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Prognosis, Odds: Soccer game Boise State vs. Utah State

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Boise State running back Ashton Jeanty carries the ball in Wyoming last weekend. The rookie ended the Broncos’ 20-17 win with 91 rushing yards.

On the surface, the Boise State football team doesn’t have much to play against Utah State (10 a.m. CBS) on Friday.

The Broncos secured their home berth in the Mountain West championship game for the first time since 2019. They know they’ll get another shot at Fresno State and star quarterback Jake Haener in the title game, and they know they’re going to a bowl game no matter what.

However, there are a few things motivating the Broncos to win again.

For one, it would be only the second time in program history that Boise State has finished 8-0 in the game against Mountain West. The last time was in 2019 when the Broncos drove past Hawaii to win their fourth Mountain West Championship in the title game.

The Broncos also have a chance to improve their home record. After 3-3 at Albertsons Stadium last year, they can end this season in the regular season with a 5-1 home win over the Aggies. Their only home loss was to BYU.

Protecting The Blue means a lot to everyone in the Boise State locker room.

“Since I showed up freshman year, we’ve coached The Blue’s defense,” Boise State center Kekaniokoa Holomalia-Gonzalez said Tuesday. “Everything we do is about defending The Blue in some way, so honestly it means everything.”

key to victory

Force some sales: The Broncos have forced at least one turnover in seven straight games, and it’s no coincidence that they’ve won six of them. Turnover was the key factor behind last week’s win in Wyoming. The Broncos forced three hits in the second half, including an end zone interception on Wyoming’s last play. Boise State’s defense has forced 16 turnovers this year, and the Broncos have to force a few on Friday.

Utah State is prone to turnover. Regular quarterback Cooper Legas has seven interceptions this season and the Aggies have 17 giveaways (11 INT, 6 fumbles). The Broncos need to look Legas in the face and force him to make quick decisions. They must rip the ball and capitalize on points when the state of Utah turns it over.

Gang tackle: Utah State is running a true spread offensive, which means the Aggies will use nearly all 53.3 yards wide of the field. This will spread out the defense and create big rushing lanes and one-on-one matchups on the outside. The key to slowing down the Aggies is a steady tackle, especially on first and second down, which will force them to convert on third and long.

The Broncos can’t afford sloppy tackles on Friday. If they miss tackles, the Aggies will spoil seniors’ day. The surest way to get a ball carrier down is with help. Boise State defenders need to flow to the ball and help each other.

Those efforts should be helped by the return of Nickel Tyreque Jones, who missed the game in Wyoming with an injury but was back in training on Tuesday.

Make Holani work: Boise State running back George Holani needs just 23 yards to hit the 1,000 for the first time since his freshman season in 2019. Holani has rushed for more than 100 yards on the ground in five of the Broncos’ last six games, and he’s sitting for 977 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns in the season.

The Boise State coaches will be tempted to pull him out of the game, especially when the Broncos have a nice second-half lead, but they’ll have to resist the urge as much as they have to to keep Holani sane.

Holani is on the right track right now. His instincts and eyesight serve him well, and forcing him to sit for long periods of time could upset his rhythm. The Broncos can’t afford that because they’re going to need him at their best in the Mountain West championship game and in their bowl game.

key pairings

Boise State DE Cortez Hogans Jr. vs. Utah State RB Calvin Tyler Jr.: A foot injury kept Hogans on the shelf for most of the season, but he stepped in and made an impression when the Broncos needed it most. Boise State has lost edge rushers George Tarlas (injury), Demitri Washington (injury) and Isaiah Bagnah (transfer) in recent weeks. While not the same pass-rushing threat as this trio, Hogans has proven he can reach the quarterback while also being strong against the run. He had six tackles against Colorado State two weeks ago and finished with five against Wyoming.

Hogans and the rest of the defensive line will have their hands full with Tyler, who is one of the most explosive and versatile running backs in Mountain West. Like Holani, he’s approaching 1,000 rushing yards after scoring 978. Tyler finished with 125 yards and three touchdowns on the ground against San Jose State last week, and he’s also a passing threat.

Boise State CB Caleb Biggers vs. Utah State WR Brian Cobbs: Cobbs joined the Aggies this year as a grad from Maryland and has emerged as Utah State’s No. 1 receiver. He caught 10 passes for 122 yards against San Jose State last week and leads the Aggies with 63 catches for 769 yards. He is also one of three receivers on the list with four touchdown catches this season.

Biggers, who moved to Boise State last year after three years at Bowling Green, has emerged as the Broncos’ No. 1 cornerback. He specializes in man-to-man reporting and will likely be drawing Cobbs all Friday. Whoever wins this matchup can determine which team wins the game.

predictions

Boise State is a 16-point favorite according to Las Vegas, and the over/under is 52 points. The Broncos lead the all-time streak against Utah State 21-5 and have won six straight. Boise State is also 11-2 all-time at home against the Aggies.

The Broncos are 15-5 home favorites and 12-8 against the spread in their last 20 games of the regular season. Utah State is 6-14 in its last 20 regular season games as an underdog and 9-11 ATS.

My choice (8-3 in a row, 8-3 ATS): Despite coaches’ best efforts to prevent this from happening, there is a risk that Boise State’s players could overlook Utah State as they prepare for the title game in Mountain West. It is understandable. Utah State is a shell of the team that won a conference title last year, and the Broncos should easily cover the 16-point spread.

That being said, Utah State will not come into Albertsons Stadium and turn around. The Aggies could potentially land a respectable bowl game with a win over the top team at Mountain West. They have guns on offense and they will be out for revenge after the Broncos embarrassed them in Logan, Utah last season. In the end, I don’t think Utah State has enough defensive talent to hang, but I think the Aggies cover the spread. Final score: Boise State 35, Utah State 24

STATE OF UTAH IN THE STATE OF BOISE

When: 10 a.m. Friday

Where: Albertsons Stadium

TV: CBS (Rich Waltz, Aaron Taylor, Amanda Guerra)

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

Records: Boise State 8-3, 7-0 MW; State of Utah 6-5, 5-2 MW

Series: Boise State is 25-1 all-time against Utah State, including six straight wins.

Vegas Line: State of Boise through April 16

Weather: High temperature 44 degrees, chance of rain 12%, wind speed 6 mph

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Ron Counts is the Boise State Football Beat Writer for the Idaho Statesman. A native of Virginia, he reported from James Madison University and the University of Virginia before joining Statesman in 2019. Follow him on Twitter: @Ron_BroncoBeat

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