CSU Rams vs. Boise State: 4 things to know, key matchups and predictions

CSU Rams (2-5, 2-1 MW) at Boise State (5-2, 4-0)

When/where: 5 p.m. Saturday, Albertsons Stadium

TV/Radio: FS1/1600 AM

Line: Boise State -27.0, 42.5 over/under

Weather: 55 degrees, partly cloudy

What to know

Better protection: For the first time this season, the CSU offensive line didn’t allow a sack in last week’s 17-14 win over Hawaii. A sign the Rams’ banged-up front is starting to click? Or an indictment of the Rainbow Warriors pass rush? The Rams should get answers to those questions Saturday against a BSU defense averaging 2.29 sacks/game.

Getting defensive: For all the preseason talk about new head coach Jay Norvell’s wide-open offense, it’s CSU’s defense that has carried the Rams in conference play. Through three Mountain West contests, CSU has given up an average of 14.7 points/game — good for second in the conference. How long that will last is another matter altogether, with the Rams facing three of the MW’s top four scoring offenses over the next four weeks.

A Koetter above: Following a 27-10 loss at UTEP in Week 4, Broncos head coach Andy Avalos convinced former Boise State and NFL coach Dirk Koetter to return as the team’s offensive coordinator. The results — outside of a 19-14 slog over Air Force last week — have been explosive, as the Broncos have won three straight games, scoring 31.3 points/game. While Koetter promised this was a one-season deal, his presence could have a long-term impact for Avalos, who was on shaky ground after a 2-2 start.

Series domination: No matter the venue, time of year or stakes, the Rams have had no answer for Boise State since the two became conference rivals in 2011. Out of 11 meetings, all losses, CSU’s best effort was taking Boise to overtime in 2017.

Key matchups

CSU S Jack Howell vs. BSU QB Taylen Green: Green has gotten steadier under center with Koetter calling plays, but the redshirt freshman has also shown a penchant for giving the ball away with one pick in all four games played this fall. Howell, with a team-high three interceptions, has a nose for the football. A takeaway or two would go a long way for CSU’s upset hopes.

CSU RB Avery Morrow vs. BSU front seven: With the passing game still struggling to find its rhythm, Morrow has become a consistent producer for the Rams with three consecutive 100-yard rushing games. The one constant in Boise’s losses to Oregon State and UTEP: an inability to stop the ground game. Get Morrow going again, and the Rams have a chance.

Predictions

Sean Keeler, sports columnist: Boise State 31, CSU 10

After a nice palate-cleansing stretch of Nevada (W), Utah State (L) and Hawaii (W), the Rammies embark on a four-week run against teams with a pulse. If QB Clay Millen is healthy enough to start against New Mexico on Black Friday after the Broncos (2.29 sacks per game), San Jose State (2.0 sacks), Wyoming (3.13 sacks) and Air Force (0.75 sacks) get done with him, November can be considered a reasonable success.

Matt Schubert, deputy sports editor: Boise State 35, CSU 13

Even after an 0-4 start, the Rams’ bowl hopes are not dead — just on life support. The key to reviving them? Winning two of their last three road games, including at San Jose State on Nov. 5 and at Air Force on Nov. 19. Lose Saturday, and the Rams’ margin for error goes out the window — which feels like an inevitability.

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