(Sports Network) The fight for Gem State bragging rights gets underway on Friday night, as the Idaho Vandals host the fourth-ranked Boise State Broncos in a Western Athletic Conference showdown.
Winners of 22 consecutive games, the nation's longest streak right now, the Broncos have not only been battling opponents on the gridiron on a weekly basis, they've been fighting the misconception that being from the WAC means that they can't compete against teams from the power conferences. As hard as they try, the Broncos can't break free of the stigma of being from a non-BCS conference and it continues to hurt their chances of challenging for the national title.
Last week the team faced what should have been a formidable foe in Hawaii, a team that was riding a six-game win streak heading into the meeting, but the Warriors were no match for Boise State at home as the visitors stumbled to a 42-7 loss. The victory for BSU left the team all alone at the top of the WAC standings and yet the squad actually fell from number two in the AP poll.
As for the Vandals, a team that made it to a bowl game and won last year, the window for making it to the postseason again is beginning to close rather quickly. With four games remaining on a 13-game schedule, Idaho has just four wins to show for its efforts and is trying to shake off a two-game slide entering this week. Last Saturday the team hosted nationally-ranked Nevada and was taken apart by the Wolf Pack in a 63-17 final. The 63 points allowed were the most since the Broncos put up the same number last year, just weeks after Nevada delivered a crushing 70-45 decision in Reno in 2009.
BSU has won every meeting since 1999 and is now ahead of the Vandals by a count of 21-17, thanks to a 63-25 triumph last year. The 63 points for the Broncos was their highest point total of the season.
The Boise State offense, as powerful as ever, added a new wrinkle to its attack last week when it went almost exclusively with a no-huddle format in the first half against the Warriors. The approach went over very well as the team produced a 21-0 lead at the break and went on to win by five touchdowns. Kellen Moore, who is now the school's all-time leader in passing touchdowns, converted 30-of-37 passes for a career-high 507 yards and three TDs. On the ground, it was Jeremy Avery with 92 yards and three TDs on 10 carries as the offense set a new school record with 737 yards in a single game.
"We've been dabbling and experimenting," said head coach Chris Petersen of the team's no-huddle offense. "It was pretty clean...it's hard when you don't major in that. It's a little bit outside of who we are. Sometimes we go back and forth between who we are and someone else. But we like it."
Defensively the Broncos stomped all over Hawaii, taking down the nation's leading passer (Bryant Moniz) seven times behind the line of scrimmage. Except for giving up a game-high 107 yards and a touchdown to running back Alex Green, the BSU defense did everything right in the meeting. Shea McClellin was an integral part of the attack as he registered two of those sacks among his three total stops.
"I think it was pretty big for our defense," McClellin said of getting after Moniz. "The [defensive backs] had coverage so we were able to get there. When we got pressure they were able to break it up."
McClellin now has a team-leading 6.5 sacks on the season and is second with 8.5 tackles for loss among his 20 total stops. What makes this group so impressive is that there isn't just one player who stands out as the stats leader because no one at this juncture even has more than 43 total stops and yet this is a group that ranks second in the entire nation in TFLs with 8.5 per game and is second with 3.9 sacks per outing as well.
The only team in the country that ranks in the top-five in both total offense and total defense, the Broncos are giving up a mere 231.4 ypg.
Even though he threw two interceptions against the Warriors, what Moore has done for the Boise State offense is just incredible. Still just a junior, Moore has thrown for multiple TDs in every game this season and has an efficiency rating off the charts at 192.38. He ranks third in the conference and 17th in the nation in total offense with just 293.5 ypg, but that's because he rarely plays a full 60 minutes. Although he failed to throw a TD in his first-ever game against the Vandals back in 2008, last year Moore tied a personal high with five TD strikes, so the Idaho secondary better be on its toes Friday.
"I thought it was a story of things happening at the wrong time," Idaho quarterback Nathan Enderle said of his team's miserable loss to Nevada. "We had a couple turnovers at big moments. We had a couple stops and a couple drives. The other times, we'd shoot ourselves in the foot...We didn't execute. You can't do that against a good team and they're a good team."
Enderle converted 15-of-34 passes for 224 yards and one touchdown, adding a rushing score as well, but all alone he was no match for the fury of the Nevada offense. Under the gun the entire game, the Vandals never really had a chance to get their rushing attack in gear and it finished with a mere 68 yards.
Every Nevada opponent knows that they will have their hands full trying to halt one of the most aggressive running attacks in the nation, but what the Vandals hadn't anticipated was how well the Wolf Pack were going to throw the ball. In addition to permitting a whopping 453 yards rushing, the Idaho defense was taken apart by an aerial attack that added another 391 yards and six TDs. The Vandals failed to log a single sack and came up with just five TFLs, one of those tallied by Tre'Shawn Robinson who posted a game-high 16 stops.
Taking down opponents for a loss is nothing new for the Vandals, the team ranking third in the conference and 18th in the nation in that department with better than seven per game, yet it barely made a dent in the production of Nevada last weekend.
The squad is giving up a hefty 197.8 ypg on the ground and another 239.0 ypg through the air, which means an opponent like Boise State can pick and choose the way it wants to dissect the Vandals this week.
Enderle has tried to give his team a fighting chance, helping the passing attack to generate 330.8 ypg to rank second in the conference and fourth in the nation at the moment, but without a reliable running back or two to do some additional damage opponents know just how to hit the Vandals. In fact, Idaho's offensive line has put Enderle and his backup in quite a number of awkward positions as the squad gives up 3.5 sacks per game to rank 117th in the country.
After taking apart Hawaii in all facets of the game, Boise State should have no problem beating up on a team like Idaho that has so many things working against it at the moment.