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October 13, 2012
(AP) -- Boise State and Fresno State each rank among the nation's leaders when it comes to forcing turnovers. However, it's been the Bulldogs' inability to hang on to the ball that has been the problem during their recent struggles against the Broncos.
Two of the country's most opportunistic defensive teams meet Saturday when the No. 24 Broncos try for a seventh consecutive victory over the Bulldogs in this Mountain West Conference matchup in Boise.
Boise State (4-1, 1-0) recovered three fumbles and intercepted two passes in last Saturday's 40-14 win at Southern Mississippi, its fourth consecutive victory following a 17-13 season-opening loss at then-No. 13 Michigan State.
The Broncos are back in the Top 25 after a one-week hiatus that followed a less-than impressive 32-29 win at New Mexico on Sept. 29.
They've forced 13 of their 17 turnovers in the last three games.
"I'm not sure why we're getting them - whether we're just in the right place at the right time or what," coach Chris Petersen said. "As long as they are coming like (last Saturday), we're going to be in every game and we have a chance to win most of them."
The only school that's forced more turnovers than Boise is Fresno State (4-2, 2-0) with 18. Safety Phillip Thomas forced a fumble and recorded his NCAA-leading sixth interception in the Bulldogs' 28-7 win at Colorado State last Saturday.
Fresno State also leads the country with 12 picks.
"We're fast, physical and fanatical," Thomas told the school's official website. "We're out there to force turnovers and make big plays. That's what this defense is all about and that's the type of players we have on this team."
It's essential the Bulldogs' defense continues that play while their offense finds a way to hang on to the ball. Fresno, which last beat the Broncos 27-7 at home in 2005, has committed 12 turnovers during a five-game skid at Boise.
The Bulldogs have been outscored 112-10 in their last two on the blue turf.
Fresno State did not have a turnover at Colorado State after committing eight in the previous three contests, but it's given the ball away 11 times while being outscored 220-51 in its last four games overall in this series.
The Bulldogs committed four in last season's 57-7 home loss to the Broncos.
Even if they're able to reverse that turnover trend, the defense must remain opportunistic against a Boise squad that's turned the ball over twice in two home games this year
Harper, who has rushed for 274 yards with three TDs at home in 2012, has topped the 100-yard mark twice in four career contests versus Fresno State.
Senior Mitch Burroughs caught four passes for 43 yards and scored on a 25-yard run against the Bulldogs last season, but Boise's third-leading receiver and key return man will miss this contest with a wrist injury.
"We just miss him as an all-around player," Petersen said.
Though the Broncos have dominated this series of late, Fresno State could present a challenge with an offense that leads the Mountain West with 315.5 passing yards per game and has not scored fewer than 25 points in any 2012 contest.
Derek Carr has thrown half of his 18 touchdowns in the last two games but was 17 of 30 for 126 yards and an interception against Boise State in 2011. Teammate Robbie Rouse ranks among the nation's leaders on the ground, averaging 118.5 yards with eight touchdowns.
He's gained 195 yards on 34 carries without a TD in three games against the Broncos.