Boise St.-Utah St. Preview
Since losing just over a month ago, Boise State has transformed on paper into arguably the most well-rounded team in the FBS.
The 21st-ranked Broncos have done so with a true freshman quarterback who has gone unfazed in visiting environments. Brett Rypien's next chance to continue proving his worth comes Friday night at Utah State, where at least a share of the Mountain West's Mountain division lead will be on the line.
Boise State (5-1, 2-0) fell 35-24 at BYU on Sept. 12, and a week later it lost starting quarterback Ryan Finley to a broken foot in a blowout of Idaho State. Enter Rypien, who completed that win and has had the Broncos clicking on an impressive level ever since.
Rypien's path began in full a week later in a 56-14 win at Virginia, passed back through Boise for a 55-0 victory over Hawaii and reached its current point with last Saturday's 41-10 win at Colorado State.
That began the Broncos' only stretch of back-to-back road games, and they come against the teams that finished a game behind them in the division last season.
"Guys understand. We talked about it a little but last week, about this two-week stretch," coach Bryan Harsin said. "... They knew what was coming up, and we've got to flip it in a hurry."
Through it all, Rypien has posted the FBS' fifth-best passer rating (175.9) with seven touchdowns, one interception and 10.16 yards per attempt. Those numbers seem to have convinced Utah State coach Matt Wells that Rypien isn't an inexperienced quarterback to take advantage of.
"When you see a true freshman quarterback and see some of the things Rypien does, he's really good," Wells said. "He's the second true freshman quarterback we've seen (Washington's Jake Browning) and he can make all the throws. He's got a good head, he's very accurate and he's got a great supporting cast around him with a veteran offensive line that has played a lot of football together, a deep running back group and talented wideouts out on the perimeter."
That group has Boise averaging 51.0 points and 549.0 yards of total offense on the winning streak.
That could take a hit if Jeremy McNichols has any issues after being knocked out of the Colorado State game with a possible concussion. Boise's lead back, who still ran for 104 yards and two scores on 17 carries, leads the FBS with 14 total touchdowns.
His status remains uncertain, but if it's any consolation, the Broncos have been just as good on the other side of the ball. The Broncos are the only FBS team to rank in the top 10 in scoring (10th at 40.7) and points allowed (seventh, 12.0) as well as the top 20 of total offense (19th, 482.3) and defense (fifth, 259.5).
The turnover battle has been key, and it's trended in the right direction with Rypien. The Broncos had a minus-2 differential through two games and have since posted a plus-12 mark.
Still, Harsin would like to see more points on the board after flipping the field.
"We didn't take advantage of those turnovers like we had in the past few games," Harsin said after last week's win. "I think we had three points out of it, and that needs to be more."
The defensive side has been led by safety Darian Thompson and his four interceptions. His 18 career picks are tied with San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle for the all-time Mountain West lead.
Utah State (3-2, 2-0) has also been strong in that category with a plus-5 mark in consecutive wins. The Aggies, who along with Air Force are tied with defending conference champion Boise for the division lead, followed a 33-18 home win over the Rams on Oct. 3 with last Saturday's 56-14 victory at Fresno State.
Colorado State was the second common opponent of the Broncos and Aggies. Boise opened with a 16-13 home victory on Sept. 4, while Utah State fell 31-17 at Washington on Sept. 19. The Aggies' win over the Rams was their 11th straight at home since losing 34-23 to Boise on Oct. 12, 2013.
The Broncos have won the last 12 meetings between the former WAC foes by an average of 27.7 points. Boise has won 13 of 14 against unranked opponents, while Utah State has split its last six against the Top 25.