Fresno State at No. 22 Boise State
7 p.m. at Albertsons Stadium (36,387)
Bulldogs 6-6, 5-3 Mountain West’s West Division; Broncos 10-2, 7-1 Mountain Division
KGPE (47.1)/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
27 degrees, mostly cloudy
Broncos lead 12-5
Keys to the game
For Fresno State: Turnovers. The Bulldogs got off to a slow start separating opponents from the football, gaining11 turnovers in their first nine games for a minus-5 margin, but have been getting more tacklers to the ball and are better and more consistent in the secondary now. They have forced nine turnovers in a three-game winning streak and any break to the Broncos’ offensive rhythm will help significantly.
For Boise State: Pound the ball. Grant Hedrick has passed for 3,232 yards and leads the nation in completion percentage at 71.5%. But the Broncos are better off putting the bulk of this one on the running game. Boise State has rushed for 200 or more yards in seven consecutive games, with a high of 312 at Wyoming and a low of 212 against San Diego State, and run for 26 TDs in that span.
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter has taken a team to Boise State twice — in 2012 and earlier this season. The Bulldogs lost, 20-10 and 37-27, but this year appeared closer to breaking through a mental block.
“The first time we went up there, our first year, I don’t think our guys were ready to compete against them in Boise,” DeRuyter said. “I think because their past experience was kind of an albatross that they had going up there, and I didn’t do a good enough job as a coach of convincing our guys that this is a good football team, but there’s no mystique up there.
“I think when we went up there this fall, we knew we played a good football team that was very well coached, and we held in there for three-quarters of the game knowing we had a chance. It’s going to take that kind of an effort and I think that combined with how we’ve played in our past three games I’m hoping we go up there with a lot of confidence. We know it’s going to be a tremendous task to try to beat a Top 25 team at a place they’ve won 95% of their games, but our guys relish that challenge.”
Boise State is 91-4 on its field since 2000 and has won 13 in a row, the fourth-longest active streak behind Alabama (16), Baylor (15) and Florida State (14).
One more last chance: Fresno State had some breakdowns in the fourth quarter of its Oct. 17 loss in Boise, on both sides of the football, and the Bulldogs are relishing a shot to get things right.
“Second chances are really rare and I feel like this is a second chance to go out there and prove everyone wrong that didn’t believe in us,” inside (Mike) linebacker Karl Mickelsen said.
“It’s just, you get those times where you say, ‘I should have done this, I should have done this,’ and you don’t usually get the chance to play the same team twice in one year so it’s like a second chance. You just go out there more confidently, fix all the little mistakes and just go after it.”
Experience matters? The Bulldogs have 13 returning starters from the 2013 Mountain West Conference title game against Utah State, including eight on the defensive side of the ball.
Running man: Running back Marteze Waller rushed for 164 yards and two touchdowns on just 18 plays in the earlier meeting, the most yards allowed on the ground by the Broncos since Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell churned out 210 on 44 plays on Aug. 31, 2012.
One of those touchdowns came on a 76-yard run in the opening quarter — the longest against Boise State since Adam Muema of San Diego State went 81 on Nov. 18, 2011.
Rating their chances: Boise State made its first appearance this season in the Associated Press’ Top 25 and Amway Coaches Poll on Nov. 23 after ripping Wyoming 63-14, checking in at No. 25.
The Broncos are up to No. 22 in both polls, which might be bad news for Fresno State.
The Bulldogs have lost 18 in a row to ranked opponents, the last victory coming in the 2004 MPC Computers Bowl against No 18 Virginia. That game was played on the blue turf at Broncos Stadium.
Feeling blue: Fresno State also has not defeated Boise State on the Broncos’ home field since 1984 and is 1-7 there all-time.
The 27 points the Bulldogs scored in that October matchup are the most they have had there since that 37-21 victory under coach Jim Sweeney.
Conversion chart: Fresno State allowed Nevada and Hawaii to convert only 8 of 34 third-down plays into firsts (23.5%), which could play well Saturday night.
Past results are no guarantee of future success, but the Broncos have not converted third downs at a high rate in back-to-back games all season. In their last game, they were 8 of 16 in a 50-19 victory over Utah State that clinched the Mountain Division title.
Over its past five games Boise State was 53.9% against Brigham Young, then 30% at New Mexico, then 52.9% against San Diego State, then 36.4% at Wyoming, then 50% against Utah State.
The New Mexico and Wyoming games were on the road, but it is a puzzling trend considering the Lobos and Cowboys are 12th and ninth, respectively, in the conference in third-down conversion defense.
The 300: Fresno State free safety Derron Smith, credited with 10 tackles in the win over Hawaii, can become the sixth player in school history with 300 or more tackles.
He is tied for seventh on the career list with Marquez Pope at 291. Omar Stoutmire (1993-96) is the leader with 458. Tim Skipper (1997-2000) with 418, Ben Jacobs (2007-10) with 387, Bryce McGill (2000-03) with 326 and A.J. Gass (1993-97) with 325 are the others in Club 300.