What a difference a week makes.
Last week; Boise State, its fans, and opponent, readied themselves for another game with Joe Southwick at the helm. This week is a little different… Joe Southwick’s career at Boise State is sadly—quite possibly over. On the very first offensive snap from the Broncos, Saturday night, Southwick scrambled ahead for a quick seven yard gain. A frequently reliable option if Joe feels defensive pressure, but this unfortunately was far from the usual 7-yard scamper. As Joe was being tackled to the turf, his leg got caught behind him, forcing him to fall awkwardly on it. It appeared awful on TV… and in a moment’s time, before you could even think of how bad it might possibly be; instantaneously, it was obvious he was in severe pain. Boise State’s fans suddenly felt their heart sink; disaster was evident. The 5th year senior quarterback had just broken his ankle.
Settling in was something Joe never really got to experience. From day one after earning the starting job, a sweltering amount of heat was bestowed to Joe’s name. He was the chosen one, the one who had to follow in the footsteps of a legend. If trying to replace the quarterback with the most career wins in College Football history isn’t a daunting task, I don’t know what is. Given the circumstances, Joe handled it well. Never complained…just led his team to battle, week-in and week-out. Albeit knowing no matter what he did, a shadow was cast over him that he couldn’t control.
How does the story go? An athlete starts to receive his/her own recognition, earning fans over, becoming a leader, and then snap—tragedy strikes. This is what makes sports so great, but yet so painful at the same time, unpredictability. The not knowing of whether one of the following might occur: An athlete makes a career defining play, or an athlete’s career ends before the blink of an eye. As a fan it reminds you to not take players for granted, even if they do just come and go. And while it’s not fair, when was fair to ever be expected.
Joe was slowly starting to win over the Broncos’ fan base–just like the story has it. He had removed some of the harsh negativity surrounding his name, no longer restricted to the title “our best option”. Making big plays wasn’t spotty. It was becoming more and more consistent. Stepping up when needed… Joe was the leader the Broncos’ longed for. Coming into a season with a roster full of youth and inexperience, he led by example. Nothing more you can ask for from a senior quarterback.
Thank you for everything, Joe.
What we learned from Boise State following a comeback win against Nevada:
1. Age is Just a Number-
By all accounts, Boise State is one of the youngest teams in the FBS. Relatively young on offense…but defense is where most of the youth lies. The Broncos’ heralded only two-starting-seniors on defense against Nevada, and once again will do the same versus BYU. Thus only leaving; juniors, sophomores, and freshmen for the other nine starting slots. The official breakdown goes as follows: Juniors-4, sophomores-3, freshmen-2.
The saying “youth is a virtue” applies to football as it does, real life. The benefit of having an overwhelmingly young-football-team is the years ahead. The drawback is obvious; a learning curve. Learning from your mistakes and trying not repeat them. Boise State in all its glory has felt the drawback at stages through-out the 2013 season. Opponents have feasted on youth and inexperience, targeting the younger and more undeveloped players who have yet to make a name for themselves.
Despite the bumps in the road, progression is evident. Yes, a few shoddy performances by the defense have skewed the statistics; but Boise State’s numbers have been on the rise ever since. Currently the Broncos are 54th in nation in rushing defense, 78th in passing, and 40th in total scoring. To break it down-Boise State has given up 38+ points twice this year (Washington and Fresno State). Other than that, the defense hasn’t let up more than 23 points in any game (The 23 was due to a late meaningless touchdown).
Saturday vs. Nevada was further evidence of Boise State’s continued betterment on defense. It just so happens, that this time; the improvement occurred in 30 minutes. Going into half at Bronco Stadium– Boise State’s defense looked gassed, confused, and unsure of themselves. Nevada had just put up 17 on the board with 246 yards of total offense. Their drives were long and clock-killing. Running plays were all but assured first downs. Play after play, they ran the ball to the left-side of the offense, working their way down field. Boise State defenders were glued to their blocks and unable to show any block-shedding ability whatsoever.
Like clockwork the Broncos decided enough was enough; instead of accepting the bullying that they received in the first-half, they instead returned the favor. Whether it be from a rumored, Joe Southwick speech at half or simply being chewed out by the coaches, it was clear a loss to Reno was not an option.
The Broncos came out looking like an entirely different defensive unit. They had prepared their counter-punches and were ready for whatever Nevada decided to throw at them. The Broncos held Nevada to an utterly impressive 127 yards and 0 points in the second half. Boise State’s offensive and replacement quarterback (discussed in detail below) rightfully received most of adulation, but the defense was on lock-down. The plays that Nevada ran flawlessly in the first half were no longer existent; the very same plays resulted in losses or no gains. Defensive players were flying to the ball and no longer stuck in an imaginary rut while being blocked. The Broncos, just like their jerseys, turned black. No running alleys, passing lanes, or breathing room allowed for the rival, Nevada–just a good luck next year.
Three underclassmen on defense to watch:
Donte Deayon (Cornerback, #5), Armand Nance (Nose-Tackle, #40), and Ben Weaver (Middle-Linebacker, #51)
2. The Forgotten Child-
Grant Hedrick? Who’s that? I think I’ve heard of a Grant *Hendrick*, but not the previously mentioned individual.
Dialogue of that nature has surely risen in the aftermath of losing quarterback, Joe Southwick. A frenzy of confusion as to what the Broncos and Coach Petersen plan to do for the remainder of the season is surely practical. Therefore, it would only make sense to review who exactly Grant Hedrick is: Grant is red-shirt junior from Independence, Oregon. He played football and graduated from Central High School. As a senior, Grant was named Oregon’s high school football player of the year. Similar to past and present Boise State quarterbacks, Hedrick lacks ideal height, but has an array of other intangibles. His biggest asset being his legs, Hedrick, has top-notch speed. Short-fast strides and quick feet make him far more explosive than you’d expect from a quarterback. He gives the position a boom possibility even when he’s not throwing, something the prototypical pocket-passer doesn’t have.
Hedrick has/had been forgotten, Southwick was the now and the future was already pre-determined. Those who love looking ahead (such as myself) are zealous for the likes of either Nick Patti or Jalen Greene. Patti–a big name recruit from Florida has had everyone excited from the moment he arrived in Boise. Labeled the real heir apparent to Kellen Moore…and if some were to have it their way; would have started long ago.
Jalen Greene is a different story. Greene is verbally committed to Boise State for the 2014 season, NOT signed to a letter of intent—very different. One states an athlete is planning to play at a given university, the other requires an athlete to end all additional recruiting and attend the university he signed the intent for. It is important to know the difference because Jalen has not yet signed his letter of intent; consequently there is always a chance he made decide to take his talents elsewhere. IF, he does happen to elect Boise State as his college of choice, BSU will be receiving a phenomenal talent. The true definition of a dual-threat quarterback, Jalen can run and make it look easy, but also has a sniper-like arm. I forgot to mention… he’s left handed (EYES GET BIG). If you believe in repeated destiny—start your own recruiting pitch now—this kid might be the real deal.
With that, it’s understandable how Hedrick fell by the wayside. Now is unexpectedly his time though and deservedly so, it’s not fair to call it an audition, but ultimately that’s what it is. If he succeeds, he might lock up next years starting quarterback position, if he scuffles—2014 is that much more interesting.
If I were to predict the future, I’d put my money on option-A. Let me explain by starting with this; Hedrick is a perfect fit for the offense. If it were three years ago, I would have said something completely different. This new offense is concentrated on making quick plays and not letting the defense get comfortable by playing at such a rapid pace. Nothing says uncomfortable like a QB who can spread you out and then run it past you. The “Pistol” (offensive formation) sets are far more dangerous with a mobile quarterback. Unfortunately, we have yet to see Hedrick throw the ball more than a few times, so that is still a cause for concern. Admittedly stubborn, I don’t believe we will be losing much in the passing game…IF, he can take care of the ball and make the short throws consistently (A big if). Joe’s biggest strengths were his command of the offense, short game accuracy, and ability to connect with receivers while under pressure. BUT, he lacked the consistent–accurately placed deep ball. This talent is important and was surely missed since Kellen’s departure; it gives the offense another dimension–without it, safeties and cornerbacks can play tight coverage and cheat-in; ultimately creating a chain-reaction of less effectiveness. Thus inhibiting the offense—when and if it were in a position where passing is the only option. Not to say that Hedrick has a gun for an arm, because he doesn’t, but he can replace what’s lost in the non-existent deep ball with his legs.
I can hope the above statements are not translated into me saying that Hedrick is the superior talent, but I can understand how that indication is possible. Better fit—not superior talent. Hedrick will bring another element to an already explosive offense while hopefully not sacrificing another. Prepare yourself for a steady dose of a Hedrick/Ajayi rushing attack (full of read-options).If the small sample-size vs. Nevada is anything like the future, boy, we’re in for a treat (maybe a trick too… HAPPY HALLOWEEN, hahaha… I crack myself up).
So…without further ado, Grant Hedrick. He is the surrogated “now” quarterback, and most likely the one of the immediate future.
Good luck kid, we’re all pulling for you.
3. Enjoy the Show-
Bronco fans are fortunate to have two superstars on the current Boise State roster: Demarcus Lawrence and Jay Ajayi. One might end up winning the award for Mountain West Defensive Player of The Year and the other should AT LEAST be First Team All-Mountain West.
Even the challenger can’t help but respect and give high praise; BYU linebacker, Kyle Van Noy (this week’s opponent) was quoted saying the following when asked about Ajayi- “That’s an NFL running back.” Although I am certainly a partial to Ajayi; I couldn’t agree more.
Jay has the tools to be an NFL player, but… Demarcus Lawrence has the tools and well roundedness needed to not only get drafted, but also start on Sundays. Scouts are so intrigued by his supreme pass-rush skills and recently, his high-motor. He is the Boise State model for one of their fundamental words- relentless. It’s the hammer tradition in a nut-shell; Demarcus is that.
Here are Jay Ajayi’s and Demarcus Lawrence’s 2013 stats and how they rank up in the country:
Rushing yards- 766 (16th in the Nation)
Rushing touchdowns- 12 (Tied-1st in the Nation)
Yards per attempt- 5.67 (N/A)
Sacks per game- 1.1 (5th in the Nation)
Total sacks- 6.5 (Tied 5th in the Nation)
Total tackles- 38 (N/A)
Should be fun to watch!