Today: BSU offense vs. TCU defense, Tomorrow: TCU offense vs. BSU defense, Friday: Intangibles vs. Tangibles
If ESPN has yet to come up with publicity material for Tuesday's Poinsettia Bowl, we imagine that the final product will sound something like this:
"It's Kellen Moore vs. Jerry Hughes! TCU's dominant D vs. Boise State's resourceful O! Mark May vs. credibility! It's Horned Frogs vs. Broncos in beautiful ESPN HD (followed by a new episode of E:60)." Then Ed Werder would come out and give a report about Jeremy Childs getting jealous of secret plays between Kellen Moore and Kyle Efaw.
The point being, the matchup between Boise State's "O" and TCU's "D" is sexy and it sells, and ESPN loves both of those things. There's good reason for all the attention, too. For years, Boise State has been recognized as one of the most cutting edge offensive teams in the country, and TCU's reputation for stinginess precedes itself.
The TCU defense is ranked No. 2 in the country in scoring and No. 1 in rush defense. The Broncos averaged nearly 40 points per game and beat opponents by nearly four touchdowns.
But let's break it down into smaller, bite-size topics. You know, like a fun size Mr. Goodbar. Here's some analysis on Bronco "O" vs. TCU "D" (fact-checking optional).
TCU pass rush vs. Boise State's pass protection
OK, here's the deal: The TCU defense had 41 sacks on the year. The Boise State offense gave up 11. Something has to give.
Let's start with TCU. The Horned Frogs had a sack in every game they played, so it was not like they padded their stats against teams like Stephen F. Austin. Actually, they only had two sacks against the Stephen F.ers. How merciful of them.
Perhaps TCU's most prominent pass rush game was against BYU when they got to QB Max Hall six times. This should tell you that they are fully capable of handling good offensive lines in big-time games. BYU relied on its passing game, and the TCU pass rush helped shut the sucker down.
Now for Boise State. If we've heard people call the Bronco O-line "green" once, we've heard it a thousand times. We get it. They're inexperienced. And pudgy. So what?
The results on the field are all that really matter, and that is where the o-line has performed beyond its expectations, especially in the passing game. Only giving out 11 sacks all year is phenomenal. There were games when Moore was hardly even touched, much less hurried. A lot of credit should go to the Boise State running backs and, in particular, Ian Johnson for picking up blitz after blitz with flawless precision. Blitzing does not worry us in the P-Bowl.
But the two BSU games that really stick out in this discussion are the San Jose State game and the Nevada game. In those two contests, Boise State faced the best pass rushes they had seen all season, and both the Spartans and the Wolf Pack were able to get to the quarterback. Moore was hit, hurried, and hassled a lot in those games, and the scary part is that the TCU defensive line might provide an even tougher challenge.
The only saving grace we can find in this matchup is Moore. While he might not be wrestling defensive tackles himself (although, anything's possible with him!), his mobility definitely plays a part in the pass rush equation. TCU might get past their blockers with regularity, but there's no guarantee that they'll get to Moore. He's shifty in the pocket, and he has a quick release. It will keep the pass rush at bay for awhile, but it might keep the Broncos dinking and dunking their way down the field. In that case, the TCU pass rush wins.
Winner: TCU pass rush
Boise State's running game vs. TCU's run defense
We won't waste your time with this one. TCU allows less than 50 rushing yards per game and less than two yards per carry. Boise State typically abandons the rush in the first quarter. You do the math.
Basically, we'll concede the fact that TCU will win this matchup hands down, but it doesn't preclude the Broncos from trying. There will be Boise State rushing attempts; we're just not sure what they'll look like. You might think they'll try some delays to neutralize the pass rush, but there's really no need when short screens do the same job. We just have one request for Bryan Harsin: if you're going to run the ball, FOR THE LOVE OF IAN JOHNSON, USE A FULLBACK! That's all.
Winner: TCU's run defense
DE Jerry Hughes vs. OT Andrew Woodruff
Hughes is the nation's leading sacker. Woodruff is Canadian. Push?
Probably not. TCU fans believe that Hughes is unstoppable and at least 1/8th Greek god, and we are loathe to agree. The man has tortured opposing offensive lines to the tune of 14 sacks and six forced fumbles. He's a second team All-American. He eats success for breakfast ... with skim milk!
What does Woodruff have going for him? He's built like an icebox (a Sears one, not a Wal-Mart one). He was named first team All-WAC. He can play guard. To the naked eye, the matchup between Hughes and Woodruff is horribly one-sided in the Horned Frogs' favor. But fortunately for us, our eyes are not naked. They are clothed with Boise State apparel from the Blue & Orange Store.
Woodruff will not be able to hold Hughes all game long, but he can make Hughes less of a factor than most people expect. Hell hath no fury like a Canadian scorned (or something like that), and there's no doubt that Woodruff will be motivated to excel on Tuesday. You can't measure heart, unless you're getting an angioplasty or something, and we believe that Woodruff's heart will make a difference in the P-Bowl.
Just how much of a difference is the real question. Hughes might get a sack or two, but if Woodruff can keep him out of Moore's way the rest of the time, the Broncos can succeed. We think he can. We'll call it a moral victory for Woodruff, but an actual victory for Jerry Hughes.
Winner: Jerry Hughes
Boise State's wide receivers vs. TCU's secondary
Quick! Tell us everything you know about the TCU secondary. Done already? OK, now tell us Jeremy Childs' middle name. It's LeCharles. We think.
Point is the TCU secondary might just be the most non-descript part of this terrible (in a good way) unit. Compared to their run defense, TCU's pass "D" is downright charitable, giving up over 160 yards per game. It should be noted that this is still not all that much.
Upon closer inspection, there is hope for the Broncos in the TCU secondary, assuming you have a quarterback the caliber of a Heisman Trophy candidate. Oklahoma's Sam Bradford riddled the TCU "D" for 411 yards and four scores this season. Both Brian Johnson and Max Hall each had over 200 yards passing, too. Part of TCU's gaudy pass stats are courtesy of a tough defense, but another part of it is having teams like Air Force (11 yards passing on 10 attempts) and F. Stephen Austin (three picks) on the schedule.
Contrary to this is the Boise State receiving corps, which is one of the most prolific in school history. Let's start with Jeremy Childs. He's good. And he was absolutely brilliant against Oregon's heralded defensive backfield, snagging balls that he had no business snagging. If the TCU pass rush causes errant Kellen Moore throws, Childs should still be able to catch them.
Then there's Austin Pettis. Boise State could probably throw Pettis fades every play and move the ball right down the field. Add Vinny Perretta to the mix and you have a multi-faceted player who can hurt you with his hands, his legs, and his arm. Julian Hawkins and Tyler Shoemaker make plays, too. And just when you think you have the receivers all bottled up, one of them goes and throws a TD pass on a play no one was expecting.
With much respect for TCU's secondary, the Broncos win this one.
Winner: Boise State's wide receivers
Kellen Moore vs. fate
Freshman quarterbacks aren't supposed to be put in this position. Shoot, Taylor Tharp isn't even supposed to be in this position.
Basically, Boise State's best chance of winning on Tuesday in the P-Bowl is for Kellen Moore to have a great game. It's no different than any other number of games this year.
What Moore has going for him: talent, skill, film study, calmness, accuracy, mobility, leadership, OBNUG's effusive praise. What he doesn't: expectations, TCU defense, angel Mark May and demon Mark May hanging out on his shoulders. We have absolutely no doubt that Moore will be prepared and ready for this game, and that is truly comforting. He'll do everything in his power to get this team a win, but he'll have to overcome a lot to do it.
If he has a bad game (perish the thought), the Broncos are up a creek and will have to count on the defense to bail them out - a very real possibility that we'll explore tomorrow. If he has a great game, then TCU will be behind the eight ball in a big way.
Go ahead, TCU fans, let us have it. We're going with Moore because we always go with Moore.
Winner: Kellen Moore, natch
BSU o-coordinator Bryan Harsin vs. TCU d-coordinator Dick Bumpas
First we should explain that we are not qualified to debate the merits of Dick Bumpas. We know nothing about the man, and we just snickered a little when we read his name for the first time.
That said, Bryan Harsin is a genius, and he turned a rag-tag Boise State offense into a feared machine by the end of the season. He almost always found the right plays to work, and he overcame a complete lack of running game at times to still make the offense click.
Winner: Bryan Harsin
TCU's team speed vs. Boise State's precision
We don't really know what "precision" means, but it sounds good. And it sounds like it would be a good foil for team speed.
Let's assume that it means accuracy and attention to detail, as in Doug Martin taking three steps instead of two before he explodes into a defender. You can make up for a lot of mistakes by having speed, which gives the TCU defense a significant advantage. And since they're well-coached and rarely out of position, their speed is merely an added bonus, one that they can use to grab a bite at Carl's Jr. during lengthy play action fakes.
Going up against a (presumably) superior opponent is nothing new for the Broncos, and typically, by the time that all is said and done, no one seems to recall exactly who was supposed to be superior before the game started. Take Oregon for instance. They were fast and scary on defense, yet the Broncos found ways to make it work, like Moore's fake-fumble-TE-toss. All the speed in the world couldn't have prevented that from happening.
The Broncos will find ways to take advantage of TCU's team speed, and TCU's team speed will help it make up for Boise State's precision. In other words, this one's a push.
Overall winner: TCU's defense
There are ways that Boise State can score points against the Horned Frogs: Kellen Moore touchdown passes and lucky Ian Johnson 66-yard runs mostly. Apart from that, it will be tough sledding for the Broncos. We'll be thrilled if they get to 28 points, content with 21, worried with 14, and delirious with 7. Any and all of those scores are a possibility, but on paper, we fear a low-scoring outcome.
This is where we breathe a sigh of relief that these games aren't played on paper.