Boise, ID – Winners of 33 straight home games, the fourth- conference play at Bronco Stadium.
Boise State, which used to partner with Nevada in the Western Athletic Conference, is now part of the Mountain West and figures to be contending for the league title along with the TCU Horned Frogs in a couple of months. The Broncos, a stunning 70-2 at home since the start of the 2000 campaign, have won all three of their games overall this season and are riding a five-game win streak that dates back to 2010. Last Saturday night, the squad roughed up Tulsa without much of an effort in a 41-21 final.
As for the Wolf Pack, they should have registered their second straight win since suffering an ugly 69-20 loss to Oregon in the opener, but the squad couldn't hold up its end of the bargain in a 35-34 defeat at the hands of Texas Tech on the road last Saturday. This week's matchup marks the fourth and final bout on a season-opening road trip for a Nevada program that doesn't play at home in 2011 until October 8 vs. UNLV in a battle for the prestigious Fremont Cannon.
Nevada upset BSU's perfect season a year ago with a 34-31 overtime decision, but still the Broncos own a 24-13 edge over the Pack all-time. In games played at Bronco Stadium, BSU has taken 15 of the 17 meetings with Nevada over the years.
The last time these two programs played each other and were not members of the same conference was back in 1977, before they both joined the Big Sky.
Thanks to a 56-yard touchdown run by backup quarterback Cody Fajardo in the third quarter the Wolf Pack enjoyed a two-touchdown advantage over Texas Tech on the road last weekend, only to see a potential victory slip through their fingers in the end. Fajardo, who finished with 139 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, matched the yardage total of Mike Ball, not to mention hitting on 4-of-6 passes for 59 yards and another score in the close call.
Starting quarterback Tyler Lantrip, who has been tasked with filling the void left by Colin Kaepernick who is now with the NFL's San Francisco 49ers, converted 11-of-18 passes for 191 yards and a TD as well for Nevada but now has to wonder about his status as the full-time starter for the program.
"I'm sure it's going to be competition like anything, he's moving the ball and moving the offense and that's big, if you're getting points on the board that���s huge and he���s going to be there for us," Lantrip said Fajardo after the close call last weekend.
Unlike Kaepernick who led one of the most potent offenses in the nation the last few years, Lantrip is far from a running threat with just 122 yards over the course of three games. Clearly, Fajardo is much closer to the mold of a running QB that head coach Chris Ault is used to seeing directing his Pistol Offense. The experiment using both quarterbacks might not last all that long given that Lantrip, who has converted 58.1 percent of his attempts this season, has twice as many interceptions (four) as he does TD strikes thus far.
Putting the ball in the hands of Fajardo makes much more sense, seeing as how Nevada is again near the top nationally in rushing with 285.3 ypg (seventh in the FBS).
Honestly, where the Pack has to give more attention is on defense because the squad is still giving up an average of 39.3 ppg which is last in the WAC and 117th in the country this week. The lopsided defeat versus Oregon put them deep in a statistical hole for sure, but squaring off against Boise State this week probably won't help those numbers at all.
For the Broncos last week, they had an uncharacteristic start to their meeting against Tulsa in the home opener, turning the ball over on downs on their first drive down at the four-yard line of the Golden Hurricane. Luckily for BSU that miscue was not an indication of what was to come as the team scored touchdowns on the next three possessions and even managed to sit quarterback Kellen Moore for some of the third quarter and all of the final period.
"I think they are as good as any of them (Oklahoma and Oklahoma State)," Tulsa head coach Bill Blankenship said after his team lost by 20 points. "I think they are the Boise that most people think nationwide. They're not going to have as impressive of guys getting off the bus but these guys know how to play. They are very well coached and don't make mistakes and they take advantage when you make mistakes and that is what good teams do."
Moore, who should again be a central figure when it comes to talking about the Heisman Trophy, converted 23-of-29 passes for 279 yards and four touchdowns, marking the 16th consecutive outing in which the signal-caller has tossed at least a pair of TDs. Aside from the misstep to begin the game last weekend, Moore has the offense operating so well that the Broncos have scored at least one touchdown in every quarter through the first three games of the season, the first time that's happened since BSU moved to a four-year institution.
Despite losing a couple of top-flight receivers from a year ago, Moore has still found the necessary outlets to get the job done and last week was no different as Tyler Shoemaker caught five balls for 102 yards and scored three touchdowns for the program. Sporting an efficiency rating of 192.55 (third in the FBS), Moore has shown rather convincingly that he can adapt to the players around him in order to put the Broncos into the win column on a consistent basis.
As is the case on offense this year, the defense for Boise State is also dealing with some new faces which is why the unit doesn't quite stand up to last year's lofty accomplishments when it was second in the nation in yards allowed (254.7 ypg) and second in points permitted (12.8 ppg). Nevertheless, BSU has held foes to just 19.0 ppg thus far in 2011 and the team's turnover margin (plus-1.33 per game) is certainly an encouraging number as well.