"Bigger isn't better. Better is better."
The man who uttered those infamous words obviously didn't believe them. He left for bigger and sacrificed better. Three years later, Boise State finds itself singing the same tune but with slightly different characters. Does bigger mean better along the offensive and defensive lines? Will extra pounds make that much difference? And at what cost?
These are some of the biggest questions facing the Bronco linemen this fall. Let's talk it out.
(You've stumbled upon a series of Boise State position previews leading up to the Oregon game. Previously: The incredible, shrinking big play. Next up: How the 4-2-5 has changed the BSU linebacker.)
Bronco offensive line depth chart
Remember a time when Boise State linemen were little tiny guys? The new breed of Bronco O-line is big ... and getting bigger.
In addition to an offseason regimen of carb-loading and Idaho Pizza Company buffet to bulk up some skinny returners, the Broncos are starting to recruit bigger man mountains from the get-go. Recent recruits include 6'2", 305-pound Joe Kellogg and 6'3", 290-pound Spencer Gerke. They are bigger coming in, and once Bronco coaches are done with them, they are bigger going out.
As far as a starting rotation is concerned, size is obviously not priority No. 1. In the above depth chart, the top five players are the ones who have routinely been getting first-team snaps. If that depth chart holds true, then the Broncos will have four out of five starters weighing over 280 pounds. The lone lightweight: OL-turned-DL-turned-OL Will Lawrence at a lean 255.
Bronco defensive line depth chart
Boise State's defensive line rotation has seen its fair share of girth recently, too. Both defensive tackles are only a few Carl's Jr. Six-Dollar burgers away from 300. Backups J.P. Nisby and the currently suspended/injured Michael Atkinson (6'0", 332) tip the scales at over 300. Defensive tackle is meaty, large, and quite good.
Defensive end is a more traditionally light position for most teams, and the same is true of the Broncos. Winterswyk is the biggest DE at 6'4", 263 pounds, but McClellin is right behind him. Byron Hout, a converted HS linebacker, comes in the lightest at 241.
Size as a kneejerk reaction to the Poinsettia Bowl
Boise State made a big push in the offseason toward getting the offensive linemen bigger.
"Some guys had to play last season that maybe weren't quite physically ready," offensive line coach Scott Huff said. "Now, we're closer. You look at a guy's body type and aim for maybe 290 in six months with the potential to be 305. We don't have any seniors, so you're going to see these guys getting bigger and bigger."
The most obvious game when the Broncos weren't physically ready? The Poinsettia Bowl against TCU.
The Horned Frogs imposed the pace of the game all evening long against the Broncos. The final rushing numbers: TCU: 275, Boise State: 28. It was a dominating performance by TCU's offensive line and a stellar job of taking away the run by the Horned Frog defense.
After the game, it was obvious to many that there was a big difference between the power of TCU and the finesse of Boise State. Which begs the question: Did Boise State turn the corner from power team to finesse team last year? Or are we all overreacting to one bad game against a great TCU team?
To be sure, Boise State has not been finesse during its decade of dominance since the turn of the century. No matter what public perception may be, the Broncos won games by controlling the line of scrimmage, shutting down opposing running backs, and using the run to set up the pass. None of those three things happened in the Poinsettia Bowl.
Of course, there were reasons for this. Boise State's defensive line depth was the worst it had been all season long. The offense was run-of-the-mill in the running game all of last year, and the team was better suited with Kellen Moore throwing more often than Ian Johnson running. There were signs that Boise State's loss in the P-Bowl was an aberration to how things had been for the Broncos all season long and to how they would go in future years.
But if all that is true, then why the emphasis on O-line size?
Size as it relates to winning the WAC
Question #1: Does Boise State need to be bigger along its offensive and defensive lines to win the WAC?
There is a mountain of evidence that says no. Here are three of the most obvious reasons:
- Boise State has won six of the last seven WAC championships.
- The overall talent gap between the Broncos and many other WAC teams is incredible.
- Boise State can win WAC games without controlling the line of scrimmage.
For all intents and purposes, Boise State has done just fine with its smaller, more athletic lines for the past seven years. Is there any reason to do it any differently?
One reason might be staying ahead of the curve. Other WAC schools are starting to recruit big players, and size has slowly started to trickle down from the BCS-conference teams and into the smaller schools. Boise State going big could be a result of the changing competition around them.
And, yes, I use the term "competition" loosely.
Size as it relates to fielding a BCS-quality team
Question #2: Does Boise State need to be bigger along its offensive and defensive lines to win another BCS game?
There is a mountain of evidence that says yes. Here are three of the most obvious reasons:
- The Poinsettia Bowl and the Oregon game.
- The size throughout the depth chart for BCS teams is huge compared to Boise State.
- Teams generally stand less of a chance to win when they are unable to control the line of scrimmage, manage time of possession, and effectively run the ball when needed.
The obvious answer to the size question, as it relates to BCS competitiveness, is that the Broncos have to get bigger. Against TCU and Oregon, Boise State struggled mightily up front, especially in the running game, and the size component was noticeable.
Of course, there is another side to the debate also. Didn't Boise State win the Oregon game? And didn't the Broncos beat a traditional powerhouse in Oklahoma two years earlier? Beating BCS teams can be done no matter the size of the line. Those wins won't be blowouts, and they won't be dominating, but they'll still be wins.
How other teams deal with size
As mentioned above, BCS schools will be almost across-the-board bigger than the Broncos. For example, Florida has 19 players who weigh 300 pounds or more. Boise State has three.
But here's where it gets interesting. Boise State's first opponent, Oregon, only has four players who reach or exceed 300 pounds. Is this an issue for the Ducks? Will Boise State struggle to win the size battle when the teams meet on September 3?
The Nevada Wolf Pack have seven players 300 pounds and up, but their two stud defensive ends, Dontay Moch and Kevin Basped, come in at 245 and 240 pounds, respectively. They are Byron Hout size, and Ryan Winterswyk has 20 pounds on them.
Another interesting case study is the Idaho Vandals. Preseason all-WAC OL Mike Iupati represents a new breed of Vandal lineman: Large. Iupati is 6'6", 330 pounds, and he is not even the biggest guy on the team. He is not even the second biggest. Idaho has five players who weigh 310 pounds or more. And we all know how that's working out for them.
Recruiting big kids locally is a challenge for the Broncos. Spencer Gerke, listed above, came from Bishop Kelly at 290 pounds, but Gerke would be the exception, not the rule. Even among Boise State's out-of-state recruiting, size has yet to show up. On Scout.com's list of Boise State recruiting prospects, only four kids tipped the scales at over 300 pounds. Of course, relative to the size that they used to come in, these recruits are bigger than usual. Really, the Broncos had nowhere to go but bigger.
Benefits and weaknesses of size
Now we arrive at perhaps the most important part of the discussion: Where is the value in size?
- Cover for certain mistakes in assignment and technique
- Hold the line of scrimmage easier
But size can also
- Cost you athleticism
The athleticism/size quandary is a good one. Can you have it both ways? Bronco coaches are certainly hoping so. Every time offensive line coach Scott Huff talks about size, he makes sure to remind people that Boise State aims to increase size without decreasing athleticism.
A non-athletic, giant offensive lineman limits the playbook, making the hurry-up offense more difficult, rendering certain blocking assignments impossible, and causing issues for games against teams with quicker defenders.
If you could only have size or athleticism, which one would you want?
I am a big believer that the most important part to offensive and defensive line play is technique. If you understand leverage and hand placement, you can cover for a lot of different shortcomings, including smaller size and less athleticism.
The issue that the Broncos recognize is that technique is well-coached all across college football. The difference-maker might have changed to size and athleticism.
How do you feel about the Broncos getting bigger? My first reaction was one of deep concern probably because I pictured a bunch of doughy lineman huffing and puffing in the second quarter of the UC Davis game and longingly looking toward the NEZ and my Dip 'n Dots. But Bronco coaches know better than to plump up players simply for the sake of plumping them up.
What do you think motivated the Broncos' change on the offensive line toward bigger people? Does the defensive line need a similar program? How would you measure size on college football rosters? Is 300 pounds too much? Too little?
And most importantly, how much does size really matter - for the WAC and for the BCS?
Let me hear what you think.