No. 13: Boise State
By Paul Myerberg // Aug 21, 2012
Imagine a scenario where Chris Petersen leaves the ball in Kellen Moore’s hands – and you know the game I’m referring to, and you know the moment in question. Boise’s a shade outside the red zone with 25 seconds left. Instead of sliding down in the middle of the field to give Dan Goodale a cleaner shot, Moore finds Matt Miller for a nine-yard gain. He runs up to the line, spikes, stops the clock. That leaves a far easier try for his kicker, but time remains. So Moore drops back again, knowing he can throw it away or, if push comes to shove, take a sack and still have a timeout in hand. He finds Tyler Shoemaker for a 10-yard gain to put Boise on T.C.U.’s doorstep. Petersen calls his final timeout. Goodale comes on for a glorified extra point and sends it home, giving Boise the win. The Broncos end the year 12-0, second in the final B.C.S. standings, and meets L.S.U. in New Orleans for the national title. Win, lose, draw: it doesn’t matter. The Broncos get there, further validating the program’s success since 2006. Instead, the kick sailed wide – meaning that in each of last two years, Boise’s quest for a shot at the title was thrown away by special teams failures.
7 (5 offense, 2 defense)
Last year’s ranking
- Aug. 31
at Michigan St.
- Sept. 15
- Sept. 20
- Sept. 29
at New Mexico
- Oct. 6
at Southern Miss.
- Oct. 13
- Oct. 20
- Oct. 27
- Nov. 3
San Diego St.
- Nov. 10
- Nov. 17
- Dec. 1
Last year’s prediction
I think this is the year the ball lands in Boise’s favor, actually. I think we’ll see a number of highly-ranked teams drop a game in the regular season; I think we’ll see Boise State run the table; and I think we’ll see the Broncos play for the national title. Boise is as loaded with returning and experienced talent as any team in the country. I have a feeling this is the year the Broncos get their shot. And it’s a bit unfortunate if we’ve had to wait this long, as Boise has had a numbers of teams under Petersen that were good enough to meet an Alabama with everything on the line.
In a nutshell Not perfect, but as close as you’re going to get in 2011. One point shy of perfect, and that loss to T.C.U., while devastating, looked somewhat understandable given how the Horned Frogs closed last fall with a flourish. What was missing? Again, the kicking game ranked among the worst in the country. The secondary struggled at times, as expected, giving up far too much through the air to T.C.U. and San Diego State. Everything else was as advertised, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Perhaps the biggest offensive question mark, the receiver corps, ended up being little concern at all: Miller and Shoemaker helped ease the transition away from Austin Pettis and Titus Young. Who knows if Boise could have beat the Tigers? I just would have loved to find out.
High point A 35-21 win over Georgia in Atlanta to kick off the season. The Broncos controlled the eventual SEC East champs throughout, taking a 28-7 third quarter lead before going on cruise control the rest of the way.
Low point The missed field goal. Why Petersen thought relying on his special teams was a good idea remains one of the unanswered questions from the 2011 season.
Tidbit Thanks to last year’s finish, Boise State is now the first program since 1900 to win 12 or more games in four straight seasons. In doing so, the Broncos moved past U.S.C. and Oklahoma, each of which had posted three straight 12-win seasons – the Trojans from 2003-5 and the Sooners from 2002-4.
Tidbit (scoring edition) Boise State has averaged an F.B.S.-best 41.9 points per game since the start of the 2000 season. As you might expect, Boise has more 50-point games over this span, 43, as it does games with less than 30 points, 29. That scoring average is more than four points per better than second-ranked Texas, which has averaged 37.2 points per game over the last 12 years.
Former players in the N.F.L.
27 DT Chase Baker (Minnesota), TE Richie Brockel (Carolina), CB Chris Carr (Minnesota), OT Ryan Clady (Denver), OG Daryn Colledge (Arizona), DE Tyrone Crawford (Dallas), TE Kyle Efaw (Oakland), TE Tommy Gallarda (Atlanta), FB Korey Hall (New Orleans), S George Iloka (Cincinnati), S Jeron Johnson (Seattle), RB Doug Martin (Tampa Bay), LB Shea McClellin (Chicago), S Quintin Mikell (St. Louis), QB Kellen Moore (Detroit), WR Legedu Naanee (Miami), WR Austin Pettis (St. Louis), OT Nate Potter (Arizona), DE Jarrell Root (Miami), CB Orlando Scandrick (Dallas), TE Derek Schouman (New Orleans), LB Aaron Tevis (New Orleans), CB Brandyn Thompson (Washington), S Winston Venable (Chicago), CB Kyle Wilson (New York Jets), DT Billy Winn (Cleveland), WR Titus Young (Detroit).
Arbitrary top five list
Next head coach at Boise State (date T.B.A.)
1. Justin Wilcox.
2. Pete Kwiatowski.
3. Kellen Moore.
4. Bryan Harsin.
5. Dan Hawkins.
Chris Petersen (U.C. Davis ’88), 73-6 over six seasons with the Broncos. How dominant is that? Try a winning percentage of 92.4 percent, or the best of any coach in the country — and it’s really not even close – and a mark that’s higher even than Knute Rockne’s percentage at Notre Dame; Rockne is currently the all-time leader in career winning percentage among F.B.S. head coaches with at least 10 years of experience. Boise State won 38 of 40 WAC games under Petersen, with the two losses coming to Hawaii late in the 2007 season and Nevada late in 2011, and went 6-1 in the Mountain West last fall, again losing late to the Horned Frogs. The Broncos lost three games in that 2007 season, Petersen’s second with the program, but rebounded in 2008 to go 12-1, with its only loss coming in the Poinsettia Bowl. Petersen’s tremendous 13-0 2006 season, which saw Boise State provide the year’s most memorable moment in its B.C.S. bowl victory over Oklahoma, put the first-year coach on the map. For his efforts in 2006, Petersen was named the national coach of the year, the first coach in program history to win such an award. All six of Petersen’s teams have been outstanding offensively, which is not surprising considering his background as one of college football’s best offensive coordinators. Over his five-year stretch as the Boise State coordinator (2001-5 under former Colorado coach Dan Hawkins), Petersen was twice a finalist for the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach. The Broncos finished in the top 15 nationally in total offense four times under Petersen, including a first-place finish in 2002. With that background as a coordinator and his tremendous success as the head coach, it is no surprise that Petersen’s name continues to be bandied about for nearly every major job opening. Yet here he is, still in Boise, and the Broncos will continue to be one of the best teams in the land every year that he’s along the sidelines.
Tidbit (coaching edition) Petersen was forced to make staffing changes for the third straight year, in part because one of his coordinators again left to assume the same position at a B.C.S. conference program – following in the footsteps of Justin Wilcox and Bryan Harsin. This past offseason, first-year offensive coordinator Brent Pease, the former wide receivers coach, joined Will Muschamp’s staff at Florida. To replace Pease, Petersen promoted Robert Prince, who returned to Boise from Colorado prior to last season. Last fall, Prince took over Pease’s former duties with the receivers; he’ll continue his position work while handling the offense. Another new face on offense: Jonathan Smith, the former offensive coordinator at Montana, fills in for Pease as Boise’s quarterbacks coach.
The Broncos also lost a pair of defensive assistants, with defensive backs coach Marcel Yates leaving for Texas A&M and special teams coordinator and nickel backs coach Jeff Choate for Washington State. This led to two new hires, though Boise also shuffled responsibilities among the returning assistants. Jimmy Lake will lead the secondary after doing the same for the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the last four seasons. Andy Avalos, once a Boise linebacker, will coach the defensive line; this frees up coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, the former line coach, though he’ll remain hands-on with the position. Linebackers coach Bob Gregory will now work with Boise’s nickel backs while tight ends coach Scott Huff will coordinate the Broncos’ special teams.
Players to watch
I’d be worried if not for a few factors, a sampling of which I’ll list in no particular order: Petersen, system, receivers, offensive line, running back, highest-scoring team over the last 12 years of college football. Look, it’s obvious that the Broncos are retooling with their personnel; in addition, the Broncos will break in a third offensive coordinator in as many years. But with both the personnel and at coordinator, history has shown that Boise State suffers through no major hiccups when it comes to turnover. And when it comes to promoting Prince to coordinator, Petersen again went with a veteran assistant who knows not only this system from front to back but also how to manage the system, and how to work in concert with his head coach. Maybe the Broncos won’t average 44.2 points per game, as they did a year ago. But it’s a safe bet that Boise will score at least 39.1 points per game, however – because that would tie the 2005 team for the program’s lowest total over the last decade.
The first step on offense will be picking a quarterback, as I’ll discuss below. Next comes the offensive line: Boise State doesn’t lack for experience, but it will be interesting to see how Petersen and line coach Chris Strausser slide a few underclassmen into a senior-heavy front. Of course, of greater importance is the hole at left tackle, where Nate Potter was the point man for the Broncos’ wonderful pass protection over the last four years. Junior Faraji Wright will get first crack at Potter’s spot, and he’s beefed up to about 300 pounds to help with the transition. But the Broncos have three other tackles with past starting experience, so Wright will need to produce to keep his starting job.
One of those three tackles is junior Charles Leno, who started every game of last season on the right side. He’s not going anywhere, barring injury, but Boise also has Brenel Myers and Michael Ames, two players with past starting experience on the outside. Ames could swing over to the blind side to push Wright and redshirt freshman Rees Odhiambo, the current backup; Myers could move ahead of junior Jake Broyles, who was injured last fall, and start at right guard; and both should be valuable reserves at left tackle and both spots on the right side. So the Broncos have options. There’s solid depth across the board, especially with it looking as if Myers, Ames and junior Spencer Gerke will open the year in reserve roles.
The Broncos won’t have Cory Yriarte, however. After missing all of 2009 and 2010 with knee injuries and landing an N.C.A.A. waiver for a sixth year, Yriarte suffered another setback during summer conditioning. That hands the starting center spot over to Matt Paradis, a somewhat undersized junior who made one start a year ago. At left guard, Boise returns junior Joe Kellog – who is now the line’s best. So what’s the big-picture take? This line is still a strength despite the changes. While the Broncos may allow a few more sacks – not a tremendous amount, but a few – that will have as much to do with an inexperienced quarterback as it does with this offensive front. If Wright can hold down the blind side, the line will go from very good to terrific.
The Broncos return a good one in senior running back D.J. Harper (527 yards and 9 scores), who played in 12 games last fall after tearing his A.C.L. in the third games of the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Obviously, Harper’s biggest issue is staying healthy; when on, he’ll give Boise similar production to Doug Martin’s breakthrough senior season. The two are similar in many ways, from stature to production, and I can easily see Harper having a similarly outstanding final year with the program – somewhere around 1,200 yards and 14 scores, off the top of my head. Again, it’s just about that knee. Because he lost those two years to injury, you almost expect the worst. Hopefully, Harper stays healthy and takes on a heavy load in the running game.
But more so than at any position on this roster – outside of quarterback, perhaps – you’re going to see freshmen make an impact at running back. One, redshirt freshman Jay Ajayi, will push senior Drew Wright (218 yards) if he recovers from last year’s knee injury. Boise added another pair of running backs in February, both from Texas, in Jack Fields and Devan Demas. Those around the program are very, very excited to see what Ajayi can achieve when at 100 percent. If that’s the case, look for him to take carries away from Wright as Harper’s primary backup.
The receiver corps was a question mark heading into last season. That’s no longer the case. Boise State returns most of last season’s contributors, everyone outside of slot receiver Tyler Shoemaker, and should – once junior Geraldo Boldewijn (19 catches for 266 yards) returns from another N.C.A.A. suspension – go eight deep at the position. Mitch Burroughs (49 for 500) and sophomore Matt Miller (62 for 679 and 9 scores) are clear starters, not to mention all-conference favorites, but the Broncos do need to make a choice in the slot. The options are senior Chris Potter (11 for 105) and junior Kirby Moore (22 for 247), and Boise can’t go wrong either way.
Boldewijn will slide back into the mix come October, after he serves his four-game suspension. Further depth comes from sophomore Dallas Burroughs (9 for 175), junior Aaron Burks and redshirt Troy Ware. While the Broncos will miss Kyle Efaw, the offense returns a productive intermediate and red zone target at tight end in junior Gabe Linehan (22 for 252) and a handful of secondary options. It’s an entirely different story than at this time a year ago.
Boise State added two JUCO transfers in February: Connor Peters, who will battle for a role at tight end, and defensive end Demarcus Lawrence. The latter’s been one of the nice surprises since stepping on campus over the summer. It’s no secret that Boise is looking for help up front, what with last year’s top five linemen now gone, and getting an immediate impact from Lawrence, a sophomore, would help Kwiatowski and Avalos maintain the program’s recent ability to go eight or nine deep along its front four. For now, Lawrence is pegged as the starter at Boise’s more traditional end spot, backed up by sophomore Ty Horn.
There are three ends jostling for the starting role on the other side, filling Shea McClellin’s role as the Broncos’ hybrid end-outside linebacker. While the Broncos want a clear starter, having this many options should allow Kwiatowski to use five down linemen in certain formations, as he was able to do over the last three years. One of the ends, junior Kharyee Marshall, served in a secondary role last fall – a very, very secondary role; the other two, freshman Sam Ukwuachu and sophomore Beau Martin, joined the team a year ago but didn’t see the field, with both taking a redshirt. Two concerns: the production lost from last fall and the line’s inexperience. But don’t doubt the athleticism, especially with Lawrence, Martin and Ukwuachu forming the top trio at the position. It’s a smaller group, but Boise will have speed on the outside.
While the story at end is one of unproven promise, the Broncos do return two experienced starters at tackle. One is senior Mike Atkinson (31 tackles), who must amend his uneven ways and give this defense more down-to-down consistency as the anchor on the nose. He’ll be joined at tackle by junior Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe (15 tackles), who continued to give this defense solid play last fall after missing the first six games of the year due to an N.C.A.A. suspension. They’ll be backed up by seniors Greg Grimes and Darren Koontz, the latter a former end who will be needed inside, and redshirt freshman Jeff Worthy.
Senior J.C. Percy (48 tackles) returns on the weak side after splitting time with Aaron Tevis, as he did in each of the previous two years. That gives Boise one returning starter – Percy was basically a starter – at the two traditional linebacker spots. It’s going to be interesting to see what Kwiatowski and Gregory do in the middle, whether they pass the baton from Byron Hout to senior Tommy Smith (18 tackles), last year’s primary backup, or give the nod to sophomore Blake Renaud, who turned in an impressive spring camp. It’s a battle that’ll come down to experience, where Smith has the edge, and overall talent, where Renaud comes out on top. Look for both to play, with Renaud – if his spring performance holds – replacing Smith on passing downs.
It’s fair to include that hybrid end position among the linebackers, as well as the nickel back spot. At the latter, Boise will replace Hunter White with junior Jonathan Brown (19 tackles, 1 interception) – or replace White with senior Dextrell Simmons (16 tackles), or White with sophomore Corey Bell. Yes, the Broncos have options. I would think that all will play, especially in the early season, but at some point, look for Brown to grab the starting role. It’s not that important, to be honest: Boise can and will use all three.
It’s a youthful secondary – as with the line, this isn’t a surprise. But don’t forget about the one forgotten defensive back who returns: senior cornerback Jerrell Gavins, who missed all but the first three games of last season due to injury, steps back into a role as Boise’s stopper. If healthy, that’s a role Gavins can fill with ease; if healthy, Gavins can be one of the three best cornerbacks in the Mountain West, if not the best outright. In Gavins and senior Jamar Taylor (27 tackles, 2 interceptions), the Broncos have a pair of seasoned, steady, imperturbable upperclassmen who should have their way with every receiver corps in the Mountain West.
Getting Gavins back into the mix will allow Boise State to move sophomore Lee Hightower (25 tackles) out to free safety, where he’ll replace George Iloka. In a way, Boise’s injury issues at cornerback will help in 2012: Hightower started the last three games at the position last fall, after Taylor went down, and that game experience will pay dividends this fall – and you can make the case that Hightower’s size makes him a better for free safety than cornerback. He’ll be joined at safety by sophomore Jeremy Ioane, giving the Broncos a bit of a mirror image compared to safety: sky-high potential against proven production. But while inexperienced, don’t sleep on what Hightower and Ioane bring to the table – both could very, very special. The Broncos also added five defensive backs in February, and it seems as if Lake has fallen in love with the whole bunch; at least two will see the field.
Mitch Burroughs will handle both kickoff and punt returns, most likely, though Potter will get a look on punts. I also think that Petersen and Huff are going to utilize several young players in key roles on special teams, both in the return game and in coverage. Sophomore Trevor Harman will take over at punter after backing up Brad Elkin last fall – actually, if I’m going to be exact, Moore was the team’s second punter. Then we get to kicker, and as you know, it’s been an issue. As at quarterback, the Broncos have four options: senior Michae Frisina, sophomore Dan Goodale, redshirt freshman Jake Van Ginkel and true freshman Sean Wale, if the latter doesn’t start at punter, which he may. Boise doesn’t need the world; it just needs a kicker who can hit a 35-yard field goal four times out of five. Or three times out of five. Or only once, if it comes when down by a point with seconds left.
Position battle(s) to watch
Quarterback I can say this with certainty: it’ll be Joe Southwick or Nick Patti or Grant Hedrick or Jimmy Laughrea. In short, it’ll be any quarterback on this roster. So you have your fans of each, as you might imagine, and your detractors for each, all of which means nothing to Petersen, the only person whose opinion matters. Petersen could go with experience, a road that would lead directly to Southwick, a junior and Boise’s backup over the last two years. He’s been good, if in a small sample size: Southwick was 17 of 24 for 202 yards in 2010 and 23 of 30 for 198 yards last fall. He knows this offense more than any other option; he’s actually seen the field, playing in 16 games over the last two years.
So he’s got that going for him, which helps. And if the Broncos start Southwick, they can team him with Hedrick, a sophomore, who is the best runner of the bunch. It wouldn’t be a bad pairing: Southwick as the starter, Hedrick in shotgun in certain packages. Obviously, you trust Petersen’s ability to tailor a game plan to fit each quarterback’s strengths – especially with the two working in tandem. But it’s far too early to scratch Hedrick as the starter himself, and the same can be said of both Patti and Laughrea, the former a true freshman and the latter a redshirt freshman.
The calls for Patti are a result of his ballyhooed recruiting status, though again, that means nothing to Petersen. Likewise with Laughrea, who was similarly well-regarded as a high school senior and has spent one full season in this system. But you can see a certain draw with each, especially if Boise State is willing to take some lumps early in order to follow the Kellen Moore blueprint – you know, another four-year starter. That’s appealing, isn’t it? In addition, putting a Patti into the starting role today would find him hitting his stride in 2013, when the Broncos move into the Big East.
It’s not easy to get a read on which way Petersen is leaning – in anything, but especially when it comes to this quarterback situation. My instinct says Southwick starts the season opener and maintains the starting role for as long as he produces. I also think that whomever Petersen tabs, Hedrick is going to play a role in the running game, giving the Broncos a zone-read look to go with the traditional ground attack. In this case, whether Patti doesn’t redshirt of Laughrea plays depends entirely on how Southwick fares as the starter. However, a disclaimer: I really don’t know which way Boise is leaning. All I know is that the starter will help Boise notch double-digit wins while not playing as well as Moore.
Game(s) to watch
The Broncos have opened with a B.C.S. conference foe in each of the last three years, beating Oregon, Virginia Tech and Georgia, respectively, but this year’s opener against Michigan State has a different feel – this one feels like the Georgia game from 2005, if only because this is first time since that year that I’m not convinced that Boise will come out on top. It’s going to be hard, very hard, for the Broncos to top a very seasoned and defensively stout Michigan State team in East Lansing; maybe later in the year, but in the season opener? It’s one of two marquee non-conference games, joining B.Y.U., and a third if you include Southern Mississippi. When it comes to the Mountain West, it’ll be 2010 all over again: Boise State’s the league’s best, but Nevada might have something to say about that in December.
Season breakdown & prediction
In a nutshell This is a scary team. It’s scary for this program: Boise hasn’t been this inexperienced at key spots in several years, and after the Broncos’ recent run under Petersen you wonder if this is the season when the team takes a step back – a step back to nine wins, and no lower than that. It’s scary for those teams inside the B.C.S. power structure, a group the Broncos will join for one season as part of the Big East: Boise could again run the table if it gets past Michigan State in the opener. And as always, this is a scary team for the rest of the Mountain West: Boise is clearly the top dog with a bullet, losses or no.
The dream scenario: Southwick – or one of the others – takes the reins at quarterback, helps the Broncos beat Michigan State and leads this team to another B.C.S. bowl. Possible? You better believe it. The Broncos are not as strong as a team as they were a year ago, but there’s talent, experience and loads of potential to go with one of the best coaching staffs in college football. It’s possible, but it’s not probable. Based on what Boise returns, its strengths and its weaknesses, I do think that Boise loses at least one game during the regular season – but no more than two, and wins the Mountain West, beating out Nevada. Unfortunately, one loss for the Broncos means the difference between a B.C.S. bowl and the Las Vegas Bowl. That won’t change, for one more year.
So why the confidence that Boise State wins at least 10 and likely 11 games? Because of this staff – because of Petersen. It’s not overblown: Petersen is really that good. He’ll ensure that the Broncos land strong quarterback play despite the lack of experience, even if he goes with Patti under center. The running game will roll behind another stout offensive line. The wide receivers are terrific. The secondary is experienced at cornerback and could have two safeties break out in starting roles. The front seven will be weaker, but look for two or three yet-known linemen and linebackers to step seamlessly into key roles. This is Boise State. All the Broncos do is win games. That won’t change in 2012. And if the Broncos beat Michigan State? Then we’re looking at another B.C.S. run. I think that’s a tough environment for this young team in the opener, but the Spartans would just be the next title contender to bring their best against Boise’s best and lose – they’d just get in line behind the rest. The Broncos aren’t as strong as they’ve been in the recent past, but they’re still special.
Dream season Perfection. No kickers are needed this year. Finally, Boise State gets a shot at an SEC school in the national title game.
Nightmare season The Broncos lose to Michigan State and B.Y.U. in September and lose conference games to Fresno State and Nevada. Overall, Boise drops four games for the first time since 2005.
In case you were wondering
Where do Boise State fans congregate? Bronco Country is the clear leader for Boise State recruiting updates, though Blue-Turf.com is another option. The best coverage can be found at One Bronco Nation Under God, with additional coverage found at the Web site of the Idaho Statesman.
Boise State’s all-name nominee DT Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe
Through 112 teams 459,514.
Who is No. 12? The only two-term Republican governor in the last 125 years of the state that houses tomorrow’s university earned his undergraduate degree during a leap year.
Tags: Beau Martin, Blake Renaud, Boise State, Charles Leno, Chris Petersen, Chris Strausser, D.J, Dallas Burroughs, Dan Goodale, Demarcus Lawrence, Faraji Wright, Gabe Linehan, Geraldo Boldewijn, Harper, J.C. Percy, Jamar Taylor, Jay Ajayi, Jeremy Ioane, Jerrell Gavins, Jimmy Lake, Joe Kellog, Lee Hightower, Matt Miller, Matt Paradis, Mike Atkinson, Mitch Burroughs, Mountain West, Pete Kwiatkowski, Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, Robert Prince, Sam Ukwuachu
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