BOISE — The Boise State football team has assumed a road warrior mentality this season.
Four of the Broncos’ five wins have come away from home, including two that were played in front of sellout crowds against opponents ranked at the time: No. 10 BYU and No. 25 Fresno State. Four of Boise State’s wins have also come against teams that are already bowl-eligible with at least six wins, including UTEP — their lone victory in Albertsons Stadium in 2021.
Boise State coach Andy Avalos, a former linebacker and assistant for the Broncos, said the stadium his team is playing in doesn’t matter as much as the mentality it plays with.
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“In those games, we played very physical,” Avalos said of the team’s road wins. “At the end of the day, wherever we’re at — it could be in the parking lot — whoever is the most physical team, more times than not, is going to win.”
The Broncos (5-4, 3-2 Mountain West) are back in Albertsons Stadium for a game against Wyoming on Friday (7 p.m., FS1). They have lost three straight games on The Blue for the first time since 1996, and that is not the standard at Boise State, defensive tackle Scott Matlock said.
“We always strive to protect The Blue,” he said. “It’s a sacred place, it’s our home and we’re going to continue to do that.”
Boise State has more to play for than pride against Wyoming (5-4, 1-4). The Broncos need one more win to qualify for a bowl game for the 24th year in a row, and they need to win their final three games of the regular season to have a shot at making it back to the Mountain West championship game for the fifth consecutive season.
In conjunction with the team’s military appreciation game on Friday — Veterans Day was Thursday — Boise State will honor three members of the Idaho National Guard who lost their lives in a helicopter crash earlier this year.
A Black Hawk chopper lost visibility through snow and fog in the Danskin Mountains during routine training on Feb. 2, ultimately resulting in a crash. All three individuals on board died: Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jesse Anderson, Chief Warrant Officer 3 George “Geoff” Laubhan and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Matthew Peltzer. Their families will be honored during the first quarter of Friday’s game.
Keys to victory
Finish drives with TDs: Boise State racked up 470 yards of offense in its win at Fresno State last week, but the Broncos struggled to finish drives with touchdowns. Kicker Jonah Dalmas was impressive, going 4-for-4 on field goals, including a season-long 47-yard kick, but three of his field goals came in the red zone. The Broncos need to finish those drives with TDs if they’re going to beat Wyoming on Friday. Boise State has scored on 40 of the 43 trips to the red zone this season, but only 24 of those drives have ended in touchdowns.
“I love Jonah but I want him to kick less field goals,” Boise State QB Hank Bachmeier said on Wednesday. “We’ve just got to convert in the red zone, and I think if we’re able to do that, it could be a whole different ballgame.”
Make Wyoming QB Levi Williams throw the ball: Wyoming has a long track record of producing big, athletic quarterbacks, such as Buffalo Bills starter Josh Allen. The Cowboys are led by another quarterback who can burn teams with his legs this year — sophomore Levi Williams. He posted 116 of Wyoming’s 385 rushing yards in its win at Colorado State last week, and the coaching staff is sure to build some designed quarterback runs into the plan this week.
The Broncos’ defenders — coming off a season-high five sacks at Fresno State — can’t get overly aggressive and give Williams lanes to gash them. Instead, the players on the edge have to keep him in the pocket and then shrink that pocket to make him uncomfortable while he delivers passes.
Keep it clean: Part of why Boise State has been able to string wins together for the first time this season is that the Broncos have played a pair of clean games. They didn’t turn the ball over at Colorado State two weeks ago, and the Broncos’ only turnover at Fresno State last week was an interception on a pass from wide receiver Khalil Shakir. The Broncos have also been penalized only 10 times the past two weeks. They were flagged just four times at Fresno State, while the Bulldogs committed a season-high 11 penalties. Boise State needs to play another clean game against Wyoming on Friday to get a win and make itself bowl-eligible.
Boise State CB Caleb Biggers vs. Wyoming WR Isaiah Neyor: One reason Williams replaced Wyoming’s former starting quarterback, Sean Chambers, is that he’s a more accomplished passer, especially when it comes to the deep ball. Williams’ passing stats aren’t going to blow anyone away. He has attempted just 52 passes and thrown for 304 yards and four touchdowns in the five games he has appeared in this season.
When he does throw the ball, more often than not, Williams is going to target sophomore receiver Isaiah Neyor, who leads the Cowboys with 26 catches for 462 yards and eight receiving touchdowns, which is tied for No. 2 in the Mountain West. He also averages 17.8 yards a catch, which ranks No. 5 in the conference. Boise State is still without top cornerback Markel Reed, who is out for the season with an injury, so Bowling Green transfer Caleb Biggers likely will be tasked with covering Neyor.
Boise State RB George Holani vs. Wyoming LB Chad Muma: Holani was healthy and playing without limitations for the first time this season at Fresno State last week, and it showed. He posted 117 rushing yards, breaking the 100-yard barrier for the first time since the Broncos’ 2020 season opener. He also had 69 yards on two catches. Boise State is 5-0 when he has rushed for at least 100 yards in games the past three seasons, but he’s going to have to contend with one of the top linebackers in the country on Friday.
Wyoming senior Chad Muma ranks No. 2 in the Mountain West and No. 14 in the nation with 89 tackles. He’s averaging 9.9 tackles a game also leads the team with three interceptions. Muma is the reigning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week after racking up 11 tackles and an interception in the win over Colorado State last weekend.
Boise State is 14-1 against Wyoming and the Broncos have won four straight games in the series. They’re also 7-0 against the Cowboys in Albertsons Stadium. The Broncos are a 13.5-point favorite in Friday’s game, according to Las Vegas, with an over/under of 48.5 points.
Boise State is 15-5 in its past 20 regular-season games as a favorite at home and 12-8 against the spread. Wyoming is 2-18 in its past 20 regular-season games as an underdog on the road and 8-12 ATS.
My pick (4-5 straight up, 4-5 ATS): Boise State’s defense has played its best games of the season the past two weeks, and the Broncos finally have some semblance of a running game now that George Holani is healthy. The Broncos look poised to end the season on a winning streak that might land them back in the Mountain West championship game, which seemed nearly impossible a month ago. If history repeats itself, Boise State is going to be in for a dogfight against Wyoming, though. The past two games between the rivals have been decided by a combined 11 points, including the Broncos’ 20-17 overtime win at home in 2019. I think Boise State’s defense continues its stingy ways in the red zone and the Broncos run the ball well enough to win a close one. But I also think a turnover or two by the Broncos and a productive day from Wyoming running back Xazavian Valladay could flip the script in the Cowboys’ favor. Final score: Boise State 27, Wyoming 24.