Every week I sit down with Jesse Kurtz of the Mountain West to review the prior week’s games and take a look at the coming action.
Rams looking to grab bragging rights in the state of Colorado, Aztecs continue late season run against Spartans, Rainbows & Bulldogs still in the hunt…who’d a thunk?, Broncos looking for all the marbles over Aggies.
Colorado State at Air Force – 1:30pm MT, CBS Sports Network
CSU (6-1, 10-1), AFA (4-3, 8-3)
- Colorado State wins the Mtn. Div with a win AND a Boise State loss to Utah State.
With Dee Hart topping 1,000 yards, Colorado State becomes just the 11th team in Mountain West history to have a 3,000-yd passer, 1,000-yd receiver and 1,000-yd rusher (2nd CSU team). How many points does Air Force need to hold them to have a chance to win?
The RAMS are averaging 37 points per game this season, and have ripped off 45, 38, 48, and 58 over the past month. Two wins by just 3 points and their single loss of the season to Boise State came when they were held to less than 31.
That means the FALCON defense must find a way to shave off a single TD from CSU’s prolific offense, and then somehow produce at their own pace of 31 per game. To me that formula is found in the late September win over Boise State where Air Force held Jay Ajayi to just 63 yards, and grabbed 5picks off the Broncos’ 2nd leading Mountain West passing attack.
And the key may come down to that turnover margin. CSU was -2 & -1 in two of those sub 31 point games. Air Force has been on the minus side of giveaway/takeaway in all 3 of their losses this season. A performance like they had against Boise State with 7 turnovers; those 5 interceptions & 2 fumbles, would go a long way towards their upset bid against the class of the Conference.
San Jose State at San Diego State – 12:30PM PT, CBS Sports Network
SJSU (2-5, 3-8), SDSU (4-3, 6-5)
- San Diego State gets in with a win AND a Fresno State loss.
SDSU is bowl eligible for a 5th straight season. Held Air Force scoreless for 3 quarters and to lowest rushing yards in a conference game since Sept 20, 2008. Facing a struggling offense this week (7 points in two weeks). How will they attack the Spartans this Saturday?
The Spartan offense has run through Tyler Ervin the past two weeks almost out of necessity. Ervin leads San Jose State in rushing and has logged 194 yards in losses to Hawaii and Utah State. Questions surround the health of QB Joe Gray and the Spartan passing attack could only muster 2.8 yards per completion behind Mitch Ravizza in his first & only start of the season.
Look for Rocky Long and his defensive staff to stymie the run on their way to the passer. That is I feel the Aztecs will bring a lot of pressure from the secondary and mix up their inside blitz packages to stop Ervin at the line of scrimmage, but do it with an emphasis on getting in the face of whomever ends up behind center for the Spartans.
San Diego State showed a ton of athletic ability against Air Force and were willing to take some chances. They gave up a couple big plays through the air, but held the Falcons to 3.7 per carry and forced 4 turnovers. The Spartans are -10 combined in their 8 losses.
Hawai’i at Fresno State – 4:00pm PT, Time Warner Oceanic/MWN
HAW (3-4, 4-8), FS (4-3, 5-6)
- Hawai’i wins the West Division with a win AND Nevada and San Diego State lose.
- Fresno State wins the West with a WIN. –OR- if there is a four-team tie atop the division (Bulldogs loss, Nevada beats UNLV and San Diego State loses to San Jose State 4-4)
Bulldogs are in the drivers seat. Hawai’i is peaking with two-straight wins since 2012. These teams are playing their best football of the year. What’s the keys to victory for both teams?
For Hawai’i they’ve got to remember back to the effort they put up against San Jose State on the road two weeks ago. We talked about the confidence that could produce for a team learning “how to win”.
That means playing the same smothering defense that forced 3 turnovers and held the Spartans to 152 yards in the air & no TD’s. The Bulldogs are 8th in the Mountain West in turnover margin at -2 & are averaging 231 yards passing per game & 23 TD’s.
For Tim DeRuyter’s squad, it gets back to what we said last week about senior leadership. Seniors Greg Watson and Josh Harper combined for 10 receptions & 154 yards, with 2 TD’s. And Josh Quezada carried the load in the running game with 119 yards, averaging 5.0 per.
SR LB Karl Mickelson recorded a sack and a pick, and DL Tyeler Davison recovered a fumble. Both turnovers eventually led to Bulldog touchdowns. Fresno State will need to call upon their senior class leadership one more time at Bulldog Stadium to cap off an otherwise crazy rollercoaster 2014.
Utah State at Boise State – 8:15pm MT, ESPN2
USU (6-1, 9-3), BSU (6-1, 9-2)
- Utah State needs a WIN and a CSU loss to Air Force on Friday afternoon
- Boise State is in with a WIN… It would also HOST the championship game.
Utah State is 10th nationally in scoring defense. Boise State is 9th nationally in scoring offense. In a possible, “winner-take-all” game… which means more?
Temperatures are likely to be hovering around freezing on the blue turf, but that didn’t slow down the Broncos offense this past week in the cold of Laramie. Boise State put up 63 on the Cowboys, Grant Hedrick was an efficient 13 of 19, with 3 TD’s. Jay Ajayi rushed for 110 yards & 2 scores.
Utah State has found a way all season to move the ball behind 4 different starting QB’s and has really relied upon its defense to produce opportunities for the Aggies with a Mountain West leading 28 takeaways.
Boise State’s two losses and its closest margin of victory were the only games in which the Broncos came up negative in the turnover margin. In two of the three Utah State losses this season, the defense didn’t capture a single takeaway.
So to me, this game revolves around Utah State’s ability to force the Broncos to cough up the ball and give their offense some added opportunities on the road. That would shave off a few of Boise State’s 40 per game & give Matt Wells’ offense a chance to add to its own 28.
I’m going with the onus on the Aggie’s defense to capture their 2nd straight Mountain Division title.
Wyoming at New Mexico – 1:00pm MT, Root Sports/MW
WYO (2-5, 4-7), UNM (1-6, 3-8)
***Wyoming has won three straight in the series***
Nevada at UNLV – 7:30pm PT, ESPNU
NEV (3-4, 6-5), UNLV (1-6, 2-10)
***Nevada looking to get the Canon back after surrendering it last year for the first time in 9 years***