Bet on Blue: The New Mexico Lobos Are Out of Options

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 Game Week: Triple Option edition has arrived.  In what is becoming a theme, Boise State is seeking revenge against a team that took them down in 2015.  This week the Broncos look to avenge 2015’s embarrassing loss to New Mexico on The Blue while slaying the ghosts of triple option past.  Fan anxiety is at dangerously high levels as visions of fullback dives, missed assignments, and WIDE open receivers are reoccurring in their nightmares.  As always, Bet on Blue will attempt to be the soothing Xanax that stops the hyperventilating in Bronco Nation.

Boise State is 4-0 after dispatching Utah State on Saturday night.  The 21-10 victory keeps the dreams of winning the Mountain West Conference alive and well, but did little to quell the building angst amongst a Boise State fan base that seems to be waiting for the other shoe to drop.  This week’s Bet on Blue will attempt to calm those fears by featuring a rudimentary triple option primer, diving into BSU’s 31-24 loss of 2015, and detailing why the 2016 Broncos are built to limit the options of the Lobos from New Mexico. Then, of course, we will decide if we should Bet on Blue this Friday night.

The Triple Option: A History Lesson

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The triple option is a demonic football scheme that was invented by Satan to tempt otherwise wholesome and disciplined football players into playing unsound defense.  It is called the triple option because the quarterback has three options (obviously) on each play.  The quarterback chooses which option to take based on his read of specific defensive players.

The first read, called the dive read, tells the quarterback whether or not he should hand the ball off to the fullback.  If the dive read defender crashes inside then the quarterback will keep the ball and run a sweep.  Having decided against the fullback dive, the quarterback will move on to his next read, the pitch read, and either keep the ball or pitch it to a trailing running back depending on the defender’s reaction.  That’s pretty much it, oh wait, almost forgot…there’s also cut blocks, lots and lots of knee destroying cut blocks.

The triple option is a fairly simple scheme that works because it forces the opposing team to go against their natural aggressive instincts and instead play assignment-sound football.  On each snap, all 11 defensive players have a specific and vital assignment based on the formation and actions of the offense.  Essentially, the defense needs to have a “read and react” mindset instead of the “pin your ears back” mentality that often defines a good defense.  That’s an overly simple description of the triple option, but it’ll do. Let’s look back on that 2015 game, shall we?

The “Shaking-My-Head” 2015 loss to New Mexico

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Bet on Blue is fully aware that the first rule of Bronco losses is to never talk about Bronco losses. Let’s make an exception in this case as we try to figure out why Boise State lost to New Mexico last season, and what can be done differently to prevent that unthinkable outcome in 2016.

Looking at the box score of the Bronco’s 31-24 loss to New Mexico, it is really quite amazing that BSU lost the game.  Here are some stats (via ESPN.com) from the game that, in isolation, would make you think that the game was just another Bronco blowout of an overmatched MWC foe:

 

 

Boise State

New Mexico

1st Downs

40 11

3rd Down Conversions

9-24 0-10

Total Yards

641 413

Passing Yards

506 218

Rushing Yards

135 195

Penalty Yards

39 132

Time of Possession

33:09 26:51

If after looking at those numbers you can’t figure out how BSU lost, you’re not alone.  So what does explain the loss?  Well, like most BSU losses this decade, the answer is big plays and turnovers.  The Broncos gave up run plays of 74 and 40 yards and pass plays of 46, 42, 81, and 30 yards (that’s over 75% of New Mexico’s total offensive yards in six plays).  Boise State also had far too many drives that didn’t end in kicks.  BSU threw three interceptions, lost a fumble, and turned the ball over on downs twice.

The turnovers cost Boise State points. Rypien threw an interception on the UNM nine yard line and McNichols fumbled on the UNM one yard line.  The Broncos failed to convert two 4th downs that stymied drives that saw Boise march the ball all the way to the UNM 15 and 36-yard lines.  Boise State’s turnovers also directly led to 10 New Mexico points, and the Lobos scored off of a BSU missed field goal as well.  Add those turnovers up any way you like and it’s easy to conclude that ball security issues cost Boise State a win on The Blue.

All of that analysis leads to this conclusion: the triple option didn’t cause BSU to lose to New Mexico in 2015. Was it a contributing factor? Sure. The option scheme had something to do with the big plays. Was it the biggest reason for the loss? No way!  Boise State lost because they turned the ball over far too often, and missed a few easy assignments that are easily correctable.  Let’s move on to a discussion about why this 2016 team will have no problem dispatching the Lobos.

What Wil Happen?

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 Boise State defensive coordinator Andy Avalos has shown the ability to game plan defensive schemes based on the offense that his team will face that week.  He showed that skill in spades when he reconfigured the defensive scheme in order to stifle the potent air-raid offense of Washington State. This week, against the triple option, Avalos will show off that skill to Bronco Nation yet again.

The Defense

Expect the Broncos to continue to line up in a 3-4 defense this week.  The 3-4 look will allow the linebackers and secondary more space to avoid blocks and attack the ball carrier.  Also, look for Boise State to be more prepared early in the game for the odd looks of the triple option than in years past.  The Broncos worked on triple option defense in both the spring and fall to ready themselves for this week.  This is the first offseason they have spent time on triple option defensive schemes.

Although it wasn’t the triple option that doomed the Broncos in 2015, the defense is motivated, prepared, and more than capable of holding New Mexico to their lowest offensive output of the season.  Need another reason for optimism? The Lobos best passer, QB Austin Apodaca, is out and their most electric player (by far), RB Teriyon Gipson, is questionable with a hamstring injury. If Gipson doesn’t play the Lobos are in for a really long night. If he’s even limited it’s a huge blow for New Mexico.

The Offense

The offense has been a little off since rattling off 45 points to open the season in Louisiana.  The Broncos have scored 31, 38, and 21 points in their three games since, and have gone completely cold in long stretches during each game.  This should be the game where that discouraging trend reverses itself.  The Lobos have given up 355 yards and nearly 33 points per game this season.  That wouldn’t be too horrible if it wasn’t for the dreadful slate of opponents they’ve faced so far this season.  The New Mexico defense is awful, and this matchup is just what the doctor ordered for a Boise State offense that needs to get well.  I am predicting a big game from Chaz Anderson (call it a feeling).

The Line

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 The line for this game opened at Boise State -16 and is hovering between -17 and -17.5 as game day approaches.  The over/under is 61, meaning the betting markets are predicting a 39-22 Boise State victory. There are some interesting betting trends in this game, including:

  • Boise State is 5-0 against the spread in their last five away games
  • The OVER is 5-0 in New Mexico’s last five games
  • Boise State is 3-2 against the spread in their last five games. All covers came on the road
  • Boise State is 2-5 lifetime against the spread vs New Mexico

Should We Bet on Blue?

This is a scenario where you just have to hold your nose and bet on the Broncos to cover the 17 points on Friday night.  Boise State has been a covering machine on the road and New Mexico is not a good football team. Sure Boise State is just 2-5 lifetime against the spread versus the Lobos, but those lines were often hovering around 30 points.  Bet on Blue isn’t touching the over/under, but the over seems like a decent play this week as well. So Bet on Blue this week, be nervous, be afraid, be skeptical, but Bet on Blue.  Look for a 48-23 Boise State victory.

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