This is a collection of some of my thoughts on the upcoming game. As usual, it's long and thorough in the explanation.
The Game within The Game
BSU running game vs UW Front Seven
There is a default position within Bronco Nation that we have an outstanding and powerful running game. Yet we did not run well at all against a single +Athlete defense last year. Michigan St., BYU, and Washington all strongly controlled us or outright shut us down.
- @ Michigan St.: 24 attempts, 37 yds, 1.5 ypc
- BYU: 40 attempts, 116 yds, 2.9 ypc
- Washington: 36 attempts, 109 yds, 3.0 ypc
- @ Southern Miss: 33 attempts, 109 yds, 3.3 ypc
- UNLV?!?: 36 attempts, 137 yds, 3.8 ypc (you gotta be freaking kidding me)
- SDSU: 30 attempts, 112 yds, 3.7 ypc
- @ Hawaii: 42 attempts, 155 yds, 3.7 ypc
That's 7 out of 13 games, or more than half, that we gained less than 4 ypc for the game. Folks, that just won't do. If we can't get at least a 4 ypc average for the game, I have a hard time seeing us beat the Huskies in their own stadium. Washington, like the Seahawks, are a Jekyll and Hyde team. They are way different at home, only losing twice in the past two years against solid competition. This is their homecoming and the christening of their brand new stadium. We either need better production from our run game than sub 4.0 ypc, or a ridiculous +Turnover margin like +6 or something.
As mentioned above, the Huskies held us to 109 team rushing yds and a 3.0 ypc average. They are strong on the line and lightning fast at the linebacker position. Most of their players were Freshmen or Sophmores last season. They have gotten bigger and stronger since then. Shaq Thompson is checking in at 225 lbs and his teammate, John Timu, is 235.
Of the 109 rushing yards BSU accrued in the bowl game, Swick had 39 of them. You know what's scarier than that? Jay Ajayi averaged 1.8 ypc in that game. Yeah, we gotta do much better. The X Factor is our OL. We have some new guys in there, new guys with new temperaments as I understand it. You gotta be determined and kind of mean to be a good run blocker. BSU lines have had a multi-year stretch of being adept pass blockers and sub par run blockers imo. It is time for that to change. We'll see how OL coach Chris Strausser's boys do.
The bottom line is that we have had elite level running backs and half arsed run blocking for a number of years now. We are relying on this year's OL to buck the trending and turn over a new leaf. Until I see it though, color me jaded.
BSU passing game vs. UW coverages
In last year's bowl game, the OL did well in pass coverage. Our newcomers will need to prove equally adept as Southwick's ability to locate the right receiver and place the ball accurately will play a big part in the outcome imo. It is no secret that the Huskies struggled in pass rushing last season but a lot can change in a year. If they continue to struggle, look for the Huskies to begin blitzing one or two of their speedy linebackers. It is critical that our backs identify and pick up these blitzers. I don't feel Southwick has the pocket presence that Moore did, but his feet can still help to extend plays, and he needs to make the Huskies pay when that happens...either via a pass completion or gaining positive yards on the scramble w/o taking the knockout blow.
The Husky linebackers are former defensive backs. They have terrific range and outstanding coverage instincts as a result. They are not what I would call small, but they are not 250 pounders either. This yields a potential opportunity BSU does not normally see. We can now run our TE's (normally small for their position) on screen routes across the middle designed to reroute, and bump into, the linebackers. This can help to mitigate their outstanding range and allow us to pick up the yards after catch we are used to. I don't know if that's advisable or if we'll see it unfold that way. it's just something that occurred to me.
The Husky secondary seems to somewhat mirror our own. They have talent but are inexperienced. Our veteran WR corp and fifth year Sr. QB must absolutely exploit that. Within the WR corp we have every kind of receiver I can think of. We have waterbugs, burners, hands guys, strong guys, tall guys, big bodied guys, and shifty guys. Petersen has a lot available to him to scheme the Husky secondary as much as he likes. Swick's ability to connect deep is imperative here imo, in order to loosen the death grip the Huskies can put on our run game. In last year's bowl game, the Huskies crowded the line. Linebackers played close, safeties crept down, zone coverage CB's watched intently for the run. Swick has to burn them to the ground for that kind of outright disrespect or it'll be another tough day when it comes to establishing a balanced offense.
The bottom line is that we have a fifth year Senior QB throwing to a veteran, and very multiple, WR/TE corp. It's not one or two guys either. We have at least two TE's and six WR's that can play some ball. Three of those are RS Sr.'s and one a RS Jr. Meanwhile, UW is breaking in younger, less developed talent, at both safety and CB. If we can't win this matchup, we don't deserve to win the game.
UW run game vs. BSU Front Seven
Well, if you aren't awake yet, here comes some cold water...but maybe not as cold as you expected. Everyone knows what kind of game Husky RB, Bishop Sankey, had in the bowl game. Washington's zone blocking scheme massacred us in the first half. Sankey rattled off 205 rushing yds and added 74 receiving yds in the first half alone. At times, Bishop Sankey was all the offense UW had...and he was all they needed too. However, Boise St. made some half time adjustments to their defensive scheme that seemed to slow Sankey down. Check these stats out...
- Sankey 1st half
- 16 runs, 130 yds, 8.1 ypc
- 2 rec, 48 yds, 24 ypr
- Sankey 2nd half
- 14 rushes, 75 yds, 5.36 ypc
- 4 rec, 26 yds, 6.5 ypr
Looking at those numbers, it appears that Sankey is not the kind of player you stop outright. He's too good, too strong, too fast, too explosive through the seams in the defense. But there's no doubt we put a serious damper on his production with the adjustments. That did appear to come at a cost though, and I'll touch on that in the next section.
There are two X Factors in this particular matchup, one potentially positive and one potentially negative. Firstly, Demarcus Lawrence has a very good chance to alter the dynamic here. His strength and speed off the edge can change how the entire OL blocks. Lawrence can seal the edge but, maybe more importantly, he has chase down speed to stretch a run to the sidelines, allowing the linebackers to fill the gaps. He also has outstanding athleticism, allowing him to bend, stop, and reverse direction quickly for a guy his size. His overall length also allows him to stretch out and make tackles other guys can't. This brings me to my second X Factor, Blake Renaud. Renaud is a physical specimen with both size and speed. He also hits like a MAC truck. Bronco Nation is very excited to see him start because he represents an uptick in athleticism for the linebacker position at Boise St. What has me worried though, is the fact I just didn't really notice him in the bowl game. He was in there, but I don't recall seeing him in on many tackles like Percy was. This concerns me as I now worry about his instincts, play recognition, and/or ability to get off blocks and sift through the trash to make the tackle.
The bottom line is that I think Sankey will get his yards. Our task is to mitigate the impact of those yards as much as possible. Heading into halftime during the bowl game, Petersen was asked about Sankey. Pete felt the defense recognized what was going on, and where he was going, but we weren't tackling well. That was a similar problem I noticed against Michigan St. For Boise St. to accomplish its goal against Bishop Sankey, we have to severely limit his yards after contact. That means sound tackling rather than going for the big hit or diving at his legs blindly. I feel we cleaned that up quite a bit in the second half and expect the same right out of the gate in this game.
UW passing game vs. BSU coverages
Again, we have almost a mirror image of the opposite matchup. Keith Price is a fifth year Sr.QB that has been downright prolific before. Last season was termed a regress, but much of that was attributed to the Huskies' horrific injury problem at OL. Price was a sitting duck last year and, like everyone else, the Broncos came after him in the bowl game. What I recall the most, though, was that Price never gave up. As much as that guy was planted in the turf, he continued to compete, braving injury and exhaustion. This dude has leadership written all over him and that is one of the most dangerous intangibles a QB can possess. At the QB position, strong character and good leadership skills enable one guy to invigorate an entire unit, sometimes the whole team. Coupled with next level talent, Keith price is a weapon that has to be accounted for.
Like Boise St., the Huskies also have a veteran receiving corp, though not as veteran and not as deep as BSU's imo. ASJ is universally considered one of the toughest TE matchups in the country. WR Kasen Williams can be outright electric. He has a strong, athletic body with legit deep speed, good hands, and the ability to outfight a CB for a jump ball. Sophmore, Jaydon Mickens, did not have an outstanding bowl game. But the 5-10 WR is explosive and another year wiser. Good enough to break into the Husky starting lineup as a true freshman, expect an improved Mickens on August 31st.
In the bowl game, BSU was able to get constant pressure on Price in the first half, making life a living nightmare for the QB. This, I suspect, is because we put our DL in constant pass rush mode, utilizing stunts and twists to get to the QB as a first priority. The result was two fold. Price couldn't get the ball to his playmakers' hands and Bishop Sankey had a field day as the DL ran right past him, or left large gaps, on their way to the QB. Look at these stats...
- ASJ first half: tgt'd 3 times, 1 rec, 5 yds
- Kasen Williams first half: tgt'd 3 times, 1 rec, 39 yds
After our halftime adjustments to limit Sankey, the thing we had to trade was the pass rush. We still got pressure, but it wasn't the jailbreak it was in the first half. With the DL and LB'ers taking a more conservative, read and react approach, Sankey's numbers went down substantially. But Price got an extra second or two to read the defense and he went to work.
- AJ second half: tgt'd 6 times, 5 rec's, 56 yds, 1 TD, 3 first downs
- Kasen Williams second half: tgt'd 5 times, 5 rec's, 56 yds, 4 first downs (missed the 5th by 1 yd)
For Boise St., we get our outstanding safeties, Jeremy Ioane and Darian Thompson, back. Pretty much everything else has changed. The linebackers are different, nickelback is up for grabs, and the CBs are new. One of the biggest things we will miss is Jamar taylor's all around game. A cover corner that had the body and will to get off blocks and tackle in the run game, Taylor single handedly stopped some of Sankey's runs last year...either through a direct tackle or forcing a reroute. I was encouraged, however, to see 5-9 151 pound true freshman CB, Donte Deayon, showcase guts and unusual strength in last year's game. Now a Sophmore, it can be expected that Deayon has packed on some much needed muscle and increased strength. On the other side is RS Jr. Bryan Douglas, a potential shutdown corner. At 5-9 178, our CB's are small. Something I noticed in last year's game was how good Husky WR's were at downfield blocking. This will be a direct challenge for our speedy, but small, CB duo. Backing them up will be JUCO Mercy maston, JUCO Cleshawn Page, and likely true freshman Jonathan Moxey. Like Washington, there is talent here, but the inexperience could be exploited potentially.
What we have, however, that the Huskies don't (unless something has drastically changed), is an absolutely fearsome pass rush. We get Demarcus Lawrence back, a game changer by himself. We lost Ukwuachu, but we seem to have depth at DE. On top of that, Sam was pretty lean and looked totally winded towards the end of the game...it could actually be addition by subtraction there. We have some promising true freshman as well. While you never really want to play true freshmen, pass rushing is more of an 'either you can or you can't' kind of thing. DT might be shallow, but it's not bare bones, it's simply an unknown for us right now. This DL is likely good enough, and deep enough, to get an effective rush with just the front 4, allowing the backers to read and react. Getting to Price early and often will mitigate the inexperience factor at CB.
Bottom line is that our defense will have to find a balance between controlling Sankey and pressuring Price. Shifting strategy based on down and distance may come into play. This is the chess game of football, where playcallers rule the day and players must execute efficiently. In a hostile environment, forcing turnovers can help a lot with the crowd noise. I believe this BSU pass defense, though young, is primed to do just that.
Miscellaneous Factors/Points of Emphasis
- Swick's ability to stay in control and lead this team under hostil conditions
- Our Cb's have to overachieve, defeating WR blocks and giving effective run support on the outside. This favors UW due to very good blocking technique and size of WR corp
- Jay Ajayi and the OL absolutely cannot have a repeat performance of the bowl game. Significant improvement is required.
- Shaq Thompson and John Timu cannot be allowed to range from sideline to sideline unopposed. TE's and pulling OL'ment need to get a hat on them or disrupt their angle to the ball carrier some other way.
- Kasen Williams, as a big WR with speed, cannot be allowed to exploit our smaller corners. Whether this is done through individual ability by the CB, or safety help, he can't be allowed to take over the game.
- Forcing turnovers would be very benefitial and help a lot in neutralizing the crowd
- Sankey will get his yards, but we have to limit his yds after contact by being good, fundamental tacklers
- Either Miller, Bolewijn, or Burks (or some combination thereof) have to establish physical dominance with their size in the medium to deep route tree. This is a tall task as the Huskies have size and athleticism, but are lacking in experience. If we can achieve this, it forces the Huskies to make an adjustment and opens a whole slew of underneath routes and run based options...including playaction pass.
- If forced between letting Sankey run all day long or giving Price room to breathe and read the defense, I would let Sankey run. Sankey will get tired as the exertion required is much greater. Price is too dangerous, too experienced, and too much of a charismatic warrior to let him get untracked. The QB cannot be allowed to run this game, the whole team will rally around him and make for an uphill battle in a loud venue.
Both teams have improved I am certain. But I think Boise St. develops talent better than most. I think we gameplan better than most. I think we play as a unified team with unified strategies that play to our strengths and exploit the opponent's weaknesses better than most. So I feel it is likely that we have taken more steps forward than the Huskies have.
On offense, I feel Washington may have better talent, individually, at certain positions. But I feel Boise St. has a better team with more overall options and flexibility. I also feel we execute all of those options at a higher level than UW does their's. On defense, I feel like, again, Washington has some exceptionally talented individuals...especially at Linebacker. But Boise St.'s strengths matchup better against Washington's potential weaknesses than vice versa.
This is pretty much the opposite feeling I had concerning Michigan St. last year. Last season, I felt like Michigan St. was one of the worst teams we could have drawn given our inexperience and how we were built. The Spartans had a huge, experienced, and athletic defense while we were rolling out Southwick for the first time. Sparty had a power ground game fueled by a 230+ lb. athletic back, while we had a small, speedy defense built to rush the QB. In this UW game, the tables have flipped. UW runs a finesse, zone blocking run game with a fast and athletic RB. There's nothing wrong with that. But BSU counters with a sideline to sideline athletic front seven. UW has a passing attack that is potentially potent, but Boise St. counters with a freakish pass rush that can neutralize that threat at the trigger man. If we win this game, it will be because Boise St. was the base to Washington's acid in enough facets of the game.
Call it Boise State 27 Washington 20