No. 24 Boise State hopes to handle Utah State this time
The Boise State Broncos moved back into the Top 25 rankings this week for the first time since the middle of the 2015 season after knocking off Oregon State, 38-24, last Saturday.
Now the No. 24 Broncos focus their sights on Mountain West Conference play when they host the team that knocked them out of those same ratings a year ago, the Utah State Aggies, on Saturday night (10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN2) at Albertsons Stadium.
The Broncos (3-0), who eventually finished in a four-way tie for second place in the Mountain Division behind Air Force, were ranked 20th when the host Aggies jumped out to a 45-10 halftime lead and cruised to a 52-26 victory. So it shouldn't take much for head coach Bryan Harsin to get his team ready for this year's rematch.
"Every week you've got to find a way to motivate yourselves, you've got to find a way to motivate your team," defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said. "Some weeks are easier than others. Obviously, this week -- Utah State got after us pretty good last year so ..."
Actually, the defense was only partly to blame for the loss. Boise State's offense finished with eight turnovers, including seven in the first half, and the Aggies parlayed three of them into 21 points in the final 85 seconds of the half.
Afterward, Utah State coach Matt Wells called the victory "maybe the greatest win in program history. It's huge. I make no bones about it."
Turned out both teams finished looking up to an unheralded Air Force squad in the final standings.
"I think it's time to set it straight," defensive lineman Elliot Hoyte said. "This is a completely different year and we want to come out with a (win) ... (But) that memory is still fresh even a year out."
Boise State running back Jeremy McNichols rushed 28 times for a career-high 208 yards and scored a career-high four touchdowns in the win over Oregon State. He has now scored a touchdown in all 15 games he has started in his career.
"He was awesome," Harsin told the Idaho Statesman. "The one thing I think you see in J-Mac ... is how much more physical he was. He got angry out there."
McNichols scored on runs of 5, 6 and 70 yards, and added a 6-yard touchdown reception on a shovel pass from sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien. It was the first time that a Boise State running back ran for 200 yards since Jay Ajayi on Nov. 29, 2014, against Utah State, which was also the last time a Bronco scored four touchdowns in a game.
McNichols, who has been somewhat overshadowed by San Diego State's Donnel Pumphrey when it comes to top running backs in the Mountain West, now has nine career games with 100 or more rushing yards, all in his past 11 appearances.
Utah State (2-2) enters the contest off a 27-20 home loss to Air Force and could be without two of its best players, running back Devante Mays and safety Dallin Leavitt.
Mays, who sat out Utah State's 34-20 win over Arkansas State a week earlier with an undisclosed leg injury, did not start against the Falcons and left after carrying just once for two yards. He had a career-high 208 yards rushing and three touchdowns in a season opening win over Weber State, so his loss would be a big one for the Aggies.
The same could be said if Leavitt, who has emerged as the leader of Utah State's secondary, can't go. He left the Air Force loss in the third quarter with an ankle injury.
"We'll see about Leavitt and Mays," Wells said at his weekly press conference. "If they are out an extended time, I'll let you know. And if they're not, it'll be day-to-day and we won't talk about it much anymore."
Boise State has won 16 consecutive conference openers and is 97-6 at home since 2000, a 94.2 winning percentage that ranks as the best in the nation during that span.