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NCAAF Team Report - Utah State - INSIDE SLANT
When the Mountain West released its conference schedule last spring, one of the marquee matchups most fans circled was this week's game between defending WAC champion Utah State and Boise State.
Both figured to be ranked and the winner would likely have the inside track for Mountain Division title and a berth in the first-ever Mountain West championship game on Dec. 7.
But although Saturday night's game in Logan still will play a key role in the division title race, it has lost plenty of the luster expected of it during the preseason.
One reason is Boise State (3-2, 1-1) has already lost two games, including a rare 38-6 smack-down to open the season at Washington.
Then Utah State (3-3, 2-0) suffered a huge injury during a 31-14 loss to BYU on Oct. 4 when star quarterback Chuckie Keeton tore knee ligaments in his left knee, ending his season.
Keeton was second in the nation in touchdowns (18) and points responsible for (120 points) at the time of the injury. He was a strong candidate for Mountain West player of the year honors.
There's still plenty riding on Saturday's outcome -- the winner will likely end up in the title game barring a total collapse down the stretch -- but on the national level it's just a ho-hum game now in a down year for the Mountain West conference.
For the second straight week, the Falcons began practice not knowing if their game would be cancelled because of the government shutdown. But the Colorado Springs Gazette reported late Tuesday afternoon that the Thursday night game with San Diego State, scheduled to be televised by the CBS Sports Network, would be played. Considering Air Force has dropped five in a row, that may not be such a good thing for the Falcons.
GAME PREVIEW: vs. San Diego State, Thursday. The good news is that the Falcons get to stay home for the game which will be played on a short week. The bad news is that San Diego State has won three in a row over the Falcons, including a 28-9 victory last year in San Diego, and is no stranger to preparing for the triple-option.
The Broncos have had two weeks to prepare for the likely Mountain Division decider. Head coach Chris Petersen is 9-0 after a bye week.
GAME PREVIEW: at Utah State, Saturday. A win over the Chuckie Keeton-less Aggies would put Boise State back in the drivers' seat for the first ever conference title game on Dec. 7. The Broncos would own the head-to-head tie-breaker with Utah State and the toughest remaining games on the schedule are a road game at Colorado State and a home date with Brett Smith-led Wyoming.
The Rams (2-3, 0-0), who had a bye last week, become the final Mountain West team to start conference play. CSU has won five straight home games and will be trying for its first six-game home streak since 2001-02.
GAME PREVIEW: vs. San Jose State, Saturday. A big scheduling edge for the Rams who have had two weeks to prepare for the Spartans following a wild 59-42 victory over UTEP. Meanwhile, San Jose State has to travel to Fort Collins after making the long trip to Hawaii last weekend where the Spartans snapped a three-game losing streak with a 37-27 victory. Spartan QB David Fales will be going against a Colorado State defense that ranks 107th nationally allowing 282.6 yards per game.
The Lobos rank No. 1 in the nation in rushing with an average of 367.8 yards per game after rolling up 541 yards on the ground in a 66-17 rout of in-state rival New Mexico State last week. Backup quarterback Clayton Mitchem is questionable with a concussion.
GAME PREVIEW: at Wyoming, Saturday. Wyoming ranks a paltry 114th nationally in run defense allowing 236.2 yards per game on the ground. But the Cowboys have won two in a row over the Lobos, including a 28-23 win last year in Albuquerque when New Mexico rushed for 396 yards.
The Aggies (3-3, 2-0) could put themselves in prime position to represent the Mountain Division in the first-ever Mountain West championship game on Dec. 7 with a win over the Broncos. Utah State would own the tie-breaker against the Broncos and gets both of its two biggest other threats, Wyoming and Colorado State, in Logan.
GAME PREVIEW: vs. Boise State, Saturday. With star quarterback Chuckie Keeton done for the season after tearing his left ACL and MCL in a 31-14 loss against BYU on Oct. 4, the Aggies will turn either to junior college veteran Craig Harrison or true freshman Darrell Garretson at quarterback. The Aggies also will be without running back Joe Hill who is out for the year after tearing an ACL.
The Cowboys (3-2, 1-0) have had an extra week to prepare for old Front Range rival New Mexico which means trying to fix a run defense that yielded 256 yards and five touchdowns in a 42-21 loss at Texas State on Sept. 28.
GAME PREVIEW: New Mexico, Saturday. The Lobos (2-3, 0-1) lead the FBS in rushing yards at 367.8 yards per game and had three 100-yard rushers in one game against UNLV. Wyoming, meanwhile, has allowed more than 300 yards rushing against both Nebraska (37-34 loss) and at Air Force (56-23 win). The big key will be getting a lead and forcing the Lobos what they do very poorly -- pass. New Mexico averages just 76 yards per game through the air.
The No. 21 Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0) get a bye before hosting UNLV (3-2, 1-0) in what very well could be a battle of the West Division's two top teams if the Rebels take care of business at home this weekend against Hawaii.
GAME PREVIEW: Bye. The Bulldogs host UNLV on Oct. 19.
The Rainbow Warriors (0-5, 0-3) will likely continue to play quarterback roulette as they travel to Las Vegas, affectionately known as the ninth island because of its large number of Polynesian transplants. Ohio State transfer Taylor Graham, who started the first three games but sat out the last two with an injury to his left (non-throwing) shoulder, was cleared to practice last week but didn't take part in drills. Backups Sean Schroeder and Ikaika Woolsey, the best runner of the three, have both seen action in the past two games.
GAME PREVIEW: at UNLV, Saturday. There's a chance that Hawaii will have more fans at Sam Boyd Stadium than the host Rebels. Although UNLV is favored and brings in a very rare three-game win streak, it should be noted Hawaii's last win came over the Rebels, 48-10, last December in Honolulu in a game that really wasn't even that close.
The Wolf Pack (3-3, 2-1) have two weeks to prepare for a road game at Boise State and also to try get rid of the bad taste of a bitter 51-44 overtime loss at San Diego State. It begins a tough four-game stretch that includes the annual Battle for the Fremont Cannon against UNLV on Oct. 26 in Reno and is followed up by tough back-to-back road games at Fresno State and Colorado State.
GAME PREVIEW: Bye. The Wolf Pack play at Boise State on Oct. 19.
San Diego State
The Aztecs' sputtering offense finally caught fire during a 51-44 overtime win over Nevada, piling up a season-high 541 yards in the process. A key reason for that is all-Mountain West running back Adam Muema, hampered the past month by an ankle injury, is finally healthy again.
GAME PREVIEW: at Air Force, Thursday. The Aztecs didn't get official word until Tuesday afternoon that the game with the Falcons was still on because of the government shutdown. So it will be real short week of prep time for Air Force's triple-option attack.
San Jose State
The Spartans snapped a three-game losing streak with a 37-27 victory at Hawaii on Saturday night and now must hit the road again with a Saturday afternoon game in Fort Collins. LB Keith Smith leads the FBS with 80 total tackles this season, an average of 16.0 per game.
GAME PREVIEW: at Colorado State, Saturday. After playing in hot and humid Honolulu on Saturday night, the Spartans get to turn around and play a well-rested Colorado State squad in the cool altitude of Fort Collins with temperatures in the upper 50's. QB David Fales gets to attack a Rams defense that is yielding 292.6 yards per game through the air.
The Rebels have won three straight games for the first time since the 2003 season. Since taking over quarterback duties early during a Sept. 21 win over Western Illinois, senior QB Caleb Herring has completed 75 percent of his passes (66-of-88) for 713 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions.
GAME PREVIEW: vs. Hawaii, Saturday. Huge game for fourth-year coach Bobby Hauck. Beat the winless Rainbow Warriors and the Rebels are 4-2 and have a legitimate shot at going to a bowl game for the first time since 2000. Lose and fans will begin grumbling again about his job status.
NCAAF Team Report - Utah State - NOTES, QUOTES
--Fresno State WR Devante Adams tied a school record with 16 receptions in a 61-14 victory at Idaho. Adams, who had seven receptions for 133 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter alone, had 13 catches for 176 yards and three touchdowns by halftime en route to Mountain West offensive player of the week honors. The sophomore is tied for first nationally with Oregon State's Brandin Cooks and SMU's Jeremy Johnson with an average of 10.4 receptions per game.
--New Mexico leads the nation in rushing offense with an average of 367.8 yards per game, including 541 in last week's 66-17 thrashing of in-state rival New Mexico State and 497 in a 56-42 loss to UNLV. "I think it's a huge accomplishment," second-year head coach Bob Davie said. "We've talked about building an identity in this program. It all does start with the running game. Once we've established that trademark, it's pretty impressive."
--Colorado State senior LB Shaquil Barrett leads the nation in tackles for loss with an average of 2.5 per game.
--Two Mountain West teams rank in the top three nationally in first downs. Fresno State leads the FBS with 153 while Utah State is tied with Ohio State for second with 152.
--UNLV has penalized just once over the last 10 quarters and ranks second nationally in fewest penalties per game (2.6) and penalty yards per game (24.8).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I can't imagine there would be anything but extreme motivation to go play this weekend for lots of reasons, actually. It was a bad performance by us. We went into that game thinking we were going to have a good chance to win it. They just went out and kicked our tails." -- UNLV coach Bobby Hauck on playing winless Hawaii, which embarrassed the Rebels, 48-10, last year in Honolulu.
NCAAF Team Report - Utah State - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH THIS WEEK IN THE MWC:
1. Can Utah State find a way to upset big, bad Boise State at home without star quarterback Chuckie Keeton? If so, the Aggies would be in prime position to represent the Mountain Division in the conference's first ever championship game.
2. Can UNLV win four games in a row for the first time since 2000? That also was the last time the Rebels went bowling.
3. How prepared will San Diego State, which didn't learn until Tuesday afternoon it actually would be playing Thursday night at Air Force, be for the Falcons' triple-option offense.
4. Can New Mexico run its way to a bowl game? The Lobos, the nation's No. 1 rushing team, will be going for their third win of the season at Wyoming.
5. Was a trip -- and win -- at Hawaii just what San Jose State (2-3, 1-1), arguably the conference's biggest underachiever, needed to get on track? The Spartans can't afford a loss at Colorado State if they hope to battle Fresno State for the West Division crown.
--Utah State QB Chuckie Keeton is out for the season after tearing both his ACL and MCL in an Oct. 4 game against BYU.
--San Jose State CB Bene Benwikere, carted off the field after a nasty collision in a Sept. 27 loss to Utah State, was cleared to travel to Hawaii last weekend and could be available for Saturday's game at Colorado State.
--Air Force QB Kale Pearson (ACL) is out for the year.
--Nevada senior TE Kolby Arendse (foot) is out for the year.
--Utah State RB Joe Hill (ACL) is out for the year.
--New Mexico backup QB Clayton Mitchem is questionable with concussion symptoms.
--Colorado State WR Charles Lovett, the team's leading receiver a year ago, is due back this week after missing five games with a knee injury suffered in a scrimmage on Aug. 20.
--Colorado State CB Bernard Blake, take off the field on a backboard with a neck injury during a Sept. 28 game against UTEP, is expected to play this week.