles in 11 games.

“If you’re going to have (one) returning starter, I do think it does help that it’s an inside backer to help the guys up front, to help the guys back behind,” coach Troy Calhoun said.

BOISE STATE

Cedrick Wilson, wide receiver

From a nagging shoulder to an ankle that was operated on earlier this year to a helmet against the turf last week, Wilson has fought through a lot. Harsin noted Wilson often wears the no-contact jersey in practice, but that doesn’t make him complacent — he has 53 catches for 901 yards.

“I’m feeling better than some people,” Wilson said. “I have to save (the hits) for the game. I’ve been put in a leadership role, so not slacking off is part of what I have to do.”

Leighton Vander Esch, linebacker

The ultra-productive junior from Riggins had 13 tackles last Saturday at Colorado State and provided the winning play with a forced fumble in overtime. Battling some minor injuries, his ability to trudge through a 95-play game was impressive.

“Him being in the game late made a huge impact and changed the game,” Harsin said.

Vander Esch, who had missed seven games before last year’s game at Air Force, had nine tackles and an interception in the last meeting.

Jake Roh, tight end

The senior leads the nation in touchdown catches at his position (nine) and even has two rushing touchdowns. But he wasn’t a semifinalist for the John Mackey Award, honoring the top tight end. No matter, he isn’t one for the glory, and lets his career-high 38 catches speak for themselves.

“It’s just been a really cool opportunity here, been in a great situation,” Roh said. “... Trying to make the most of this, potentially our last night on the Blue.”

Roh
Boise State tight end Jake Roh (88) is taken down by a BYU defender Oct. 6 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

Dave Southorn: 208-377-6420, @davesouthorn

BOISE STATE

DEPTH CHART

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

4 Brett Rypien

6-2

208

Jr.

3 Montell Cozart

6-1

205

Sr.

Tailback

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

22 Alexander Mattison

5-11

214

So.

21 Ryan Wolpin

5-8

195

Sr.

34 Robert Mahone

5-10

211

RFr.

Wide receiver (X)

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

1 Cedrick Wilson

6-3

188

Sr.

17 Austin Cottrell

6-2

203

Sr.

Wide receiver (H)

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

7 A.J. Richardson

6-0

209

Jr

6 CT Thomas

5-8

152

Fr.

Wide receiver (Z)

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

8 Sean Modster

5-11

196

Jr.

82 Octavius Evans

6-1

195

Fr.

Tight end

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

88 Jake Roh

6-3

227

Sr.

87 Alec Dhaenens

6-3

246

Sr.

Left tackle

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

76 Ezra Cleveland

6-6

296

RFr.

66 Isiah Moore

6-4

275

Jr.

Left guard

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

77 John Molchon

6-5

313

So.

67 Garrett Larson

6-4

295

So.

Center

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

59 Mason Hampton

6-3

295

Sr.

67 Garrett Larson

6-4

295

So.

Right guard

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

79 Eric Quevedo

6-4

304

So.

52 Andrew Tercek

6-1

278

Sr.

Right tackle

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

74 Archie Lewis

6-3

299

Sr.

78 Andres Preciado

6-6

292

Jr.

DEFENSE

Defensive end

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

91 Durrant Miles

6-5

253

Jr.

93 Chase Hatada OR

6-3

267

So.

45 Kayode Rufai

6-4

254

RFr.

Nose tackle

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

98 Sonatane Lui

6-1

305

So.

57 Emmanuel Fesili

6-2

302

So.

Defensive tackle

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

55 David Moa

6-3

271

Jr.

90 Daniel Auelua

6-2

298

Sr.

STUD end

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

8 Jabril Frazier OR

6-4

243

Jr.

99 Curtis Weaver

6-3

252

RFr.

Weakside linebacker

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

38 Leighton Vander Esch

6-4

240

Jr.

44 Riley Whimpey

6-1

212

Fr.

Middle linebacker

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

58 Tyson Maeva

6-0

214

So.

25 Benton Wickersham

6-2

231

RFr.

Strongside linebacker/nickel

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

33 Gabe Perez

6-4

246

Sr.

28 Kekaula Kaniho

5-10

175

Fr.

Boundary cornerback

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

14 Tyler Horton

5-11

188

Jr.

15 Jalen Walker

6-0

172

RFr.

Field cornerback

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

26 Avery Williams

5-9

194

RFr.

30 Robert Lewis

5-10

175

RFr.

Field safety

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

4 DeAndre Pierce

5-11

174

So.

32 Jordan Happle

5-11

198

RFr.

Boundary safety

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

10 Kekoa Nawahine

6-2

199

So.

37 Cameron Hartsfield

5-10

197

Sr.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

41 Haden Hoggarth

6-0

198

Jr.

46 Joel Velazquez

6-0

228

RFr.

Punter

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

46 Joel Velazquez OR

6-0

228

RFr.

49 Quinn Skillin

6-4

185

Jr.

Snappers

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

89 Brock Barr

6-3

204

Sr.

50 Nicholai Pitman

5-11

230

So.

Holder

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

49 Quinn Skillin

6-4

185

Jr.

Kick returner

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

1 Cedrick Wilson OR

6-3

188

Sr.

26 Avery Williams

5-9

194

RFr.

Punt returner

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

26 Avery Williams OR

5-9

194

RFr.

1 Cedrick Wilson

6-3

188

Sr.

SCHEDULE

Date

Opponent

Time/Result

Saturday, Sept. 2

Troy

W, 24-13

Saturday, Sept. 9

at Washington State

L, 47-44 (3OT)

Thursday, Sept. 14

New Mexico

W, 28-14

Friday, Sept. 22

Virginia

L, 42-23

Friday, Oct. 6

at BYU

W, 24-7

Saturday, Oct. 14

at San Diego State

W, 31-14

Saturday, Oct. 21

Wyoming

W, 24-14

Saturday, Oct. 28

at Utah State

W, 41-14

Saturday, Nov. 4

Nevada

W, 41-14

Saturday, Nov. 11

at Colorado State

W, 59-52 (OT)

Saturday, Nov. 18

Air Force

8:15 p.m. (ESPN2)

Saturday, Nov. 25

at Fresno State

1:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

AIR FORCE

DEPTH CHART

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

2 Arion Worthman

5-11

205

Jr.

6 Nate Romine

5-11

190

Sr.

Tailback

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

33 Tim McVey

5-9

190

Sr.

19 Nolan Eriksen

5-9

192

So.

Fullback

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

23 Taven Birdow

6-1

220

So.

30 Jacob Stafford

6-0

230

Sr.

Wide receiver

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

3 Ronald Cleveland

5-9

174

Jr.

84 Garrett Amy

5-8

185

Jr.

Wide receiver

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

8 Marcus Bennett

6-0

186

Jr.

7 Geraud Sanders

6-3

210

So.

Tight end

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

85 Ryan Reffitt

6-5

240

Sr.

89 Kade Waguespack

6-2

230

So.

Left tackle

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

66 Jake Barnhorst

6-4

285

Sr.

61 Scott Hattock

6-5

280

So.

Left guard

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

64 Ryan Beveridge

6-0

270

Sr.

60 Ernest McQuade

6-1

270

Sr.

Center

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

55 Alex Norton

6-2

285

Sr.

62 Jordan Tyler

6-3

270

Sr.

Right guard

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

74 Griffin Landrum

6-2

280

Jr.

55 Alex Norton

6-2

285

Sr.

Right tackle

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

77 JC Rast

6-4

290

Sr.

65 Neal Bess

6-2

275

Sr.

DEFENSE

Defensive end

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

97 Santo Coppola

6-4

270

Sr.

94 Jordan Jackson

6-5

260

Fr.

Nose tackle

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

95 Cody Gessler

5-11

263

Jr.

99 Mosese Fifita

6-1

320

So.

Defensive end

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

90 Micah Capra

6-2

270

Jr.

93 Danny Highland

6-2

260

Jr.

Outside linebacker

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

7 Ja’Mel Sanders OR

6-1

205

Sr.

6 Shaquille Vereen

5-9

185

Sr.

26 Abraham Nuno

6-0

210

Jr.

Inside linebacker

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

44 Grant Ross

6-1

225

Sr.

42 Blake Dailey

6-3

230

Jr.

Inside linebacker

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

50 Jack Flor

6-2

225

Sr.

49 Brody Bagnall

6-2

230

Jr.

Outside linebacker

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

8 Lakota Wills

6-3

220

Fr.

45 R.J. Jackson

6-3

235

Jr.

Field cornerback

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

27 Jeremy Fejedelem

5-10

190

So.

16 Robert Bullard

5-9

180

Jr.

Boundary cornerback

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

2 Marquis Griffin

5-11

195

Sr.

15 Brett Baldwin

6-0

175

Sr.

Field safety

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

4 James Jones IV

6-2

190

So.

21 Bryce VonZurmuehlen

6-0

195

Jr.

Strong safety

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

29 Kyle Floyd

6-2

210

Jr.

31 Ross Connors

5-11

184

Jr.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

11 Luke Strebel

5-11

175

Sr.

96 Matthew Philichi

5-9

180

Jr.

Punter

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

91 Charlie Scott

6-1

192

So.

98 Brayden Thomas

6-1

190

Jr.

Snappers

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

59 Austin Cutting

6-3

240

Jr.

63 Justin Greene

6-0

220

Sr.

Holder

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

98 Brayden Thomas

6-1

190

Jr.

Kick returner

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

33 Tim McVey

5-9

190

Sr.

19 Nolan Eriksen OR

5-9

192

So.

84 Garrett Amy

5-8

185

Jr.

Punt returner

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

3 Ronald Cleveland

5-9

174

Jr.

84 Garrett Amy

5-8

185

Jr.

SCHEDULE

Date

Opponent

Time/Result

Saturday, Sept. 2

VMI

W, 62-0

Saturday, Sept. 16

at Michigan

L, 29-13

Saturday, Sept. 23

San Diego State

L, 28-24

Saturday, Sept. 30

at New Mexico

L, 56-38

Saturday, Oct. 7

at Navy

L, 48-45

Saturday, Oct. 14

UNLV

W, 34-30

Friday, Oct. 20

at Nevada

W, 45-42

Saturday, Oct. 28

at Colorado State

W, 45-28

Saturday, Nov. 4

Army

L, 21-0

Saturday, Nov. 11

Wyoming

L, 28-14

Saturday, Nov. 18

at Boise State

8:15 p.m. (ESPN2)

Saturday, Nov. 25

Utah State

8:15 p.m. (ESPN2)

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