The Boise State football team’s bowl matchup with Boston College in Wednesday’s First Responder Bowl has a familiar look.
Boston College will be the fifth opponent in the past six Boise State games ranked in the top 30 in pass-efficiency defense. All five rank in the top half of the country in rushing attempts, and all five spent time in the Top 25 this season.
And if those other four games are predictive, we can expect a tense, low-scoring contest on Wednesday in Dallas. The Broncos beat BYU on the last play of the game (21-16), rallied from 14 points down in the second half to beat Fresno State (24-17), held off a late charge against Utah State (33-24) and lost in overtime to Fresno State (19-16).
This will be Boise State senior quarterback Brett Rypien’s final game — the end of a nearly four-year starting career — and he’ll be tested. In those four games referenced above, he had just four touchdown passes but was efficient until the snowy finale.
“We’ve dealt with some really good defenses, especially this last half of the year,” Boise State offensive coordinator Zak Hill said. “... It’ll be a great challenge for our guys. We’ve got to win some 1-on-1s, and Brett’s got to be smart with his decision-making.”
Here are three keys as No. 23 Boise State (10-3) meets Boston College (7-5) at 11:30 a.m. MT Wednesday in Dallas (ESPN):
1. Physical, physical, physical. Boise State coach Bryan Harsin gave the Broncos all the motivation they should need when he was asked to describe the challenge his team will face against the physically imposing Eagles.
“These guys are out here to beat you up,” Harsin said. “Really, when it comes down to it, to simplify it, that’s what they do.”
Boise State has built its program in large part on the idea of playing a more physical style than its opponent. That can be difficult to do in a bowl game, when preparations are constantly disrupted by recruiting, finals, family time and bowl activities. It will be even more difficult against a team that plays a similar style and has every reason to be motivated after three straight losses wiped out the Eagles’ Top 25 ranking.
“Our game plan week in and week out is trying to be the most physical team,” Hill said. “... We know it’s going to be tough, and guys are going to have to play and execute at our highest level.”
2. Control the edge. Both teams have dynamic edge rushers who could be the deciding factor in the game. Boston College’s Zach Allen (6.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss) is a high-end NFL prospect and Wyatt Ray (nine sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss) is his less-celebrated running mate. Boise State’s offensive line has improved the second half of the year, but if the group has a day like it did against Oklahoma State in September, the Broncos are in trouble. They have allowed 32 sacks this season.
Boise State’s defense, meanwhile, has two All-Mountain West pass rushers of its own: Curtis Weaver (9.5 sacks, 15 TFLs) and Jabril Frazier (5.5, nine). Boston College has allowed 23 sacks; Boise State is tied for ninth nationally with 39.
3. Can Mattison do it again? Boise State junior tailback Alexander Mattison might be playing his final college game — and, like linebacker Leighton Vander Esch last year, this bowl matchup represents an opportunity to increase his draft stock.
Mattison has rushed for 200 yards in back-to-back games and at least 144 yards in four straight games. In those four similar matchups to this one, Mattison rushed for a total of eight touchdowns.
In its past six games, Boston College only allowed one opponent to rush for more than 156 yards — and that was Syracuse, which gained 208 yards on a whopping 58 carries (3.59 yards per carry).
It’ll be another tough day for Mattison, who has been more sledgehammer than runner this season, but he has shown an ability to outlast defenses in that kind of matchup.
This week’s predictions
Boise State is a 2-point favorite with an over/under of 57 total points. The Broncos are 8-5 against the spread this season. They are 1-2 outright this season when favored by less than a field goal. The Broncos are 3-1 ATS in bowl games under Harsin.
Boston College is 7-5 ATS this season. The Eagles are 1-3 ATS in bowl games under coach Steve Addazio.
My pick (9-4 straight up, 5-8 ATS): Boston College will struggle offensively against Boise State’s defense, which hasn’t allowed more than 24 points since October. Boise State could have trouble scoring, too — particularly without key weapons John Hightower and Khalil Shakir. But Rypien has had three weeks to study the Eagles and stew over his performance in the Mountain West championship game. I expect him to play well — and, with Mattison rolling, the Broncos should have just enough firepower to win. Boise State 23, Boston College 16
Boston College perspective, from Richard Thompson of the Boston Herald (opponent view is 10-3, 6-7): Boston College lost the final three games of its ACC slate with a common denominator factoring in setbacks to Clemson, Florida State and Syracuse. BC had problems converting on third down on offense and getting off the field on third down on defense. Unless these problems were rectified in the December practices, the Eagles likely will experience the same outcome. In its losses down the stretch, BC was undone by three dynamic passers, Trevor Lawrence of Clemson, Deondre Francois of Florida State and Eric Dungey of Syracuse. Brett Rypien’s numbers stack up favorably against those guys. The best QB that BC faced this season was Ryan Finley of North Carolina State, who transferred from Boise State rather than play behind Rypien. Boise State 28, Boston College 14
Betting expert Lee Sterling of Paramount Sports, who appears weekly on KTIK (8-5, 6-7): “I have not been able to figure out (Boise State’s) games. Looking at the matchups, you would think Boston College’s offensive line ... should have an advantage. This is a game here where Boise is going to have to stop the run if they want to have any chance.” Boston College 31, Boise State 24