Boise State is a program that's obviously been doing something right the past few seasons; they came alive under the direction of head coach Chris Peterson since December of 2005.
His offensive style and ability to recruit and develop talent has made him a legendary-coach-in-the-making for the Broncos.
Replacing former Broncos coach, Dan Hawkins (who was also a very winning coach at Boise State), Peterson carried on a winning streak for the Broncos and hasn't had a losing season since he's been the head coach; going 84-8 in his 7 years at the helm. Now, to play the devil's advocate, some would say that Boise State plays in a weak conference and their biggest losses have come to higher-major teams -- but let's look at those 8 losses:
2007 -- @ Washington
2007 -- @ Hawai'i
2007 -- East Carolina, Hawai'i Bowl
2008 -- TCU, Poinsetta Bowl
2010 -- @ Nevada
2011 -- TCU
2012 -- @ Michigan State
2012 -- San Diego State
Looks a little like a split personality, yes?
No, Boise State is a program that capitalized on having one of the best QB's in the country for several seasons of Peterson's tenure as head coach of the Broncos (Kellen Moore), and those offenses were phenomenal...not, however, phenomenal enough to beat a struggling Washington team in 2007 at Husky Stadium. But one thing Boise State has going for it is the winning mentality, and Peterson has instilled that way of thinking into every crack and crevice of his football program.
For that, they were one step ahead of Washington last year heading into the Las Vegas Bowl. This year, however, may be a completely different story.
Let's start out by taking a close look at Boise State's favorite friend, its offense. At least it was their favorite friend as long as Moore was running things at quarterback. The Broncos' offensive production dropped off dramatically after Moore left the building. The Bronco offense went from being first in the league in total offense to 5th last season.
But they have some hope in second-year starter, Joe Southwick at quarterback.
The Passing Game
Southwick is a redshirt senior for the Broncos and took over after Moore moved on. He's no slouch, and while he may not be the "great one" that Moore was, he's definitely a guy who can lead the Broncos towards another Mountain West championship. Last season Southwick totaled 2730 total yards passing, 19 touchdowns, and was picked off 7 times.
In contrast, Keith Price threw for 2726 yards last season, 19 touchdowns, but threw 13 interceptions; one of which probably cost the Huskies the victory over Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
So, in terms of a passing game, Boise State has that -- they're fine here and have a pretty decent stable of receivers who are tall and love to catch the deep ball. In the slot, however, they have a little guy who's only 5-6, 157 lbs.
Their "go-to" guy is probably going to be redshirt junior, Matt Miller, who has posted a total of 1448 total yards and 14 touchdowns the past two seasons. He's seasoned, he's tall (6-3, 222) and he can be a pain-in-the-neck to defend. In the Las Vegas bowl he had 6 receptions for 90 yards against the Huskies.
Will they Run?
The bad news for the Broncos may be their running game, which has been less than stellar the past few seasons. Sure, they've produced some 1000-yard rushers, but Peterson's offenses have been more about the air attack and the running game hasn't been any secret to success.
The last 1000-yard rusher the Broncos had, DJ Harper, has graduated and gone on his way -- so now the next in line is redshirt sophomore, Jay Ajayi (6-0, 220). Ajayi did see substantial action last season, posting over 500 yards rushing in 11 games, but he admittedly said later that he was never playing at 100%. He'd torn his ACL during his redshirt season and apparently was still feeling the effects during all of last season. On film, Ajayi is a plodding running back who looks like he has heavy feet, and he told the Boise local media recently that he's tried to slim down in order to take weight off his knee.
According to an article in the Idaho Press, Chris Peterson didn't sound too convinced that Ajayi was going to bring anything new and exciting to an otherwise lack-luster Bronco running game this season.
“He’s another guy where I don’t really know,” said Petersen in the article. “Everybody wants to anoint him as the next Walter Payton already and he’s had a few carries, but I’m excited. Jay has a lot of potential but he has a knee injury that will hopefully stay healthy. He’ll get a bigger chance obviously than he has in the past so we’ll see if he can consistently make some big plays.”
Peterson isn't one to play coy, so you have to believe that there may be serious questions as to whether or not the Broncos can bring a threatening ground game to their offense.
Last year they were useless against the Huskies in the bowl game; adding only 109 yards rushing (39 of which were from Southwick), and not scoring a single rushing touchdown.
What's up Front?
Finally, the whole key to success will rest solely on the shoulders of the Boise State offensive front. This is a strong area for them in that they return 3 starters and a lot of experience, but that's on the left side of the line -- if you turn to the right you'll see guys who have little to no game experience. Such could be said for the entire Boise State depth chart at the o-line. Lack of experience could be a detriment if, for any reason, one of the more experienced starters goes down.
Another curious thing about Boise State's o-line is their size; not one lineman is over 6-4. When you're a team used to playing in the Pac-12 you're more accustomed to going up against guys 6-5 and over a majority of the time.
Obviously, run-blocking hasn't been their strong suit, and word on the street is that Chris Peterson really stressed this during fall camp, but with the uncertainty as to whether or not Ajayi can be "the guy", there may be some dysfunction here, something the Husky defense could definitely exploit.
Boise State's golden ticket to playing a good game against Washington offensively is going to be in their passing game. We all know that. Washington, therefore, has their work cut out for them. If they can go after Southwick and apply enough pressure, the Broncos just don't have the asset of a strong running game to sustain them. Whereas Washington has both a strong passing game (provided Price doesn't throw picks) and a running game.
So what part of Boise State's game beat the Huskies last year?
Believe it or not, it was special teams. Long returns, consistently good field goals, and mistakes made by the Husky offense (2 interceptions). Bronco kicker, Michael Frisina was on fire against the Huskies (he's gone now). He was 3-3 on field goals, which accounted for 9 of the Broncos' 28 points. The other 19 came from passing. The Broncos never did a score a rushing touchdown.
Next up: Boise State's Defense