One of the most intense rivalries in all of college football has an even bigger edge to it this year, as the Idaho Vandals visit Bronco Stadium with a 7-3 record and their best season in more than a decade. The fifth ranked Broncos sit at 9-0 and atop the WAC standings, and while the team is certainly in the driver’s seat for a seventh conference title in the past eight years, there rides a much bigger prize with the outcome of each game: a potential BCS berth.
With everything riding week to week for the Broncos, there would seem to be little need for extra motivation. But, in rivalry games, that extra motivation is always there. Boise State has dominated this rivalry of late, winning 10 straight dating back to 1999 and 11 of the past 12 games. And, the bulk of those games have not been close, as the Broncos have won by an average score of 49.8 to 17.4. As remarkable as those numbers appear, both Bronco fans and Idaho fans are quick to remember that from 1982-1993, Idaho disposed of Boise State for 12 straight years. The ebs and flows of this rivalry have been simply amazing. Saturday, the Broncos look to take one step closer to another WAC title and inching a bit further toward matching that 12 game Vandal win streak. The Vandals, meanwhile, would like nothing better than to derail Boise State’s BCS train and end a decade of losing to the Broncos.
In big games, it’s bottling the emotion, using it effectively and then making sure you treat the game as a marathon not a sprint. There is no question, Idaho enters this year’s game with a much improved team, evidence by a 7-3 record and headed toward a post-season bowl game for the first time since 1998. Boise State has been in this same scenario year after year. The pressure of big games in November, fighting for not just league titles but national ranking and prestige, and the opportunity for a BCS game. Which team strikes first and capitalizes on momentum out of the game could determine game flow, especially for Idaho. A good start on the road will certainly be key for the Vandals. A slow start is something that plagued them in losing two of their last three, when they fell behind by substantial amounts to both Nevada and Fresno State.
SECOND QUARTER OR SECOND HALF?
The game by game trend for Boise State has been dominating the second quarter, outscoring the opposition 140-24 in the second 15 minutes of the game. Only two teams all season have scored points in the second quarter against the Bronco defense. Meanwhile, Boise State has managed to average nearly 17 points per second quarter in taking a halftime lead into the locker room in every game this season. Idaho, meanwhile, has turned its fortunes around this season by becoming a solid second half team and being able to rally in tight situations. In the fourth quarter alone, the Vandals are averaging nearly 10 points per game and have produced comeback wins or used big plays to hold on to tight leads in victories over Northern Illinois, Colorado State, San Jose State and Louisiana Tech. After trailing 24-0 at halftime last week to Fresno State, the Vandals outscored the Bulldogs 21-7, showing off the ‘no quit’ attitude that has been a trademark of the team in 2009.
LEADERS AT THE HELM
The top two passing teams in the WAC will be on display on the field on Saturday. Boise State leads the conference and ranks third nationally, while Idaho trails only Boise State in the WAC and ranks ninth nationally. Kellen Moore has been superb for the Broncos, throwing 27 touchdowns and 2,259 yards with just three interceptions. Nathan Enderle of Idaho has put together a solid junior season, ranking 10th nationally in pass efficiency and throwing for 15 touchdowns. Enderle did miss last week’s game against Fresno State with a rotator cuff injury, but reserve Brian Reader stepped in, throwing for 240 yards and two touchdowns without a turnover.
THE FLIP SIDE OF THE PASSING GAMEWhile the passing offenses of both Idaho and Boise State have been difficult for the opposition to stop, the Broncos own the advantage in defending the pass. Boise State has been almost as good against the pass as they have in throwing the ball, leading the WAC and ranking 10th nationally in pass efficiency defense. With a veteran secondary and a stout pass rush, the Broncos have picked off 14 passes, have sacked opposing quarterbacks 15 times and allowed just 10 touchdowns through the air in 9 games this season. The Bronco secondary and pass defense against Idaho’s pass attack will certainly be a key game within the game. On the flip side, Kellen Moore’s mastery through the air will likely be a major concern for Idaho. The Vandals are allowing 254 yards passing per game and have been hit with 20 touchdown passes and a 66 percent completion rate by opposing quarterbacks. Not a good sign heading into a game against a Boise State offense that features three receivers who have 100 yard games this year and All-WAC threats Austin Pettis and Titus Young, who have combined for 18 receiving touchdowns.