BOISE — The Boise State football team has won nine straight games in its series with Colorado State, but that unbeaten streak could be in jeopardy on Thursday (6:05 p.m., FS1) at Albertsons Stadium if the Broncos can’t find a way to create some turnovers.
Boise State has forced just one turnover this season — an interception by reserve cornerback Tyric LeBeauf on the final play of the Broncos’ 42-13 win over Utah State in the season opener.
That’s just not going to cut it, Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.
“You create turnovers by great tackling, having multiple players around the ball, and then when there’s an opportunity to get the ball out, you do and you recover it,” Harsin told reporters on Sunday. “Good defenses find ways to create turnovers. I think we’ve got good players on that side of the ball. I think we put ourselves in position to make those plays, and we’ve got to now finish.”
Boise State defenders have forced two fumbles this season, but they weren’t able to recover either.
A lack of turnovers was an issue last season, too. The Broncos ranked No. 8 in the Mountain West with just 10 interceptions, and they recovered nine fumbles. In 2018 — Oregon defensive coordinator Andy Avalos’ final year in the same position at Boise State — the Broncos intercepted just seven passes, but they recovered 17 of the 22 fumbles they forced.
Creating some takeaways to give the offense a few more shots at the end zone is a daily topic around Boise State’s facilities, defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding said.
“We preach turnovers every day of our lives, and we have to continue to do that at a high level,” Schmedding told reporters on Monday. “When you look at great defenses, you don’t give up explosive plays consistently, and you get the ball back.”
The Broncos are coming off a blowout loss to BYU, which Harsin called “embarrassing,” and the best way to get back in the win column is to create a few turnovers and trust the offense to turn them into points.
Keys to victory
Stay creative: Boise State has always been known for its creativity on offense, and this season has been no different. Whether it’s wide receiver Khalil Shakir catching the defense off-guard on an end-around, or tight end Riley Smith getting a carry, the Broncos have found ways to get the ball in a variety of players’ hands. Wide receivers CT Thomas and Stefan Cobbs have also recorded rushing attempts. The coaches need to continue that trend on Thursday, especially if they have to depend on freshman Cade Fennegan at quarterback again.
Keep the tight ends involved: Tight end John Bates tied his career high with five catches in Boise State’s season opener against Utah State and followed that with five more receptions at Air Force. He caught only two passes last week against BYU, but Riley Smith hauled in five, many of which he caught after Bates left the game with an injury. Offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau said Tuesday that he expects Bates to play against Colorado State, but no matter who is in at tight end, they need to be a major part of the game plan, especially if Fennegan is taking the snaps. The underneath routes tight ends are known for can be a young quarterback’s best friend.
Pressure the quarterback: The most obvious method for solving the Broncos’ lack of turnovers is to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and force them into mistakes. Boise State’s defensive play callers were aggressive in the opener against Utah State and at Air Force, but on Friday against BYU, they relied too heavily on the defensive line to apply pressure instead of blitzing linebackers or defensive backs. They love the chance to take a shot at a quarterback, and the Broncos need to dial up some exotic blitz packages on Thursday, especially against Colorado State quarterback Patrick O’Brien, who isn’t that mobile.
Colorado State WR Dante Wright vs. Boise State CB Jalen Walker: After the Mountain West suspended the fall season in August, Colorado State’s Warren Jackson — one of the top wide receivers in the conference — opted to forgo his senior year and focus on preparing for the NFL. That opened the door for speedy sophomore Dante Wright to step in as one of the Rams’ top receivers, and he did so in his season debut last weekend. In Colorado State’s win over Wyoming, Wright hauled in 10 passes for 146 yards.
Wright (5-9, 180) operates out of the slot a lot, so Boise State’s top cornerback Jalen Walker won’t draw the assignment exclusively, but the two are sure to match up as the Broncos look for ways to make O’Brien go through his progression and find other receivers.
Colorado State TE Trey McBride vs. Boise State’s safeties: Colorado State’s leading receiver is tight end Trey McBride, who has 13 receptions for 220 yards and three touchdowns on the season. McBride flirted with the transfer portal after the Mountain West suspended the season in August, but he changed his mind and rejoined the team later that month.
McBride (6-4, 260) is athletic enough to create matchup problems, so Boise State isn’t going to try to cover him with a linebacker. STUD Sam Whitney will probably help in coverage, but whoever starts at safety this week — which should be some combination of JL Skinner, Tyreque Jones and maybe Avery Williams — is going to stay busy trying to keep track of him. With Skinner out and Jones dealing with an injury, Williams and senior nickel Kekaula Kaniho started at safety in the Broncos’ win at Air Force.
Boise State is a 14-point favorite, according to Las Vegas, with an over/under of 62 total points. The Broncos are 17-3 as the favorite in their past 20 regular season games at Albertsons Stadium and 12-8 against the spread (ATS).
Colorado State is 5-15 in its past 20 regular season games as an underdog on the road and 12-8 ATS.
My pick (3-0 straight up, 3-0 ATS): No matter who Boise State starts at quarterback, the Broncos continue to show they have the weapons on offense to be dangerous against anyone. Last week against BYU, wide receiver Khalil Shakir set career highs in receptions (10) and receiving yards (139). He’s averaging 117.3 receiving yards a game, and he already has four touchdown catches after finishing last season with six. Against Air Force, receiver CT Thomas needed just two catches to rack up 101 yards and two touchdowns. Not knowing who is going to start at quarterback or the extent of running back George Holani’s injury are both concerning, but Boise State just has too much in this one. Boise State 42, Colorado State 17.
Betting expert Lee Sterling of Paramount Sports, who appears weekly on KTIK (3-0 straight up, 3-0 ATS): “Boise has quarterback issues...The talent level seems to be way down on this Boise team compared to three, four or five years ago. Boise is also 1-9 against the spread as a weekday favorite.” Boise State 37, Colorado State 27.