A little background: I am originally from Boise, most of my extended family is from Boise. Much of them still live in the area. So there is a lot of Boise State Bronco blood in my family. Over the past few seasons as Social Media such as Facebook and Twitter have come front and center, I’ve reconnected with many of them and had quite a few battles regarding BYU and BSU. In this light I asked my cousin Kurt who has been one of the more vocal advocates for the Broncos if he’d write a preview of his Broncos in time for Thursday’s game. There is a little bit of a preview of BYU match ups sprinkled in as well.
With all of the changes in the scenery of college football resulting in different challengers and new rivals, the twelve games scheduled for Boise State and Brigham Young will be extraordinary. Boise State chooses to leave the comfortable WAC after eight conference titles in ten seasons to attempt to face a more challenging Mountain West Conference in 2011, and then after two years is accepting an invitation to join the Big East next year with the hopes of greater challenges within the conference. The struggle to climb amongst the great storied teams of college football has left Boise State in a difficult situation looking to find ways to have the admiration of the sportscasters and journalists and find ways of proving wrong the naysayers, often found broadcasting on ESPN. BYU, having dealt with the MWC, opted to leave the rapidly depleting conference for the hopes that football independence would provide the best route for promoting their name brand and to also find greater foes.
BYU finds itself in the position to find new rivals as independence brings some scheduling difficulties and the traditional rivalry of Utah finding itself on life support, due to the PAC-12 restrictions. Boise State also needs great out-of-conference teams to face, but with the anticipated travel costs of the Big East, looking for opponents close to home is a necessity. These two teams met in a two-game series in 2003-2004, with Boise State winning in Provo the first year by a score of 50-12 and again winning 28-27 in Boise the next year. Regardless of the state of either team, being potential BCS challenger or rebuilder, I expect to see twelve years of great games.
Boise State has found great success by relying on the leadership of phenomenal coaches who have avoided the temptation of greener pastures. Chris Petersen continues to be on the top of many coaching lists, having a record of 73-7 in his seven years as head coach, provides one of the most complex and unpredictable offensive schemes in the modern football universe. A well prepared Boise State team will find ways to score and will leave defensive coordinators in shock.
Having the departure of Kellen Moore and his record fifty wins is no easy task. Junior Joe Southwick has had time to learn from the master but still has gigantic shoes to fill. His first starting assignment going against Big 10 competitor Michigan State is more than many experienced play callers would want to start their season. His performance had signs of hope but the inability to prevent the massive Spartan defensive line proved too much, leaving Southwick unable to find open receivers and failing to find that great Bronco momentum of the past. Southwick throws strong in the 8-12 yard range, but can quickly become over confident and lead to stupid mistakes. Sophomore Grant Hedrick or receiver Chris Potter could get some playing time at QB, but is limited to option offense schemes, where running makes up for his lack of passing ability. Forcing either QBs to rely on a pass game would likely be the BYU defensive strategy, and will do so by using different blitz packages, likely featuring Kyle Van Noy.
The running game relies upon DJ Harper, who was granted his sixth year of eligibility as a result of season ending injuries earlier in his career. Harper has trusted his speed in his collegiate career by attempting to break around the corners, and left the inside game to more dominant backs such as Doug Martin, now playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There is some hope that Drew Wright and Shane Williams-Rhodes can provide extra yardage when called upon, but most of the rushing attack needs to be done by Harper, who needs to find ways to aggressively attack the line. Harper heard the cries from fans and coaching which resulted in a dominant performance against Miami (Ohio).
The receiver corps of Boise State always finds ways to impress, especially in the ability to trust many different players to make up for a lack of one or two greats. Matt Miller, Chris Potter, Mitch Burroughs, Kirby Moore, and tight ends Gabe Linehan and Chandler Koch are all reliable and leave defensive backs in difficult situations to decide who the greatest threat may be. If Southwick improves from the first game, we can expect to see the ball in the air often. The receivers are the strength of the Boise offense, but depend on a confident Southwick to perform well.
The greatest question mark of the offense has to come down to the line, where lack of passing protection and run blocking leaves the Boise State offense in a rough position. Southwick will need more time to find open receivers and allow plays to develop, and Harper needs blocking in order for him to get outside the tackles and in the open field. If Boise State can keep the Cougars out of the backfield, we may witness a very powerful Bronco offense.
Boise was fortunate to have featured a defensive line that dominated the line of scrimmage and resulted in NFL careers. The new line-up does have some familiar faces, including tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, but struggled against Le-Veon Bell of Michigan State and his 240 pounds, and ultimately led to the Spartans powering their way to victory. Michael Alisa weighs in at a respectable 220, which may lead to similar defensive problems for Boise State. Alisa may have the weight, but has not had the same season as Bell thus far. The defensive front maintained control until late in the game, when too much time on the field simply wore them down. The line improved greatly against Miami (Ohio), and kept a very experienced Zac Dysert from getting comfortable, but displays warnings if Riley Nelson gets out of the backfield. Boise State also records a missed twenty tackles in the season opener, which is about double their normal rate. Linebackers JC Percy and Tommy Smith, both seniors, provide help to stop the opposing running game. This leaves the strength of the defense in the secondary and with Boise State using mostly nickel coverage, leaving the opposing quarterback and receivers with little room for error in making completions. The three interceptions against Michigan State, with one returned for a touchdown, requires Brandon Doman with his hands full looking for a balanced approach. This lends much of the role on the taller Cody Hoffman who will be turned to all day to beat a much shorter Boise secondary. Riley Nelson has made tremendous improvement behind the center, but needs to utilize many different receivers to overstretch a five-man coverage system.
Nothing spreads fear among Bronco faithful than reliance on a field goal to win games. The two short field goals made by Michael Frisina against Michigan State have not provided much comfort and hopes rely on the offense scoring touchdowns to avoid counting on the kicking game. A missed field goal against Miami (Ohio) again putting fears into Boise fans.
Boise State has found ways to surprise many, including myself, and could do so against BYU. The remainder of their schedule would, in a normal year, not provide many challenges, but with the ever present number of question marks seen at the beginning of this year, one wonders what the final outcome will be. If BYU finds ways to score, Boise will struggle to find ways to answer and could result in a very lopsided game. The same could be held true for Boise if a rhythm is found. The best is when Boise decides to move the ball fast and often employing hurry-up offenses, which leaves the defense scrambling to make adjustments. The key for Boise to win is to control the line of scrimmage, by providing adequate blocking for Harper, pass protection for Southwick, and preventing clock control by stopping the BYU run game. In past games, Boise wins by having greater possession time on offense but struggles against dual-threat QBs. The Boise defense can slow down talented offenses, but will need points scored on the other side of the ball to remain comfortable. Being this is still an early year game, there is still a lot to work on and I’m still waiting for Boise to put everything together.