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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

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Keys to Boise State-Georgia

Boise State’s been here before. Well, not exactly here, but close enough: the Broncos took a trip to Athens, not Atlanta, back in 2005, and were on the receiving end of a decidedly one-sided defeat. How things have changed, both for the Broncos and Georgia, both of which enter a second meeting with a slightly different take on life among the nation’s elite. Georgia’s still in that conversation, though mainly due to what was achieved under Mark Richt earlier last decade, not what’s occurred over the last two years. Chris Petersen didn’t take over for Boise until 2006, at which point the Broncos moved from pesky to outright dominant – 61-5 since that fall, and right in the national title mix once again in 2011.

The two meet tonight with varying standards of success. Georgia enters every season with national championship aspirations, but the Bulldogs would happily cash in a 10-2 finish, considering what’s occurred over the last two seasons. Boise, on the other hand, would be supremely disappointed with two losses, even if one came in bowl play. The standards are simply higher, whether thanks to an easier schedule or otherwise. Boise’s dreaming big: 13-0, national champs. So what are a few keys to tonight’s game?

Year two for the defense Georgia fared pretty well defensively last fall in its first season under coordinator Todd Grantham, who installed a 3-4 look. Yeah, there were a few slip-ups, a few mental flubs while everyone got on the same page, but I actually thought the defense would be worse, to be honest. That was a nice sign, and it lends credence to the belief that Georgia is ready to take a nice step forward on this side of the ball in 2011. But does Georgia have the horses to play with a Boise State, with its experience, explosiveness and confidence? That’s the big-picture question, which can be broken down further.

A beefed-up defensive front It’s a three-man front, and each tilts the scales at 300-plus pounds. And maybe, just maybe, JUCO transfer John Jenkins will have the conditioning to play major snaps, giving the Bulldogs another big presence in the middle of the line. Seeing that Jenkins has been slowed at times while he works into game shape, the Bulldogs will go forth with a starting threesome of ends Abry Jones and DeAngelo Tyson – he can double inside – and Kwame Geathers over the nose.

And this pair, with Jenkins, Garrison Smith and Derrick Lott in reverse, will face off against a premier offensive line. Nate Potter is one of the best in the business, as you know. Center Thomas Byrd is more than ready to take on Jenkins and Geathers, and he’ll have help from guards Joe Kellogg and Jack Broyles – and Boise will rotate a ton of bodies inside throughout the game. It’ll be a major test for this defensive line, which has promise, has size, has athleticism – but hasn’t produced at a high level. Not yet, at least. If the Bulldogs can dominate the line of scrimmage against Boise it can do so against anyone.

Athletes vs. system This argument is ridiculous, since it completely belittles the idea that Boise State actually has top-notch players, not merely a top coach and system. But it does bear noting that while Boise has run roughshod over all comers under Petersen, it has yet to take on a team from the SEC – you know, the nation’s premier conference. Athletes are made different in the SEC: bigger, faster, quicker, meaner, nastier and more violent, they’re a different breed of animal. And perhaps Georgia has the athletes to run with the Broncos, keeping pace through three quarters and wearing the Broncos down late. It’s something to consider, even if I think Boise can play with any team, SEC or otherwise.

Boise dictates the tempo If the Broncos can get it done on the ground, watch out. Actually, a slight rephrase: if the Broncos can get it done on the ground, game over. When you mix in a healthy ground game with the intermediate game, with the deep ball and with play action, Boise can be absolutely unstoppable. It’ll be up to Georgia to control the line of scrimmage, which in turn can allow the Bulldogs to bring pressure on clear passing downs. Above all else, this is the key to the game.

Moore looks for targets Gone are Austin Pettis and Titus Young, Kellen Moore’s security blankets over the last two years. And Boise is down another receiver while Gerald Boldewijn handles some eligibility issues, which will also sideline starting safety Cedric Febis and defensive tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe. The search is on for new targets for Moore to work with: Tyler Shoemaker’s there, as is tight end Kyle Efaw, but the remainder of the receiver corps lacks experience. But they’ll make plays, both against the Bulldogs and especially as the year wears on. We just don’t know who will step into larger roles, not yet, and won’t know until at least after tonight.

Lack of depth vs. lots of depth Georgia’s offensive line: thin. Boise State’s defensive line: deep as they come, even without Tjong-A-Tjoe. The Bulldogs are going to have their hands full all game with rush ends like Shea McClellin and Tyrone Crawford, not to mention backup ends like Jarrell Root, Tyler Horn and Kharyee Marshall. Along the interior, Billy Winn and Chase Baker are strong against the run and deceptively quick off the snap. I have great concerns about Georgia’s ability to handle Boise State’s extremely deep, talented and experienced defensive front.

Prediction Boise State 31, Georgia 20.

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  1. Paul,

    We are oppo here. I don’t see UGA’s offensive line depth being a factor in this game, as I see a lack of offensive line depth being a season problem and not an opening-game problem.

    I think Moore gets exposed a bit and UGA wins a low-scoring defensive game, 23-17. Special teams will play here.

  2. Noefli says:

    According to DMK, this result didn’t happen. If it did happen, it wouldn’t happen 998 out of 1000 times. If it did happen more than 1 out of 1000 times, it wouldn’t happen if Boise had to play in an SEC schedule. If it did happen while Boise had to play in an SEC schedule, it wouldn’t happen again. Ugh, Boise.

  3. Dan says:

    You comments about line-play proved to be prophetic. Boise State won in the trenches and on the scoreboard.

  4. DMK says:

    Boise played great. Best I’ve ever seen them play. No gimmicks, just making plays. Georgia looked poor, and what they look like the rest of the season will give us an idea (but only an idea) of how good Boise really is. Unfortunately for Boise, Georgia might just go 6-6 and still have been the best team on their schedule!

    So, I’ll hope that Boise gets to play someone other than TCU or Utah in a bowl.

    P.S., Richt is toast. A loss to the Gamecocks and he’s out the next week.

  5. Colin says:

    People who think that Boise State is a gimmicky team haven’t been paying attention to them for the last 4 years. The biggest gimmick Boise State uses is that it will run a play early in the game to set up a play later. This offense schemes to perfection.

    People who are surprised by Boise State’s defense (I’ve seen several comments about that after last night’s game) haven’t been paying attention to them outside the high scores they run up. If anything, their defense is better than their offense.

  6. DMK says:

    It’s not a question of paying attention, of course. We have had so little opportunity watch Boise play top teams that it’s unclear if what we’re seeing represents anything or is just a data point. That’s the whole Boise conundrum, obviously. Over 5 years they’ve played a year’s worth of good teams and have put together a solid record against those teams. L.S.U., for example, will have to win as many tough games this season to get a shot at a championship as Boise has had to play in half a decade. This is an old point. It is, unfortunately for Boise, never more true than during this season. Georgia looks bad. TCU looks bad. All of the other teams on their schedule are bad. So, they’re doomed. Pac-22 anyone?

  7. schedule nit says:

    Air Force may turn out to be Boise’s toughest opponent this season. Think about that.

    Although, to be honest, I do expect TCU to rebound and greatly improve over the course of the season. Hopefully they are playing at a high enough level by then to be considered a quality opponent.

  8. Colin says:

    Or San Diego State, our only remaining solid team Boise State gets on the road.

  9. qx says:

    TCU has the same schedule problem, though. The best team they’re playing is who, BYU? Which plays Texas and Utah and Oregon State. Not even with six degrees of separation can Boise claim, this season, to be better than any other top 10 team.

  10. Burnt Orange says:

    Don’t forget about San Diego St. They have quite a bit of talent returning and Rocky Long is a pretty fair coach. They could be a ranked team. Game at Michigan will tell us a lot in a few weeks.

    As to Boise, I was surprised that they handled Georgia in that fashion. DMK raises valid points but Boise has beaten OU, Va.Tech, Oregon, Oregon St., Georgia, and split with TCU in recent years. If they run the table, I would like to see them get their shot.

    Props to Paul – he just about pegged the Boise score and his controversial BYU ranking survived an SEC team on the road.

  11. Gotham Gator says:

    Pat Dooley of the Gainesville Sun said it best..

    “11. Which brings me to the Bulldogs and their performance Saturday night against Boise State. Really? You have eight months to prepare and that is what we get? Georgia and national writers have been killing Mark Richt enough for handing the ball to Brandon Boykin only once (he ran 80 yards for a touchdown) and never again, but I won’t because the play was so beautifully blocked there are 100 backs in the country who could have scored. Instead, I’ll shift my attention to the Boise State debate by saying this — let’s wait. If you truly believe Boise State deserves to be in the national title game because it beat what may well be the sixth or seventh (eighth?) best team in the SEC, you’re welcome to that opinion. The argument has never been that Boise State can’t beat a BCS team, it’s that the Broncos only have to beat one a year. Boise State looked like the better team and the better-coached team, but if beating Georgia made you a lock to play for a national title think how many Florida would have played in over the last 21 years. The answer is 18.”

    I picked Boise St. I thought they looked terrific. I would love to see what they could do against a full SEC schedule.

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