The Boise State Broncos have delivered two of the most shocking upsets in Fiesta Bowl history in their previous visits to the desert. Defeating the Arizona Wildcats on New Year’s Eve won’t match those victories, but beating a team playing a bowl game in their home state would still be impressive, especially a team that was possibly one victory away from playing in the College Football Playoffs.
This game will likely be a high-scoring affair, as both teams feature offenses ranked in the FBS top 26. The Broncos come into the game on an eight-game winning streak and feature the nation’s 14th best offense, averaging just shy of 500 yards per game. They are ninth in scoring offense, averaging 39.8 points per game, and feature great balance on offense, averaging 278.2 yards per game through the air (25th in the FBS) and 217.8 yards per game on the ground (29th in the FBS).
Perhaps their biggest mismatch against the Wildcats will be star running back Jay Ajayi. The junior running back tied for the FBS lead with Melvin Gordon in scoring 29 touchdowns from scrimmage, including 25 on the ground. He finished fourth in the FBS with 1,689 rushing yards, including a career-high 229 yards and five touchdowns against the 26th ranked Utah State Aggies‘ rush defense.
The Broncos should also find it relatively easy to pick the Wildcats’ defense apart through the air with quarterback Grant Hedrick. Despite an uptick in interceptions this year, Hedrick completed nearly 71 percent of his passes this season and will face a defense ranked 118 out of 125 against the pass. In order to succeed, the Broncos are going to have to find an answer for Bednarik Award winning linebacker Scooby Wright. Wright was second in the FBS in tackles and third in sacks, and they will need to avoid Wright causing havoc in the backfield if they hope to keep their offense on track.
The Wildcats are led by two of the best freshman players in the nation, quarterback Anu Solomon and running back Nick Wilson. Solomon burst onto the scene with 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions over his first seven career games, but has struggled since, throwing for just seven touchdowns and three interceptions in his last six games while failing to pass for over 242 yards. He was slowed by an ankle injury in the Pac-12 Championship game against the Oregon Ducks and completed just 6-of-12 passes for 34 yards before being replaced.
While Solomon seemed to fade down the stretch, Wilson began to come into his own. Before a 26-yard rushing performance against the Ducks, Wilson was averaging 163 yards in his previous four games with eight rushing touchdowns. If the Wildcats want any chance to upend the upset-minded Broncos, they need to get Wilson involved early and often against the 36th-ranked Broncos rush defense and hope he can break some big runs.
The Broncos have a history of overcoming big odds in the Fiesta Bowl, and this year will be no different. Despite playing a bowl game against a team playing in their home state, the Broncos will find a way to exploit the Wildcats’ defense and will win a shootout 45-35.