Attack The Opponent: That Darned Bye

We’re in the thick of a moment that should be committed to memory carefully. With four games left in the season, the Broncos are a dangerous team. They out-prepare their opponents, and out-execute them too. Boise State plays hard, hits harder, learns quickly, can adjust on the fly and obviously has fun. A team like that is hard to beat. The truly hard part of the schedule is over. The rest are traps. Next up is New Mexico, yet another option team but one that is still 2-5. Then SDSU, who needs to be beaten into submission similarly to what happened to BYU last Friday. After that is Wyoming, who very much want to beat our guys and seem to think they can do it, but then they also aren’t a good football team so, whatever. They’ll take their best shot in a few weeks. Utah State could be a tripping point if overlooked, but they are down to fourth string freshman QB’s. Just how good of a coach and recruiter is Matt Wells, anyway? Not many are that good. After that, if the Broncos emerge unscathed, we’re talking an MWC Championship game on the Blue. In year one!

Next June, when there isn’t anything going on and its a billion degrees outside and we’re in the doldrums of a college football offseason, remember how glorious this has been. Bowl season is coming, possibly with a decent opponent for the Broncos, and then soon enough it will be over for another year. Recruiting info will ramp up and then ramp down, signing day, the spring game, and all of a sudden it’s the middle of the summer and everything sucks a bit more because college football is so impossibly far away.

all baseball and no football makes tami something something

all baseball and no football makes tami something something

This has been a spectacular season so far. Sure, it started off in a less than optimal way, but that loss vs. Ole Miss didn’t turn out to be so bad. The Air Force game was an aberration, a horrible example of worst case scenario. Grant stood up afterwards, dusted himself off, and has proven to be a very good quarterback – the most accurate in the nation by almost 2% over Brett Hundley, Jameis Winson, and Cody Kessler. Those are awfully big names to be ahead of on the arguably most important quarterback metric.

Jay Ajayi has also had a great season so far, getting tons of yardage. He’s an impact back, and can get 4.5 yards just by existing. The Jay Train is going to go to a very lucky NFL team whenever Jay decides it’s time to take that step. Speculation gets us nowhere, because Ajayi is the only one that knows and it sure seems like he’s hungry and focused and trying to play football for Boise State to the best of his ability. He’s maturing as a player and it’s truly wonderful to watch. However, there are some younger guys who are making a difference too. Thomas Sperbeck, the circus catch making receiver who has stepped up brilliantly in place of Matt Miller for one.

(Speaking of Matt, his injury just sucks. He was 15 yards away from the school receiving record and instead of figuring out how to get it he just stepped back, put on a headset, and is still being a great leader on the sidelines and in the locker room. Mr. Miller, here’s to a quick recovery and a great combine performance and draft.)

Shane Williams-Rhodes is having a good, if not somewhat quiet year. He is on track to better his TD best from last season, and is only a few big plays from being back around that heady 9.1 yard per carry number from last season. Swerve seems to always be just a broken tackle away from popping off for big things, and with New Mexico and Wyoming and their terrible defenses coming up, he should do some interesting stuff. Jeremy McNichols is another young player who is electric with the ball. He is a great compliment to Jay, with his ability to keep defenders honest on the outside.

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Jeremy McNichols sliding around that corner like

The Broncos defense has additionally been quite solid, snatching the most interceptions as a team in the MWC, holding teams to the second lowest in rushing yards and yards allowed per carry. Pass Defense stats totals aren’t as pretty as the rush D, but the takeaways and the fact that the Mountain West’s defensive player of the week has been a different Bronco twice this season (Donte Deayon and Kamalei Correa), we can safely call the defense back.

It’s a good time to be a Bronco fan. Coach Harsin and his assistants have infused this team and this city with much needed optimism. Albertson’s Stadium was so loud it was impossible to think on Friday night at times, and it’s been a while since that happened. Boise State football is truly fun again, and winning is the reason. Coach Petersen left the program in pretty good shape and Harsin added to it with a truly excellent 2014 class. The world appears to be changing around us as far as what schools are able to offer recruits, so it remains to see if Harsin and his team can keep up the torrid pace, but Boise State remains a place to be for kids who want to win football games, learn how to be a successful person, gain a family, get a good education, and possibly a chance to play football professionally. If anybody can sell a recruit on that, it’s these guys.

We’re 8 games in and the future is just as bright as it was that first day Harsin stepped, beaming, to the podium last winter. That is more than we ever could have asked for. Let’s hope the rest of the season is just as satisfying.

Attack The Opponent: Brigham Young University Cougars

I’ve been trying to decide how to write this article for a while. If you follow me on Twitter, you will understand that I am not a fan of BYU. I take delight in the Cougar’s losses, and only root for them when it suits my interests, like for SOS purposes. Watching them lose to Nevada last Saturday night was a wonderful end to an evening. The message board meltdowns are just as amusing as Boise State’s, except much more hair-trigger. I encountered someone online once that referred to Bronco Mendenhall as “the worst man in Utah County.” That is literally the best praise this fan could come up with, and I LOVED the sentiment. Provo is a strange place that I have a complicated history with, and through all this, I realized that I wasn’t going to come to any conclusion about this match-up that is fair without looking at the data.

Boise State and BYU have only played 4 times in the history of both schools. In 2003 and 2004, Boise State won both match-ups. This displeased Cougar fans. Boise State won again in 2012, in a defensive struggle that gave the world this awesome GIF of Bacon running in a TD.

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BYU won last year’s affair, in a game that I have yet to watch all the way through but understand went poorly. (I’m also not willing to watch it for this article because I am a wuss who doesn’t wanna.)

Now, this isn’t to say BYU and BSU don’t have some things in common other than the letters B and LDS. Both schools have had great success in the past. BYU won a national championship in 1984, had a string of all-American quarterbacks who had success in the NFL, and both have rabid fan bases with lots of overlap due to both cities having an abundance of people who grew up in either Boise or Provo and then moved to the other city to go to school, or have extended family in the other area. Both teams are known for toughness and high-powered offenses. Both teams have hard-hitting, opportunistic defenses. BYU had christened themselves a “contender” until their Idaho bred QB Taysom Hill suffered a broken leg against Utah State a couple of weeks ago and the losses started.

This is all much too subjective.

(The data set used here is pulled from sportsreference.com. It’s a pretty nifty site to be able to grab a lot of data quickly, already formatted for Excel.)

I wanted to look at how the season was trending as well as the head to head numbers vs. Nevada, being the most recent common opponent.

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 10.16.18 PMBoise State started out keeping their first four opponents well under 100 yards rushing. This was a spectacular performance, but as the season wore on the option teams hit the schedule, and injuries mounted, that total has increased threefold. However, BSU also isn’t giving up as many passing yards overall, even though in three games, teams have put 250+ yards on the Broncos through the air. Overall, the defense isn’t any worse than it started out, just different, and finding their balance.

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BYU’s defense is improving steadily, overall. Their run defense has held opponents under 100 yards 4 times this season as well, but nobody has put the kind of yards on the Cougars that Air Force put on Boise State. Nick Howell’s defense (whose head is the current subject of removal on Cougar boards everywhere) has allowed a bunch of passing yards, but at least their consistent about it. Boise State can expect to have a good day through the air, especially if Sanford keeps up his living on the edge ways and throws some trick plays at the Cougars.  Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 10.16.32 PM

Boise State has also been improving well since the Air Force game on the ground. If Jay goes mini-Beast Mode because he doesn’t like losing, and Jeremy McNichols can continue finding the corner, it might be too much for BYU. However, they do have a strong run defense and it is more likely that Boise State is going to have to be holy accurate through the air and not turn the ball over. Making the Cougars pay to the tune of over 350 yards will pay great dividends.

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BYU put a TON of yards on Nevada, which got them out of a yardage slump. It wasn’t enough to take down the Wolfpack, who had luck and momentum for a good chunk of the second half. For a team to shut up Lavell Edwards Stadium is quite the feat, and a rarity. This game being on The Blue might be the best thing that could happen for Boise State. Being able to get stops in the right part of the field will allow for good field position which will be necessary to outscoring an offense that can go for 601 yards. Granted, that was a huge performance from BYU, they had been averaging 427 yards prior. Teams that have beaten the Cougars have got them to give up a ton of penalties, as well as taking the ball away a substantial amount of times. Those are going to be keys for the Broncos.

Against Nevada, though, is interesting.

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 10.17.01 PM Boise State didn’t have a great defensive game against Nevada, but the turnovers balanced it out. BYU could be coming into Albertsons Stadium with more defense than we’ve seen out of anybody since Ole Miss. BYU got a ton of penalties against Nevada, but since those guys are a pretty jumpy bunch of players, really, I would hope we wouldn’t see that type of performance from Boise State because that has been corrected finally, but who knows.

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 10.16.45 PM   Nevada does have a pretty good defense, and both BYU and Boise seem to hang on to the ball equally well, but this whole game looks to come down to passing accuracy and turnovers. It would be nice for Boise’s running backs to go off, but shouldn’t be expected. Limiting turnovers is going to be key for keeping the crowd in it, and in Bronco Stadium, with the crowd roaring on national TV on a Friday night in the fall, the good guys seem to run a little faster, hit a little harder, and block a little better. Special Teams play is also huge, not only for the value of a good stop, but also for the crowd and momentum factors.

This game is winnable by both teams. If BYU gets Grant to start throwing picks and stops the run, Boise is in for a long night. BYU could also get a lot of yards through the air in a hurry. Boise State has momentum on their side. BYU has anger on theirs. Cougar fans are miserable right now and it won’t take much for a full on meltdown. If the Fightin’ Brighams start having things go wrong and lose their mojo, it will just make Bronco Nation louder.

So, best case scenario, BYU starts slow, the Jay Train starts rollin’ down that track early and often, the Cougs get desperate and start acquiring penalties and turn the ball over, and this thing snowballs out of Mendenhall’s control and his job flashes before his eyes.

Worst case? Boise State can’t move the ball and they turn the ball over in the red zone a lot. BYU gets their pass game going and all of a sudden Boise State is in real trouble. The crowd gets out of it and leaves in the 3rd quarter and we all get home to the inevitable Twitter freakout that BYU fans just experienced last week.

Let’s hope for the first option. Go Broncos. Attack The Future. We’ve got 9 more meetings with the Cougs on the schedule and I’d like each and every one of them to be the beat-down that program deserves.

5 Keys – 1 Prediction

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1.) Keep Finding New Targets: No Matt Miller, no problem right? If Boise State can keep up the Nevada trend of getting everybody involved that might be the case. Matt Miller is an exceptional talent, that will be deeply missed. But if Boise State can spread the ball around then this could become addition by subtraction. Hedrick seemed to lock on to Matt early and often and the offense seemed to be built around 3 guys. Now with Miller gone it looks to be forcing BSU to become more diverse and in someways more dangerous. If BSU keeps up the new, more diverse offense, Boise State could give the Fresno defense fits all night long on “The Blue”.

2.) Jay Ajayi Keeps up Home Success: Jay Ajayi is a beast, but he is an absolute freak at home this season. So far in 2 games he has 369 yards and is averaging over 6 yards per carry. If Jay keeps this up, nobody will beat Boise State at home. If Jay even comes close to this kind of production against Fresno State, they should win the game. Fresno’s defense has struggled this season, and they haven given up a tons of yards per carry this season against solid opponents. Mix this with Jay Ajayi at home and Fresno State could be in for another embarrassing trip to Boise.
3:) Defend the Bubble-Screen: If you hated Robert Prince and the bubble-screen passes then you will really enjoy rooting against Fresno State. Just like last season Fresno is going to try and get the ball on the edge and win in space. One of the ways they do this is getting their best player Josh Harper the ball on bubble-screens and letting him work. For Boise State to win this game they will need to continue their success defending and often times blowing this play up. Cleshawn Page against Ole Miss and before he got injured showed he can be a monster on this particular play. If he can show that again against Fresno it could lead to some big hits and turnovers. More importantly if Boise State as a whole can defend this play, they will win the game.

4.) Remember Last Season: No sport is more emotional in my opinion than football. Boise State does not like Fresno, Fresno does not like Boise State. Add to that mix a little revenge and then sprinkle in some blue turf and Boise State has a recipe for a beat down. Many of the guys on this team now know what it felt like last season to lose to Fresno on national TV. They need to use this emotion and payback factor to teach Fresno who owns this rivalry.

5.) No Big Plays: When you look Fresno the biggest stat that stands out to me is their lack of big-plays. Specifically when you look at their first 3 beat downs they were averaging around 4.5 yards per PASS.  Once again, Jay Ajayi at home this year is averaging more per carry than Fresno was in some of their games in the passing game. With this, Boise State can’t allow Fresno to get any confidence with any big plays down the field. If they can keep Fresno in front of them all game long, I fully expect Fresno to struggle to score points.

1 Prediction: My prediction for this game is that a new star will rise for Boise State. Who that is, I am not sure. Right now though,  I would put my money on McNichols if he gets the chances. Few players have looked as good as McNichols did in his first game against Nevada. If he gets touches against Fresno I expect that trend to continue. If it is not him however, somebody else will step up big not named Rhodes or Ajayi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Attack the Opponent: Fresno State Bulldogs

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Fresno State and the Broncos have baggage and history. The series between the two teams started in 1977, with a 42-7 loss at Bulldog Stadium for Boise State. It took 2 more meetings and another 24 years for Boise to finally get a win against Fresno, and boy was it a glorious one. After eating losses in 1984 and again in 1996 (Harsin and Yate’s freshman season, incidentally), Boise State waltzed into Fresno with a 3-3 record and took down the mighty Dawgs, who had a #10 ranking after beating Oregon State and Wisconsin earlier in the season. (Guess who was around for that one? Only Coaches Sanford, Riddle, Huff, Avalos, and Pitman.) Since 2001, the series is 11-2, with Fresno stealing wins in 2005, and 2013.

The victory in Fresno in the 2001 season is definitely in the top 3 of best Bronco wins. It kicked off the modern era of beating the crap out of everybody.

The rivalry with FSU, while having a silly trophy that is a chromed out milk jug as the prize, commands respect from the conference and the fan bases. Sure, it’s 11-5 all time with Boise State firmly in control, but Fresno winning is happening more and more often. Fresno is now winning a game every 8 years, and well, that’s just far too close for comfort. Just because the match-up garners a healthy level of respect by both sides, doesn’t mean that the hate isn’t there. Boise State ruined what was a magical season for Fresno in 2001. Fresno kicked a team that was down with a terminally ill coach in their first season of 1A football in 1996. Both sets of coaches do a good job of staying classy, but the game can get chippy quite quickly. Fresno fans HATE losing to Boise just as much as Boise fans hate losing to Fresno, and both fan bases are vocal about it. Both teams are blue-collar, hard-working groups of guys who are known for killing giants and winning games they have no business competing in. Both teams are also currently in rebuilding phases.

Losing quarterback Derek Carr was painful for the Bulldogs. The 2014 team is an almost respectable 3-4, coming off a rather pathetic loss to UNLV. They are not strong at the quarterback position. If history teaches anything, it’s that once Fresno gets embarrassed, they are not good at bouncing back and getting wins. That’s always been Fresno’s issue, really. They’re tough, sure. But they don’t have that same magical, indescribable quality that has confounded the programs that came up against Boise State. The will to win that separates Boise from nearly every other program in the country and what keeps a lot of fans bleeding blue. Fresno likes to collapse. In 2001, they lost their next game to Hawaii after the fateful night they lost to Boise. In 2002, Boise curb-stomped the Bulldogs 67-21, and they immediately turned around and lost to Hawaii for the second year in a row. In 2006, after beating Boise State, they very nearly lost to New Mexico State. Almost losing to New Mexico State is 99.9999999% as bad as actually losing to them. The more emotion filled the game against Boise is, the worse Fresno does both in their next game and the next time they face Boise.

The Bronco’s coaching staff seems to understand this tendency. Fresno is missing Carr like Boise was missing Kellen Moore last year. They’re off to a rough start this season, and they just lost to UNLV for the first time in thirty years. Who better to come along and rub salt in an open wound than Coach Harsin and Coach Yates and a team who is bitter and probably pissed off at losing to them in 2013? Yes, there’s an overarching theme to the whole “Respect the Past” idea. It’s a brilliant opportunity to educate the team on exactly what each of these games, each of these rivalries means to the program, the university, to the city of Boise itself. That’s why Harsin banned the color red from practice. A move like that drives emotion, and making sure that emotion and intensity are there each week is on the coaches as much as the players. There is urgency to stay sharp after beating Nevada, to always be ready because the Mountain West of 2014 is unpredictable at best.

It feels like Boise State is on the verge of truly putting together a great game on both sides of the ball. It also feels like the coaches have some animosity toward Fresno that needs exorcised. In an old skool, Coach Hawk style beatdown kinda way. The guys put 51 on Nevada last week, but we haven’t seen a good ol’ fashioned 2003 style butt kicking on anybody in a while. Hey Broncos! Let’s see if you guys can put 80 on Fresno, just for funsies. It will make Bronco fans happy because there were a lot of Bulldog people jawing about owning the Broncos now after squeaking past for a win in 2013.

Fresno did not have a good time against UNLV on Saturday, even if it was an OT game. Fresno got down big, early (because whoa, hideous defense allowing UNLV 478 yards) managed to mount a sad little comeback on the Rebs’s terrible defense, only to minicoug it and get #collegekicker-ed into OT by missing a PAT. UNLV then put the game away on a made FG. Since the Mountain West is reflecting in fun house mirrors this season, the Dawgs managed to beat New Mexico and SDSU, but turned around and lost to the 2-5 Rebels.

Sleepy-bulldog-falls-asleepWay to snatch that defeat from the jaws of victory there, boy.

Of course, it’s not like Boise looked much better against Air Force recently…

rollersk8horsefailThe AFA/Boise State game, as acted out by someone trying to roller skate over a brick wall wearing a racehorse costume on bbq wheels.

Look, there isn’t a team in the MWC this season that is highly ranked or even threatening for a playoff spot at this point. This conference is doing well at cannibalizing itself though, and for the first time in a long time, it’s consistently entertaining. Boise State has a nice home stand coming up, with a lineup of conference foes to make any fan drool a little. Fresno kicks us off next week with a game that is meaningful to not only the teams and schools but the fan bases and cities involved. California’s Central Valley is having a rough go of it right now as a whole, while the Treasure Valley grows and fights its own battles. Football is a great distraction from what goes on in the serious world and for a few hours next weekend, we can get together and watch these teams, trash talk each other in good fun, and Fresno can show Reno how to have a rivalry with at least a little mutual respect.

Or, yanno, Boise can just put 90 points on the Dogs and we can make this turn from a nice little mid-major rivalry to a Vandal-style hate inferno with just a little fuel. It’s going to be the Bronco’s choice, because Fresno isn’t going to be able to do a thing about what is going to happen to them this weekend.

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Makin’ this look good since 2001.

Ask a Psychic: UNR Edition

Oh, Danny. I hope you’re wrong too.
Id like to start off by saying that my record this season for predicting the winners is 4-1. Now on to the questions:
1.) Which QB will finish the game for Boise – Grant Hedrick or Ryan Finley?
Ryan Finley, Grant is feeling tired as of late. I know there is something weighing heavily on his mind.
2.) Will Nevada’s defense be able to stop Jay Ajayi?
No, but that’s not to say that he will score many points. He will have a decent game, but as you see by my next answer, it wont be enough.
3.) Who wins – Boise or Nevada?
Nevada 35-17, Good job Nevada you get another hate week next year.
I would throw in some comedy here but it’s almost 4am. Yes, it has taken an exceptionally long time to meditate on these answers. This is one of those instances though where I hope im wrong. Should be an interesting game.