A likely must-win game for Boise State in its Mountain West title hopes. The opponent, tied for the highest-ranked team to ever come to Albertsons Stadium. Strength against strength. The first time a program built on acting like an underdog has actually been an underdog at home in years.
Friday’s matchup between No. 16 Fresno State and Boise State is as big of a conference game the Blue has seen in a long time, but the fans aren’t buying it. The school reported that nearly 29,000 tickets had been sold as of noon Wednesday for the 36,387-capacity venue.
A big crowd could make a difference between two teams that are a combined 15-3 this season, neither having lost in at least a month. Regardless, the home team is excited for a meaningful November home game with a lot on the line.
“It’s a hot one, I’m glad we have this opportunity,” said senior cornerback Tyler Horton, a Fresno native.
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This may come as a shock (sarcasm intended), but the Broncos have hammered home the point that they have a one-game-at-a-time mentality, that they respect every opponent, etc.
Even the fact that the Broncos likely won’t be favored at kickoff at home for the first time in any regular season game since 2001 matters little. But in terms of that main goal, a conference title, some are aware of the importance of a victory.
“We understand this is a very good team we’re facing ... I don’t think (being underdogs) is going to fire us up any more,” senior quarterback Brett Rypien said. “We know this is a big game, we knew we essentially have to win this game.”
With one conference loss (Oct. 6 to San Diego State), the Broncos still control their fate if they win out, beating Fresno State, then New Mexico on the road next Friday and Utah State at home on Nov. 24.
A loss Friday would in all likelihood dash their hopes for a Mountain Division crown, as Utah State has just 1-8 San Jose State and 3-6 Colorado State before facing Boise State, meaning the Aggies probably will come to Boise without a Mountain West loss.
“(Coach Bryan) Harsin talks about how this is pretty much the start of the playoffs for us, there’s a lot of stuff on the line with this game,” junior linebacker Tyson Maeva said.
Whatever the reason is that tickets aren’t being gobbled up, the on-field pairing is intriguing, with the Bulldogs’ excellent defense against the potentially explosive Bronco offense. Boise State is looking to win its first November game against an AP Top 25 opponent in four tries.
“All those things, they’re factors, but it’s not really the focus,” Harsin said. “I hope we’re not different than we are week in and week out. It’s not like one week we come in and say, ‘Now we’re playing a ranked team, let’s go really hard this week.’”
CLEVELAND’S FLAGS A SURPRISE
Sophomore offensive tackle Ezra Cleveland has been among Boise State’s most consistent performers, so drawing not one, but two 15-yard penalties Saturday against BYU was a surprise.
“We definitely had some of those odd-for-us penalties, especially for Ezra, that took us out of drives,” offensive coordinator Zak Hill said.
Cleveland’s first, an unsportsmanlike conduct, forced a second-and-21 from the Broncos’ own 14-yard line in the second quarter. On the next drive, a personal foul in the waning seconds before halftime moved Boise State from a first down at the BYU 28 to ending the half in the Broncos’ own territory.
“I’ve just got to do better,” Cleveland said. “There’s a fine line between after the whistle and before the whistle where you don’t get the penalty.”
Harsin wasn’t exactly a fan of the calls, saying on Monday, “we’ve played like that all year long.”
IGIEHON STEPS UP BIG IN MIDDLE
When the Boise State linebackers were watching game film from Saturday’s win over BYU, they saw true freshman defensive tackle Scale Igiehon take down quarterback Zach Wilson for a sack on the third play of the game. The technique he used to roll Wilson to the ground is called “gator,” like the big reptile takes down its prey.
“They said, ‘that was a big (blank) gator,’” Avalos said.
Igiehon, a 6-foot-2, 300-pound Texas native, made his first start against the Cougars, and he had five tackles. He teamed up with junior linebacker Tyson Maeva to stop Wilson at the Boise State 4-yard line on the game’s final play to seal the win.
“He’s extremely coachable. It’s very rare with freshmen to have the ability to listen and learn like he has,” Avalos said.
Fresno State wide receivers coach Kirby Moore (2009-13) and offensive graduate assistant D.J. Harper (2007-12) played for Boise State, and junior receiver Derrion Grim was committed to the Broncos in 2015. ... Hill was named one of 53 candidates Wednesday for the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant. ... Fresno State is 0-9 on the Blue, though the Bulldogs won in Boise in 1984, the year before the turf was installed. ... Boise State is 2-2 against ranked Fresno State teams.
No. 16 FRESNO STATE AT BOISE STATE
When: 8:15 p.m. Friday
Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387; FieldTurf)
TV: ESPN2 (Mike Couzens, Kirk Morrison, Alyssa Lang)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: BSU 7-2, 4-1 (won 21-16 vs. BYU on Saturday); Fresno State 8-1, 5-0 (won 48-3 at UNLV on Saturday)
Series: Boise State leads 14-6 (Broncos won 17-14 on Dec. 2, 2017, in Mountain West championship)
Vegas line: Fresno State by 2 1/2
Weather: Mid 30s, partly cloudy
Tickets: Office on the west side of Albertsons Stadium, visit BroncoSports.com/tickets or call 208-426-4737.
Cross country Broncos set for regional meet
The Boise State men’s and women’s cross country teams will be in Sacramento, California, this week for the NCAA West Regional at Haggin Oaks Golf Course.
The top two teams in each region receive an automatic bid to the national championship, but there are also 13 at-large bids up for grabs.
The women’s 6-kilometer race begins at noon MT on Friday, followed by the men’s 10k at 1 p.m.
Both Boise State teams have already accumulated enough points in the latest KOLAS predictions to likely earn a berth to the national championship should they finish outside the top two at the regional meet. The ninth-ranked Boise State men have 11 points, while the No. 3 BSU women have 10.