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Broncos hit the road for tough battle with Washington State

Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien (4) huddles up his offensive line before a play during the Sept. 2 season opener against Troy. (Chris Bronson/Idaho Press-Tribune)

The Boise State football team travels to Pullman, Washington, on Saturday for arguably its biggest game of the season.

The Broncos will face off with Washington State of the Pac-12 at 8:30 p.m. at Martin Stadium. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN.

Boise State (1-0) is coming off of a 24-13 win over Troy in week one, while Washington State (1-0) recorded a 31-0 win over Montana State.

The game is the second in a two-game series after the Broncos topped the Cougars 31-28 last year in Boise.

Here’s what to keep an eye on during Saturday’s game…

BOISE STATE’S QUARTERBACK SITUATION

Starter Brett Rypien struggled against Troy, completing 13 of 23 passes for 160 yards and no touchdowns. He was sacked four times and was hit and lost a fumble and also threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

Backup quarterback Montell Cozart, a graduate transfer from Kansas, was expected to play sparingly as a mobile option in short yardage situations, but ended up playing nearly as much as Rypien after leading the Broncos on both of their touchdown drives.

Coaches have said Rypien is the starter, but they appear to be intrigued by what Cozart brings to the table with his mobility. How the two quarterbacks are used against Washington State will be interesting to watch, especially if Rypien struggles.

WASHINGTON STATE OFFENSE

Boise State’s defense had an impressive first game, limiting an explosive Troy offense to 215 yards and no offensive touchdowns.

But things will be significantly tougher Saturday night against a Washington State offense that is one of the best in the country. Quarterback Luke Falk is the FBS active leader in career passing yards with 11,119 and has a talented group of running backs and receivers.

Boise State started three true sophomores in the secondary against Troy, and their entire group of linebackers had never started a game until Saturday. It’s a young group, but they proved against Troy that they’ve got some talent.

Will they be up for the challenge Saturday night against a Pac-12 offense, on the road, in a tough environment? It’s a big key for Boise State’s chances of winning.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Boise State’s special teams units were impressive against Troy, but coaches have cautioned that it was just one game and there’s plenty of work still to be done.

The Broncos looked much improved on special teams from a year ago. They had 124 punt return yards against Troy after having just 159 total punt return yards all of last season.

Avery Williams was the main reason for that, scoring on an 81-yard punt return for the Broncos’ first punt return touchdown in nearly three seasons.

Boise State also was improved on kick return yards and Haden Hoggarth made a 41-yard field goal in his only attempt.

The Broncos will need to again be solid in special teams to create good field position against Washington State on Saturday.

AIR QUALITY

Boise State and Washington State both practiced indoors all week due to poor air quality. There was talk about the game possibly being in doubt due to the air quality, but it’s expected to improve enough by Saturday evening to play as scheduled.

Regardless, the air quality won’t be at zero and will be elevated, meaning how the teams adjust to the conditions will be a factor to watch.

Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said there wasn’t much they could do about the air quality, but said he’d talk with trainers and the necessary personnel to ensure the players are safe.

HIGH STAKES

Boise State would likely move into the top 25 with a win against the Cougars. Washington State is currently ranked No. 20 and the Broncos are receiving votes in both polls.

The Broncos haven’t beaten a ranked team while unranked themselves since 2008 against No. 12 Oregon. That was also the last time Boise State was at least a 10-point underdog, which they are against Washington State.

A loss would drop the Broncos to 1-1 with a quick turnaround looming for a Thursday night game against New Mexico’s triple option next week.

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