Keys to victory, betting line and prediction for Boise State’s home game vs. Air Force

·7 min read

Boise State football coach Andy Avalos joined an exclusive club when the Broncos beat then-No. 10 BYU on Saturday.

The three head coaches for the Broncos preceding Avalos each defeated a team ranked in the top 10 in their first season as well, using either the AP poll or College Football Playoff rankings.

Dan Hawkins (2001-05) led the Broncos to their now-famous win over No. 8 Fresno State in his first year at the helm. He went on to lead Boise State to four straight Western Athletic Conference championships and posted a 53-11 record in five seasons.

Chris Petersen (2006-13) guided Boise State to another WAC title in his first season and led the program to what might be its most famous win — a 43-42 upset of No. 7 Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. He led the team to undefeated seasons in 2006 and 2009, and posted a 92-12 record as the Broncos’ head coach.

Bryan Harsin (2014-20) led the Broncos to another Fiesta Bowl in 2014, when they beat Arizona, which was No. 10 in the CFP rankings. He posted a 69-19 record in seven seasons and led Boise State to three Mountain West championships.

Avalos is now 3-3 at his alma mater heading into a game against Air Force (5-1) on Saturday (7 p.m., FS1) at Albertsons Stadium. And the first-year head coach knows the effect a win similar to the Broncos’ 26-17 victory at BYU can have on a team, having been a linebacker at Boise State when the Broncos opened that 2001 season — which included the win at Fresno — at 2-3.

Avalos also knows the moment will be fleeting if Boise State falters on Saturday.

“We learned a lot about ourselves last week,” he said. “We learned a lot about what we’re capable of when we do things a certain way, and we recommitted ourselves to doing things a certain way. That was a big win on the road, but it’s a new week and we’ve moved on.”

Boise State’s goal of reaching yet another Mountain West championship game is still alive. But what is an uphill battle because of the loss to Nevada two weeks ago will become a monumental task if the Broncos suffer another conference loss — especially with road games at Fresno State (4-2) and No. 24 San Diego State (5-0) still ahead, as well as a home game against Wyoming (4-1).

Keys to victory

Stay disciplined: The triple option that Air Force employs has a way of lulling defenders to sleep with a bunch of short runs, and it’s so effective because it tests players’ discipline when it comes to simply executing their assignment rather than trying to make a play in the backfield. Boise State’s defenders have to stick to those assignments and not overpursue or get too far out of their rush lanes, or Air Force’s endless list of ball carriers is going to make them pay.

“It takes discipline in regards to where my eyes are, (finding out) what my key is telling me and trusting that, and not trying to do someone else’s job,” Boise State co-defensive coordinator Spencer Danielson said.

Make the QB pay: Much like Boise State’s read-pass option scheme, the triple option relies on the threat of quarterbacks running the ball, and Air Force has a good one. Haaziq Daniels is second on the team with 442 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. Taking the quarterback out of the equation will make life a lot easier for defenders, and the best way to do that is to hit him early and often. Whether he pitches the ball, keeps it himself or drops back to pass, those hits are going to add up. They eventually can result in hesitation from the quarterback, which will lead to negative plays and mistakes.

“Hitting this guy absolutely plays a huge role in his mind about what’s about to happen and it puts doubt in his mind about when he’s supposed to make that happen,” Boise State defensive line coach Frank Maile said.

Don’t forget the pass: Air Force isn’t about to debut an Air Raid offense and sling the ball all over the field, but the Falcons have shown a willingness to throw some. Daniels attempted 54 passes in six games last year. He’s 22-of-43 for 494 yards and two touchdowns through the same number of games this fall. He attempted a season-high 12 passes in a 49-45 loss to Utah State and has gone to the air at least 10 times in two other games this season. He completed 7-of-10 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown in the Falcons’ win over Wyoming last weekend.

Boise State safeties JL Skinner and Tyreque Jones, as well as nickel Kekaula Kaniho, are going to have to help against the run on Saturday, but they can’t get so caught up that they let a receiver sneak past them.

‘Opportunity is everything’: This Boise State cornerback took a long road to The Blue

Key matchups

Boise State’s edge rushers vs. Air Force’s backfield: Whether it’s Demitri Washington, Isaiah Bagnah or Dylan Herberg, Boise State’s edge rushers may play a bigger role in deciding who wins Saturday’s game at Albertsons Stadium than in any other contest this season. And their biggest impact won’t be as a pass rusher. Those players need to set the edge on Saturday, forcing whoever is carrying the ball back inside, where reinforcements are waiting. They have to be sure not to get too far up the field or commit too quickly on an inside run, and whether it’s a quarterback or a running back, they need to hit whoever is in their path on just about every play.

Boise State CB Caleb Biggers vs Air Force WR Micah Davis: Junior running back Brad Roberts leads Air Force’s loaded backfield with 680 yards rushing and has six touchdowns, but the Falcons’ most versatile offensive weapon has been sophomore Micah Davis. He is Air Force’s top receiver, with 10 catches for 221 yards and two touchdowns, and he has 282 yards and four touchdowns rushing.

Davis caught two passes for 33 yards and a touchdown against Wyoming, and Daniels found senior wide receiver Brandon Lewis on five passes for 77 yards in the Falcons’ 24-14 win. Boise State cornerback Caleb Biggers, who started last week at BYU, will fill in for Markel Reed, who will miss the rest of the season with an injury. The transfer from Bowling Green will have to stay alert. Air Force isn’t going to throw the ball much, but the Falcons are sure to sneak in a couple of pass attempts.

Prediction

Boise State is 6-3 against Air Force. The Broncos lost three straight in the series from 2014 to 2016, but they have won the past four meetings.

The Broncos are a 4-point favorite, according to Las Vegas, with an over/under of 51 points. Boise State is 16-4 in its past 20 regular-season games as a favorite at home and 13-7 against the spread. Air Force is 3-17 in its past 20 regular-season games as an underdog on the road and 10-10 ATS.

My pick (3-3 straight up, 3-3 ATS): This is a dangerous game for Boise State. The triple option is tough to prepare for because there aren’t many teams that run it, and it’s vastly different from the spread schemes most teams employ. It’s effective because it relies on defensive players being too eager to make plays and pursuing too much, which leaves running lanes open and the occasional wide-open receiver. Boise State’s struggles to defend the run are certainly a concern against the top rushing team in the country. The Broncos’ top two running backs, George Holani and Cyrus Habibi-Likio, being banged up doesn’t help on the other side of the ball. If neither plays, this game could go a very different way, but I think the heart and grit Boise State showed last week at BYU will carry over, and the Broncos not only will win, but cover. Final score: Boise State 35, Air Force 24

AIR FORCE AT BOISE STATE

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Albertsons Stadium

TV: FS1 (Cory Provus, Mark Helfrich). That’s channel 146 on Sparklight, 219 on DirecTV and 150 on Dish Network.

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

Records: Boise State 3-3; Air Force 5-1

Series: Boise State is 6-3 all-time against Air Force, and the Broncos have won four in a row.

Vegas line: Boise State by 4

Weather: High of 70 degrees, 2% chance of rain, 12 mph winds

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