USU-BSU gameday thoughts stopping Southwick, turnover battle, fan turnout and more
It's White-Out Night in Logan. Utah State is expecting a close-to-full, if not a sellout, crowd. And the Aggies need every advantage they can get against a very tough Boise State team.
The six-point line has not moved much, but it's hard to doubt that the Broncos pose a tough challenge for Utah State. Boise has beaten the Aggies 10 straight times, and without three offensive starters for USU, odds appear good they can do it again. Will the Aggies be able to surprise with a spirited fight for their goal of a Mountain West Championship? Time will tell.
Some gameday thoughts:
• USU's secondary has some shoring up to do. Joe Southwick doesn't get the respect of some of the quarterbacks in the Mountain West, but he makes very good decisions. His efficiency is a top-three mark in the conference, and he's completing more than 73 percent of his passes. Utah State will be looking to stop the run first, and that will be challenging against Jay Ajayi, but the clear weakness has been in the secondary, when breakdowns led to long TDs last week against BYU. Brian Suite should be back, which will help, but Tay Glover-Wright is looking to bounce back after Mitch Mathews exploited him last week. Matt Miller, Boise State's big-bodied receiver, is no joke - very sure-handed and physical, and he can do bad things to a defense in open space. Possibly relevant: Can the return of Connor Williams help the pass rush close on Southwick quickly?
• Aggies looking for an edge in the turnover battle. Even as the secondary has given up its share of yards in recent weeks, there has been a positive: Interceptions. After going pick-less in its first four games, USU has gotten a pair in its last two. The good news for the Aggies is they've come with four different defensive backs, so it's not as if Boise State can avoid that risk by throwing away from any one DB. Utah State will likely have to win some possessions through turnovers. Zach Vigil, a fumble-forcing and recovering machine this season, might have something to add there. But can the defense play well enough to account for the possible miscues of a first-time starting quarterback? The Broncos themselves have gotten eight interceptions this year - the Aggies are going to have to be efficient on offense and take care of the football.
• Can the run game be effective? Once Utah State answers the top question of who its starting quarterback will be, this will be the next biggie. If you're Boise State, wouldn't you stack the box and force a new passer to throw it over you? A lot of pressure will be on the offensive line, Joey DeMartino and Robert Marshall to get some yards on the ground. The Aggies have had success in that area this season, and even ran the ball last week after Keeton went out. Boise State's defense hasn't excelled in this area, ranking No. 59 in run defense nationally, still DeMarcus Lawrence and Ricky Tjong-a-Tjoe do a good job of funneling the run at the line of scrimmage for the Broncos' younger linebacking corps. If Utah State can't get it done on the ground, it might not matter who is throwing the ball - that will severely hurt their chances.
• Fan turnout will be talked about. Utah State athletics had 700 tickets left as of Wednesday morning, and the Aggies are anticipating their first-ever string of three straight sellouts. Will Romney Stadium look sold out? The White Out against Boise could be a good measuring stick of the faith Utah State fans are feeling in this team. The stakes of this game are still very high - if the Aggies win, they're still in control of the Mountain Division, and on track to go to the Mountain West Championship. But if fans aren't showing up this week, it could be an indicator that they simply don't believe in a Chuckie Keeton-less team. That would be very discouraging for a group of players who have helped Utah State go from a 4-win program to an 11-win program, and it wouldn't bode well for the rest of the season. On the other hand, a full crowd might well mean that Aggie fans are still hopeful that this team can still compete in the Mountain West this year - something that Kurt Kragthorpe still believes, by the way.
See you tonight.
Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon