No. 21 Utah St., No. 23 Boise St. brace for MWC battle
The stage could not be brighter when Utah State and Boise State meet to determine half the Mountain West championship game matchup.
No. 21 Utah State (10-1, 7-0 MWC Mountain) has won a school-record 10 in a row, tied with Michigan for the fifth-longest streak in the FBS, and the Aggies have run the table since falling at Michigan State on opening day.
No. 23 Boise State (9-2, 6-1) has won six straight since opening conference play with a loss to San Diego State, and with a victory would win the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Aggies and advance to the league title game Dec. 1.
“This is a typical Boise State team,” Utah State coach Matt Wells said.
“They’re a very strong, tough team. (Senior) Brett Rypien is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play in this conference, and what a complement” of teammates on both sides of the ball.
The winner will host West Division champion Fresno State, which clinched a berth in the title game last week. Boise State began its three-game must-win sequence with a home victory over the Bulldogs on Nov. 9.
“I think they are playing the very best in the league right now,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said of the Aggies.
“We’re playing a great team that’s hot. We better be playing our best football when they show up here. We have a huge challenge for us defensively to try to slow them down.”
Utah State is averaging 49.3 points per game, second nationally to Oklahoma (49.5). The Aggies are 11th in total offense at 498.6 yards per game.
Still, the Aggies barely survived at snowy, wintery Colorado State on Saturday, winning 29-24 when the Rams’ potential game-winning touchdown pass as time expired was disallowed after a review determined the receiver stepped out of bounds before making the catch.
The Aggies had their second-lowest point total of the season in that game and gained “only” 310 yards of total offense after three straight games of at least 600 yards, topped by 804 against San Jose State the week before.
Quarterback Jordan Love threw for 169 yards and one touchdown against the Rams. The Aggies also scored on interception returns by Jontrell Rocquemore and Aaron Wade.
“A bad-weather game, we handled it well,” Wells said. “We just continued to fight and found a way to win. We’ve lost a decent amount of those games in the last couple of years and I’m happy for our guys.”
Defensive contributions are hardly unusual for the Aggies, who are tied with Maryland for the FBS lead with 18 interceptions and are second in the nation with 28 takeaways. Utah State leads the FBS with six defensive touchdowns and 10 non-offensive touchdowns, which includes four scoring kick returns.
Love, a sophomore, has completed 217 of 327 passes for 2,845 yards and 25 touchdowns against four interceptions and ranks No. 12 in the FBS in passing efficiency with a 162.2 rating.
Rypien, who set Mountain West career records for passing yards and completions in a 24-17 victory over Fresno State, threw for 222 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-14 victory at New Mexico last Friday.
Rypien has thrown for 3,270 yards with a career-high 28 touchdowns this season, and he is 16th in passing efficiency.
“You want to be in these big games coming down the stretch,” Rypien told reporters after beating the Lobos.
“They’re (Utah State) a great team and I’ll be looking forward to it.”
Alexander Mattison had a season-high 145 of the Broncos’ 227 yards rushing in Albuquerque and Sean Modster had nine receptions for 129 yards and all three Rypien touchdowns.
Mattison has 100-yard games in three of the last four and is the sixth Bronco running back with two straight 1,000-yard seasons. Boise State has had a 1,000-yard rusher for 10 straight seasons, the longest active streak in the county and tied for third-longest in NCAA history.
“Everybody is ready,” Aggies senior wide receiver Aaren Vaughns said.
“We’ve known that it was coming. It’s just on a bigger stage now. So, we just have to go out there and play.”
The teams played in this exact scenario in 2014, when Boise State beat the Aggies 50-19 at home to win the division title behind Jay Ajayi’s 229 yards rushing and five touchdowns. The Broncos then beat Fresno State for the league championship.