Boise State Football

Who has the edge and players to watch as Boise State travels to San Jose State

WHO HAS THE EDGE?

When the Broncos run the ball

San Jose State is giving up 236.5 rushing yards a game, which ranks last in the Mountain West Conference and No. 125 in the country. Last weekend against the Spartans, Army used its triple-option offense to rack up 326 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

Boise State’s running game is far more traditional. Moving 334-pound nose tackle Sailosi Latu won’t be easy, but the Broncos should have a size advantage on the edges, where the Spartans have 233-pound freshman Viliami Fehoko starting at one end in their 3-4 scheme and 260-pound sophomore Cade Hall at the other.

“We want to establish the run game in every single game,” Boise State offensive coordinator Zak Hill told the media on Wednesday. “And we want to be very heavy in that department and have that physical, downhill running game. That’s a part of Boise State, and it’s a part of what we want to do.”

Robert Mahone suffered what looked like a leg injury while throwing a block in the first half of Boise State’s loss to BYU, but true freshman George Holani is coming off two of the most productive games of his career. He scored three touchdowns against Hawaii, including on a late 40-yard burst through the middle of the defense. Against BYU, he posted 97 yards on the ground, just missing his second career 100-yard game.

Edge: Boise State

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Boise State wide receiver John Hightower (16) runs for 98 yards past Portland State’s Anthony Adams (14) and the rest of the Vikings on the Broncos’ first kick off return Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019 at Albertsons Stadium in Boise. Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

When the Broncos pass the ball

Boise State has one of fastest wide receivers in the Mountain West, and maybe the country, in John Hightower, and CT Thomas, Khalil Shakir and Akilian Butler are all elusive in their own rights. As a defense, though, San Jose State leads the conference and ranks No. 2 in the country with 13 interceptions.

Spartans coach Brent Brennan said converted running back Zamore Zigler has added a veteran presence to the cornerbacks’ room, and junior college transfers Bobby Brown II and Nehemiah Shelton have combined for six interceptions.

“They’re opportunistic, so they will drop and bring some pressures and create turnovers in a lot of different ways,” Hill said. “Some have been deeper balls into the secondary that they’ve been able to take advantage of, but their guys do rally around the ball and they fly around.”

Of course, Boise State’s success through the air will have a lot to do with who takes the snaps. True freshman Hank Bachmeier is completing 61.93 percent of his passes and has been intercepted just three times this season. Backup Chase Cord — filling in for an injured Bachmeier against BYU — was picked off twice against the Cougars, and that number could have been much worse as he threw into a crowd on several occasions.

Edge: Push

When the Spartans run the ball

True freshman backup quarterback Nick Nash is the second-leading rusher on the team, and San Jose State is averaging 85.1 yards on the ground a game, which ranks last in the Mountain West and No. 127 in the country. The Spartans put up just 88 rushing yards last weekend against Army, and 54 the week before against San Diego State.

Senior DeJon Packer (5-11, 223) is compact and powerful, and with a team-high 256 rushing yards, he’s closing in on his career-high 290, which he set in 2017. Nash has done a little bit of everything for the Spartans offense. He threw two touchdown passes and caught a pass against Air Force, and he’s second on the team in rushing yards (255) and rushing touchdowns (3). He has missed the past two games since suffering an ankle injury against Nevada, but even if he isn’t 100 percent, Boise State’s defenders know how dangerous he is with his legs and will be on high alert whenever he’s on the field.

“Watching him on film, he is really talented. It kind of reminds me of when we had our little one-two punch with Montell (Cozart) and (Brett Rypien), because he can throw the ball, too,” Boise State defensive lineman David Moa said. “He’s talented on his feet, and when he’s in the game, we know more QB runs are coming, but at the same time he can throw, so we’ve just got to play solid.”

Edge: Boise State

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San Jose State quarterback Josh Love looks for an open receiver during the Spartans’ 31-24 win over Arkansas on Sept. 21. That was one of three games this season in which Love has thrown for more than 400 yards. By Terrell Lloyd, San Jose State Athletics

When the Spartans pass the ball

Quarterback Josh Love is completing 59.3 percent of his passes and has thrown 15 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions. Part of that has to do with a deep group of wide receivers, led by junior Tre Walker, who caught 12 passes for 161 yards in the Spartans’ win over Arkansas.

San Jose State’s 311 passing yards a game rank No. 3 in the Mountain West and No. 12 in the country. Boise State’s pass defense (205.3 ypg) ranks No. 2 in the conference, but the Broncos may be without physical safety Kekoa Nawahine, who was injured in the first half of the BYU game and did not return. The Broncos got safety DeAndre Pierce back from injury against the Cougars, though, and if Nawahine can’t go on Saturday, sophomore Tyreque Jones will fill in. He also stepped in for Pierce while he was out.

“They’re similar to Hawaii. They have explosive players,” Boise State cornerback Avery Williams told the media on Tuesday. “Hawaii was one of the top passing teams in the country as well, so we’re just carrying that mindset over to this game.”

Edge: San Jose State

Special teams

San Jose State kicker Matt Mercurio is coming off his second game with four field goals of the season, and Alex Galland has dropped 13 punts inside the opposition’s 20-yard line. The Spartans aren’t getting much out of their punt returner, cornerback Brandon Ezell, but Zigler is averaging 24.7 yards per kickoff return.

Boise State’s Joel Velazquez struggled with a couple of short punts against BYU, but he also booted a 54-yarder. Kicker Eric Sachse made his first attempt in Provo but he missed one from 36 yards in the third quarter of the Broncos’ 28-25 loss.

Edge: San Jose State

PLAYERS TO WATCH

BOISE STATE

Andrew Van Buren, RB

Especially with Robert Mahone potentially sidelined, true freshman George Holani will have to carry the load. He’ll need a breather, though, and the Broncos are going to need Van Buren to come in and be the physical presence offensive coordinator Zak Hill knows the 6-foot, 223-pound sophomore can be.

Hill also said Van Buren has to clean up the fumbles that plagued him early in the season before he lands a consistent role in the backfield.

“(He needs to) be that big back that he is, and just truly take over that role and punish guys coming downhill,” Hill said. “I know he’s hungry to do that, and he’s going to be a really good back for us. At the end of the day, it’s going to end up taking some opportunities, but he’s got to make sure he secures the football. He’s had a couple of (fumbles), and that’s a big part of the opportunities.”

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Boise State’s Curtis Weaver gets pumped up for the Broncos’ Mountain West football game against Fresno State on Nov. 9, 2018. Weaver is one of the top returning players in the Mountain West. Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

Curtis Weaver, STUD

Weaver was credited with half a sack against BYU, which gave him 9.5 on the season. He’s now third in the country and second among Group of Five pass rushers, behind Ohio State’s Chase Young (13.5) and SMU’s Patrick Nelson (10). San Jose State has given up just eight sacks this season, but the Mountain West’s career sacks leader has been on coach Brent Brennan’s mind this week.

“I think he’s the best pass rusher in the conference,” Brennan said Monday during his weekly press conference. “He’s a wrecking man. He is fantastic — quick and slippery. He combines speed and power, and I think it’s obvious everyone is having trouble blocking him. So, that’s going to be an incredible challenge for our offensive line.”

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Boise State tight end John Bates (85) runs for extra yards after a catch before being tackled by Marshall linebacker Domenick Murphy (40) Friday, Sept. 6, 2019 at Albertsons Stadium in Boise. Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

John Bates, TE

Bates has seen his role in the passing game grow this season. After catching a combined 13 passes the past two seasons, he already has career highs this fall in receptions (16) and receiving yards (217), and his per-game average has gone up almost 20 yards from a year ago. In 2018, he averaged 11.9 receiving yards a game. This season, he’s putting up 31.

Against BYU, Chase Cord went to Bates to move the chains on two third downs during the Broncos’ first drive of the game. On third-and-4, his first completion went for 20 yards. A few plays later on third-and-5, he caught a 13-yard pass over the middle. Bates finished the loss with three catches for 39 yards.

“We don’t take losing very lightly. It’s something that gives us a chip on our shoulder,” Bates told the media Thursday. “We’re expected to go out and perform the best that we can and go out and win every single game. So when something like that happens, I think that’s something we really take personally and really want to fix.”



SAN JOSE STATE

Bailey Gaither, WR

Gaither made the play of the day on a 21-yard touchdown catch in the four quarter of the Spartans’ win last weekend over Army. He reached back and around a defender for an underthrown pass and tipped it into the air before collecting it as he was on his knees sliding toward the back corner of the end zone.

Gaither has 1,181 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in his five-year career. This fall, he’s second on the team with 27 catches and 491 yards and he leads the Spartans with with four touchdown receptions. Boise State cornerback Avery Williams said he may be the fastest receiver the Broncos will face all season, and Gaither’s roommate, San Jose State quarterback Josh Love, has all the confidence in the world in him.

“He’s always working hard and he’s overcome some injuries on his career,” Love said by phone. “But he’s a guy who is always going to go up and make a play.”

Ethan Aguayo, LB

Aguayo missed three games with an injury suffered against Air Force. He returned against Army and finished third on the team with 11 tackles. The three-year starter opened the season with 20 tackles and a sack against Northern Colorado. It was his second 20-tackle game in the past two seasons, and he has 310 career tackles.

“Ethan coming back was huge,” Brennan said. “Having a senior like Ethan, who is so productive. He’s so steady and so consistent, and then he’s also that really good voice on the field. He’s that good calming influence with the team if stuff does get tricky.”

Matt Mercurio, K

Against Army, Mercurio extended his streak of consecutive made field goals to 10, dating back to San Jose State’s game on Oct. 4 against New Mexico. He hasn’t missed since the first of his five attempts against the Lobos.

Mercurio is 13-for-16 this season with a long of 49, which he hit against New Mexico. He was named Mountain West special teams player of the week after the Spartans’ 32-21 win over the Lobos and again this week after going 4-for-4 in a 34-29 win over Army.

“Coming into this year, in fact, that was a huge question mark for us with Bryce (Crawford), who’d been a multi-year starter and a really good player,” Brennan said. “And so it’s exciting to see Merc step in there and hit the kicks he’s hit and kind of take that thing over. It’s been impressive.”



BOISE STATE DEPTH CHART

Quarterback

19 Hank Bachmeier, 6-1, 202 (Fr.)

10 Chase Cord, 6-2, 208 (RSo.)

9 Jaylon Henderson, 6-1, 210 (RSr.)

Running back

34 Robert Mahone, 5-10, 218 (RJr.)

21 Andrew Van Buren, 6-0, 223 (So.)

24 George Holani, 5-11, 192 (Fr.)

Wide receiver

16 John Hightower, 6-2, 172 (Sr.)

1 Octavius Evans, 6-1, 209 (Jr.)

Wide receiver

6 CT Thomas, 5-8, 182 (Jr.) OR

2 Khalil Shakir, 6-0, 186 (So.)

Wide receiver

7 Akilian Butler, 5-10, 182 (RSr.)

82 Stefan Cobbs, 6-0, 178 (RFr.)

18 Billy Bowens, 6-1, 187 (RFr.)

Tight end

85 John Bates, 6-6, 255 (RJr.)

5 Garrett Collingham, 6-4, 242 (RSr.)

47 Matt Pistone, 6-3, 246 (RSr.)

88 Tyneil Hopper, 6-2, 231 (RFr.)

Left tackle

76 Ezra Cleveland, 6-6, 310 (RJr.)

73 Nick Crabtree, 6-7, 295 (RJr.)

Left guard

77 John Molchon, 6-5, 318 (RSr.)

72 Dallas Holliday, 6-3, 306 (RFr.)

Center

67 Garrett Larson, 6-4, 303 (RSr.)

55 Kekaniokoa Holomalia-Gonzalez, 6-2, 293 (RFr.)

Right guard

79 Eric Quevedo, 6-4, 302 (RSr.)

68 Jake Stetz, 6-2, 294 (RSo.)

Right tackle

70 John Ojukwu, 6-6, 300 (RSo.)

69 Garrett Curran, 6-5, 292 (RFr.)

Defensive end

93 Chase Hatada, 6-3, 262 (Sr.)

54 Matt Locher, 6-2, 270 (RSr.) OR

40 Jabari Watson, 6-1, 269 (RJr.)

Nose tackle

98 Sonatane Lui, 6-1, 283 (Sr.)

57 Emmanuel Fesili, 6-2, 312 (Sr.) OR

90 Scale Igiehon, 6-2, 306 (So.)

Defensive tackle

55 David Moa, 6-3, 296 (6YSr.)

62 Scott Matlock, 6-4, 283 (RFr.)

STUD end

99 Curtis Weaver, 6-3, 265 (RJr.)

38 Demetri Washington, 6-3, 254 (RFr.)

Weak-side linebacker

44 Riley Whimpey, 6-1, 233 (Jr.)

3 Brandon Hawkins, 6-2, 217 (RFr.)

Middle linebacker

25 Benton Wickersham, 6-2, 230 (R.Jr.)

48 Bruno DeRose, 5-11, 223 (RJr.)

Nickel/strong-side LB

28 Kekaula Kaniho, 5-10, 182 (Jr.)

20 Roman Kafentzis, 6-1, 212 (RSo.)

Cornerback

26 Avery Williams, 5-9, 198 (RJr.)

8 Markel Reed, 6-0, 176 (Fr.)

Cornerback

15 Jalen Walker, 6-0, 179 (RJr.)

22 Tyric LeBeauf, 6-2, 180 (RFr.)

Boundary Safety

10 Kekoa Nawahine, 6-2, 207 (Sr.)

33 JL Skinner, 6-4, 213 (Fr.)

Field Safety

4 DeAndre Pierce, 5-11, 180 (RJr.)

21 Tyreque Jones, 6-2, 201 (RSo.) OR

5 Evan Tyler, 6-2, 195 (RSr.)

Kicker

36 Eric Sachse, 5-10, 198 (RSr.)

46 Joel Velazquez, 6-0, 225 (RJr.)

Kick returner

16 John Hightower, 6-2, 172 (Sr.)

26 Avery Williams, 5-9, 198 (RJr.)

Punter

46 Joel Velazquez, 6-0, 225 (RJr.)

36 Eric Sachse, 5-10, 198 (RSr.)

Punt returner

26 Avery Williams, 5-9, 198 (RJr.)

2 Khalil Shakir, 6-0, 186 (So.)

SAN JOSE STATE DEPTH CHART

Quarterback

12 Josh Love, 6-2, 205 (R-Sr.)

16 Nick Nash, 6-1, 184 (Fr.)

Running back

32 Kairee Robinson, 5-8, 185 (Fr.)

21 DeJon Packer, 5-11, 223 (Sr.)

Wide receiver

10 Tre Walker, 5-11, 175 (Jr.)

11 JaQuan Blackwell, 6-0, 198 (Jr.)

Wide receiver

82 Isaiah Hamilton, 5-11, 180 (Fr.)

4 Andre Crump Jr., 6-0, 180 (Fr.)

Wide receiver

84 Bailey Gaither, 6-1, 182 (Sr.)

13 Jermaine Braddock, 6-1, 191 (Fr.)

Tight end

81 Billy Bob Humphreys, 6-5, 245 (Jr.)

85 Brett Foley, 6-3, 236 (Sr.)

Left tackle

55 Jackson Snyder, 6-5, 291 (Sr.)

67 Korey Mariboho, 6-3, 287 (Sr.)

Left guard

79 Troy Kowalski, 6-5, 307 (Sr.)

71 Tyler Ostrom, 6-3, 280 (Fr.)

Center

56 Kyle Hoppe, 6-1, 285 (Jr.)

57 Trevor Robbins, 6-4, 285 (Jr.)

Right guard

70 Tyler Stevens, 6-4, 298 (So.)

78 Deano Motes, 6-5, 275 (Sr.)

Right tackle

76 Quinn Oseland, 6-6, 305 (Sr.)

64 Jaime Navarro, 6-3, 288 (Fr.)

Defensive end

42 Viliami Fehoko, 6-4, 233 (Fr.)

97 Christian Johnson, 6-6, 276 (Jr.)

Nose tackle

4 Sailosi Latu, 6-2, 334 (Sr.)

54 Demanuel Talauati, 6-1, 305 (Fr.)

Defensive end

92 Cade Hall, 6-2, 260 (So.)

91 E.J. Ane, 6-2, 265 (So.)

Linebacker

11 Jesse Osuna, 6-0, 225 (Sr.)

49 Michael Pryor, 6-3, 230 (Fr.)

Linebacker

16 Rico Tolefree, 6-1, 233 (So.)

41 Hadari Darden, 6-2, 213 (Jr.)

Linebacker

31 Ethan Aguayo, 6-2, 228 (Sr.)

40 Isa’ako Togia, 6-1, 210 (So.)

Linebacker

45 Kyle Harmon, 6-0, 225 (So.)

44 Jordan Cobbs, 6-1, 234 (Fr.)

Cornerback

23 Nehemiah Shelton, 6-2, 168 (So.)

6 Johnny Balderas, 6-1, 187 (so.)

Safety

3 Tre Webb, 6-2, 194 (Jr.)

22 Tre Jenkins, 6-1, 213 (Fr.)

Safety

27 Jay Lenard, 6-1, 209 (Jr.)

14 Bobby Brown II, 6-0, 180 (Jr.)

Cornerback

12 Brandon Ezell, 6-0, 190 (Sr.)

2 Zamore Zigler, 5-10, 170 (Sr.)

Kicker

39 Matt Mercurio, 6-1, 176 (R-Fr.)

48 Chris Wood, 5-11, 185 (So.)

Kick returner

32 Kairee Robinson, 5-8, 185 (Fr.)

2 Zamore Zigler, 5-10, 170 (Sr.)

Punter

43 Alex Galland, 6-2, 200 (Sr.)

48 Chris Wood, 5-11, 185 (So.)

Punt returner

12 Brandon Ezell, 6-0, 190 (Sr.)

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Ron Counts is the Boise State beat writer for the Idaho Statesman. He’s a Virginia native and spent that past three years covering University of Virginia.
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