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Fiesta Bowl preview: TCU's Jeremy Kerley may be the most dangerous man on the field

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Receiver/returner Jeremy Kerley has become the posterboy for TCU's speed and skill. Will he be the most dangerous man on the field for the Fiesta Bowl? Probably. Will Boise State be able to stop him? Let's find out.

After the jump, view video of Kerley in action, and discuss how Kerley compares to other Bronco opponents and what BSU might do to stop him. Think the Bronco defense can corral him? Share your thoughts in the comments.

If you have yet to discover a healthy respect for Kerley's skills, then you must not be easily persuaded by local media. All over the newscasts, the most famous TCU highlight clip is Kerley making the Colorado State punt team look ridiculous. Did the CSU punt team need much help looking ridiculous? Probably not. But for better or worse, the highlight has become the tentpole example of TCU's speed, athleticism, and playmaking abilities. And it has been a hype-builder for Kerley.


The sultry sounds of ESPN's Steve Levy not doing it for you? To the surprise of no one, TCU fans have immortalized the return, set to sepia and piano interludes.


The TD return is one of Kerley's two punt TDs on the season. He is 11th nationally in punt returns, and he led the Mountain West in both punt return average and kickoff return average.

On offense, he can pose problems in a number of ways. While mostly a receiving threat, the Horned Frogs are not afraid to line him up in the backfield and work him into the running game, as they did near the goalline against Utah:


Kerley scored on the ground against Utah, Air Force, and Virginia, and seeing him burst out of the backfield and around the edge is eerily similar to Titus Young's rushing plays. In fact Kerley reminds me a lot of a Titus Young - Jeremy Avery mashup, or what Vinny Perretta would have been like if he had more fast-twitch muscles.

Need more proof that Kerley is dangerous? Check out his high school highlights. Fortunately, Boise State does not have any high school players on its two-deep.

 

Kerley's ability is not lost on Bronco players.

"He's fast, he's explosive, he's wiggly," Boise State safety George Iloka said. "They're going to try to get him on the ball, so you'll have to keep your on him wherever he is in the formation."

In many ways, Kerley is similar to Tulsa's Damaris Johnson - a speedy, shifty receiver/returner who was the Golden Hurrican's main offensive weapon. Johnson's stats when the Broncos came to town were decent enough:

4 rushes, 41 yards, 4 catches, 59 yards, 1 TD, 19.5 avg on kickoff returns

Yet, apart from a couple big plays in the first half, Boise State was able to slow him down considerably and take him out of the game. The Broncos could end up using the same strategy for Kerley as they did against Johnson.

So how will the Broncos defend Kerley? They have plenty of options.

  • Have Kyle Wilson shadow him. Why not matchup Boise State's best defender on TCU's biggest weapon?
  • Have George Iloka shadow him. Iloka has earned a reputation as one of the best tacklers on the team, and he has been a big part of the gameplan for stopping offensive stars like Nevada's Colin Kaepernick.
  • Double-team him on passing plays. Boise State might have an entirely different gameplan for stopping the run, including running plays for Kerley. If so, doubling Kerley with Brandyn Thompson and a safety over the top could be enough to force Andy Dalton to look at other options.
  • Directional punt and rugby punt. Minimizing Kerley's impact in the punt return game will be all up to Kyle Brotzman. When his punting is on, he is one of the best in the country. If he is on for the Fiesta Bowl, Kerley could get shut down pretty easily.
  • Squib kick on kickoffs. It is harder to keep the ball away from Kerley on kickoffs, at least not without sacrificing field position. My vote is for the Broncos to kick it away because they have been more than capable of covering kickoffs this season (save for one against LaTech).

Then there's this: Is Jeremy Kerley worth gameplanning over?

I'm sure that the question will bring me loads of TCU hate mail, but bear with me. Apart from his play on special teams, Kerley has not put up eye-popping stats on offense. He is a playmaker, but he is not a star. Below are Kerley's season stats. Click here for the game-by-game breakdown from ESPN.com.


Receiving Kickoff Returns Punt Returns
G Rec Yds Y/G AVG TD KR YDS AVG Lng TD PR Yds Avg Lng TD
12 38 467 38.9 12.3 2 17 457 26.9 52 0 0 487 14.3 71 2


To recap, Kerley has a) not had a 100-yard receiving game, b) not had more than 500 receiving yards on the season, c) only scored five total offensive touchdowns, and d) averaged less than 4 yards per carry.

TCU's offense is very much run-first, which is why you might explain away the low receiving numbers. But still, with all the talent and playmaking abilities that Kerley is rumored to have, shouldn't his stats reflect a greater ability to chew up yards, make catches, and score touchdowns?

The question for Justin Wilcox and Co. comes down to this: Do you gameplan against TCU's offensive scheme or do you gameplan against its most dangerous player? What would you do? Kerley could very well be the most dangerous man on the field for the Fiesta Bowl, but if he can be neutralized in the kicking game, does he have enough left to warrant his own gameplan on offense?

I say no. I would rather see the Broncos find a way to slow down TCU's multi-faceted running attack. What is your take? Let's discuss.