Before diving into this week’s keys, let us revisit last week’s three keys to victory against UNLV and how they impacted the SDSU Aztecs‘ win.
Win the “Middle 8”
The “Middle 8” is considered the last four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half. In the game, the Aztecs won the “Middle 8” 14-0 off two touchdown passes from Lucas Johnson to Jesse Matthews with less than three minutes remaining in the first half. The defense also shined by stopping the Rebels drive in between those two touchdowns on a fourth-down attempt in SDSU territory.
Hold the “Chuck Wagon” to less than 75 yards rushing
The Aztecs held Charles Williams, the reigning Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week, to only 35 rushing yards on 16 carries, with the longest run of only nine yards. While the defense allowed 372 passing yards to the Rebels, including 59 to Williams, stopping the run throughout the entire game allowed the Aztecs to play the whole second half with the lead.
Lucas Johnson continues to play confident and decisive with limited mistakes
Outside of the first two drives of the second half, Johnson played a great game, completing 75% of his passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns. The last two drives of the first half, after the Aztecs fell behind 10-7, was Johnson at his best in the passing game, and the Aztecs’ play-calling and aggressiveness showed the confidence the coaching staff has in him. Johnson’s only mistake of the night was an interception at the start of the fourth quarter in the red zone when a quick pass to the right was deflected and fell right into the hands of a UNLV cornerback while he lay on his back.
The victory over UNLV kept the Aztecs in control of their own destiny as they pursue a berth in the conference championship. Due to its one-game lead over Fresno State, SDSU can clinch its division with a win on Friday or a Fresno State loss on Thanksgiving. Here are the three keys to victory against Boise State.
Win the Red Zone battle
This season, a large part of Boise State’s success is their red zone efficiency on both sides of the ball. Nationally, they are ranked 11th in red zone offense and 29th in red zone defense, both of which are first in the Mountain West. The defense has only allowed touchdowns on 15 of 34 opponents’ red zone opportunities, less than 50%.
However, the one negative in Boise State’s red zone statistics is scoring only 27 touchdowns in 50 appearances (54%). While coach Avalos is pleased that they have been able to get at least three points on 92% of their red-zone trips, he understands scoring touchdowns will be key moving forward. “The field is shrunk [in the red zone], football is about space, and there is less space [there],” said Avalos. “How we use that space is everything.”
In comparison, the Aztecs have scored on 31 of 35 red zone opportunities with 25 touchdowns (71%) and only given up 16 touchdowns in 27 opponents’ trips (59%). Continuing this trend on Friday will be vital for the Aztecs to come out on top.
Win the turnover margin
Boise State is 6-1 when they win the turnover margin vice 1-3 when they do not. They are also 4-0 when they force at least three turnovers in a game. They are tied for second in the nation with a +1.09 turnover margin. They have only turned it over 11 times, tied for 27th fewest in the country, while forcing 23, 7th most in the country.
The Aztecs have also turned the ball over only 11 times but have forced 17, six fewer than the Broncos. In their lone loss of the season against Fresno State, the Aztecs turned it over three times. Whoever wins the turnover margin will win the game.
Win the “Middle 8”
Last week’s keys outlined the “middle 8” and its importance on the game’s outcome. San Diego State was able to outscore the Rebels 14-0 during this period in a game they won by only eight. The Aztecs now hold a 55-7 scoring advantage over their opponents this season during the “middle 8.”
Perhaps, no team’s outcomes have been determined more by the “middle 8” than Boise State. In the Broncos’ seven wins, the team has outscored its opponents 47-3 in the eight-minute period. In the team’s four losses, the Broncos have been outscored 39-7 in the same period. While the start of the game will be important given the 9 am kickoff time, whichever team can finish the first half strong and start the second half with intensity and energy will likely win the game.