Each week, the Times-News will look at the four factors most likely to decide the outcome in Boise State’s upcoming game. We’ll also see how it fared in the four factors from the previous week. This Saturday, the Broncos host Tennessee-Martin, an eight-win team last year in the Ohio Valley Conference (FCS), which won its season opener against Chattanooga 31-21.
Last week: Rookies on the Right
How did they fare? Coming off the worst loss in his tenure as head coach at Boise State, Chris Petersen led his Monday press conference with the unexpected — praise. He said the offensive line was physical and pass protected well in the Broncos’ 38-6 loss to Washington. Last week, the biggest concern for the offense was thought to be the right side of the offensive line, namely new starters Rees Odhiambo and Marcus Henry. The concern? The right side would fold under the weight of a hostile crowd veritably sitting on top of them from the vertical grade stands of Husky Stadium, while a fast and aggressive defense zipped by unencumbered. False starts and dropped blitz pick-ups were the least of the Broncos concerns, however. Boise State did not give up a sack nor was it whistled for a single offensive penalty. Oh, but there were problems, namely the inability for the Boise State offensive line to open up holes in short yardage situations. The Broncos averaged two yards per rush on third and three or less. That won’t cut it.
This Week’s Assignment: Short Yardage Running
The Broncos not only averaged a meager two yards a carry on third and three or less, they scored six points on three red-zone trips. The inability to punch the ball to/by sticks or into the end zone was an issue last season as well. If the Broncos’ simplified offense is going to work, it won’t be by surprise — a key element of years past — but with physical dominance and sheer will.
Last week: Outsized in the Secondary
How did they fare? It’s hard to put into words just how poorly the Broncos defensive backs performed last Saturday. They were thoroughly dominated by the Washington receivers – not the biggest or best group Boise State will face this season. First, it was bubble screens. Then, it was the play-action pass and screen fakes, which sucked in safeties Darian Thompson and Jeremy Ioane, resulting in explosive chunks and stomach churns for a Boise State faithful turned sick and surly, as it waited for a patented Petersen adjustment. Cornerbacks Donte Deayon and Bryan Douglas (still working his way back from a torn ACL) failed to disengage from blocks on screen plays, and the safeties and linebackers were late to the party, leading to chain-moving and momentum stabilizing plays in the first half, setting up head-slappers and back-breakers in the second-half. But struggles with physical play at the line of scrimmage were expected. Giving up sizeable cushions on third and long, leading to easy completions (the Huskies were 11-15 on third down) were not. Mercy Maston and Cleshawn Page didn’t exactly stem the hemorrhaging and take advantage of a chance to move to the top of the depth chart.
This Week’s Assignment: Take Away Something
Tennessee-Martin is another spread, no-huddle, zone-read offense. The Skyhawks are more run-oriented than the Huskies were, but will showcase the same schematic skeleton, which should scare the Boise State defense into a statement performance. But one step at a time. The Broncos secondary needs to take at least one thing away from the Skyhawks – the long ball, the intermediate pass, or short screen action.
Last week: No More Average Joe
How did he fare? Southwick completed 25 of 40 passes. Sounds good, right? The rest of the line: 152 yards, 0 touchdowns and an interception. Try below average Joe. Southwick appeared uncomfortable in the pocket, hastily escaping it and, at times, a phantom pressure. It resulted in a few missed opportunities downfield. He also appeared to telegraph passes, failing to go through his progressions as he seemed overly concerned with avoiding Washington’s pass rush. Southwick appeared a bit flustered by the Huskies defense and crowd, but was accurate in the short range – where almost all of his throws went. The problem? His receivers often failed to run their routes beyond the first down marker. Still, there were plays to be had by the stealthy speedster, who appeared to miss an opportunity to run for a touchdown on what could have been a momentum-changing drive to start the second half, instead forcing an incompletion into the back of the end zone. He should play better as the season progresses. Keyword: should. He gets a bit of a break in his evaluation due to mitigating circumstances, namely a poor performance from his receivers and a uniquely challenging crowd and opponent. But Kellen Moore he ain’t, if it wasn’t obvious before.
This Week’s Assignment: Bail Out Joe
Chris Petersen called his receivers’ performance against Washington “average” on Monday. Damning with faint praise? He was happy with the rest of the offense. Before Saturday, the Broncos receivers were considered to be the strength of what was anticipated to be a more explosive attack. Petersen said the media was wrong to “anoint” the seven- to eight-deep receiving corps. What could help ease Joe Southwick? Receivers getting off the line of scrimmage cleanly, running routes beyond the first down marker, and making plays on 50-50 balls down the field. What will Petersen say then?
Last week: Bishop Sankey Gash and Dash, Part (no) Deuce?
How did it fare? The Broncos defense gave up 163 yards and 6.4 yards per carry to Sankey on Saturday, which was a slight improvement from last year’s bowl game in which Sankey ran for 205 on 6.8 yards per attempt. The problem? The Huskies as a team rushed for 68 more yards than they did in the bowl game. Outside of a couple of stops on short yardage, including a two-yard loss on fourth down with the Huskies driving into BSU territory, the Broncos defense failed to take away any component of the Huskies offense. Even though Tennessee-Martin is an FCS team, they’ll pose problems in the running game, as they totaled nearly 300 yards on the ground last week. Linebacker Blake Renaud said the Broncos defense will “tighten up,” on Saturday. Either way, we should know if the Broncos run defense problems are structural and systemic by whether they bounce back. Losing linebacker Jonathan Brown for six weeks with an undisclosed knee injury doesn’t help matters.
This Week’s Assignment: Paging Demarcus Lawrence, Please Pick up the Pass Rush
Not having the strength and depth to stop a good running game is one thing. Not getting pressure against what was a porous offensive line last year is another.Gus Johnson’s first mention of Lawrence on Saturday’s telecast was to say Lawrence’s name had not been mentioned to that point. If Lawrence is going to get double-teams and lines shifted to his side, others will need to take advantage. The Broncos rush looked too good during camp to not show up in Week 1. Maybe it gives two weeks’ worth Saturday to make for an embarrassing performance in Seattle.