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Boise State Preview
Richard Linde, 2 July 2007

The Washington Huskies host the Boise State University Broncos on Saturday, September 8, at Husky Stadium. The game will be televised by Fox Northwest.

Ranked fifth in the nation in the final AP poll, the Broncos finished the 2006 season 13-0, capping it off with a 43-42 overtime win over Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. A newly married tailback and the possibility of a trick play or two will add to the game’s luster, as if the certainty of the media’s “David-versus-Goliath” fanfare could not possibly be enough.

Give us a break, you scribes, columnists and broadcasters out there. UW football fans, those who have been around the block or two, know what to expect from the Broncos. The Huskies will need to stop a potent running game, in addition to an imaginative passing attack that plans to ramp up for this game.

Yet, since 1996, Boise State is 2-8 against Pac-10 teams, its two wins coming at the expense of Oregon State in the 2004 and 2006 seasons.

Going into his second season with the Broncos as head coach, 43-year old Chris Peterson (13-0) loses 6 players on offense, 5 on defense and 2 specialists. No problem it would seem. The Broncos ability to fully reload their arsenal is supported by the fact they have won five consecutive conference championships in the tough Western Athletic Conference.

In this regard, offensively speaking, Boise State has holes to fill at quarterback, wide receiver, tight end and fullback. Departing quarterback Jared Zabransky, who finished sixth in the nation in passing efficiency with a 162.6 rating, will be tough to replace. On defense, Boise State must replace losses at safety, linebacker and tackle; like Zabransky, linebacker Korey Hall, the WAC defensive player of the year, will be missed. In addition, two specialists, kicker Anthony Montgomery (92.9% field goal average in 2006) and punter Kyle Stringer (44.6 yards per game average), have departed.

Replacing  Zabransky will be made easier by four returning starters on the offensive line, a unit led by Junior Ryan Clady (6-foot-6, 319), a first team all-WAC pick last season. Versatility and depth back up the four starters. The Sporting News says Clady is the second best offensive tackle in the nation, and it ranks the Broncos 22nd in its pre-season top 25.

Tailback Ian Johnson (5-foot-11, 195), second in the nation in rushing last season (142.8 yards per game), returns for his junior year and is an early Heisman Trophy candidate. On the field after the Fiesta Bowl game, Johnson proposed marriage to cheerleader Chrissy Popadics and, after a bit of confusion on her part, she said yes.

Bronco coaches wisely cut off media access to Johnson until the start of spring practice, and even then he was held out of practices to rest his banged up body. Because of injuries last season, Johnson says he wants to start this season “…more in the 200 (pound) range, 204 or 205. I'll be effective and I'll be sturdy."

RB Jeremy "Peanut" Avery (5-foot-9, 161) accumulated 107 all-purpose yards in the spring game, and broke off a 63-yard run in the first spring scrimmage.

Jon Helmandollar (Sr., 5-11, 215), a 2-year letterman and a hell of a man who gets more bang for the buck (pun on name), will replace bruiser Brad Lau at fullback.

Derek Schouman, a four-year starter at tight end, has been lost to graduation. Either Ryan Putman (Sr., 6-foot-2, 242) and/or Richie Brockel (Sr., 6-foot-3, 247), primarily used as blockers last year, need to replace Schouman's big-play ability.

A strong running attack in the early games of the season should make it easier for the new quarterback, either senior Taylor Tharp (6-foot-2, 210) or junior Bush Hamdan (6-foot-1, 196), to take over the reins from Zabransky. Last season, Zabransky threw for 1,587 yards on 191 of 288 passing, with 23 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He also rushed for 6 touchdowns. Over the last two seasons, Tharp has completed 32 of 50 passes for 359 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’s likely an early favorite to take over the starting job, though Johnson may be pulling for Hamdan in that regard. Hamdan will be in Johnson’s wedding party on July 28.

Sophomore Nick Lomax (6-foot-6, 220), son of former NFL quarterback Neil Lomax, makes up for his lack of experience with some quality DNA and rugged size. Behind him redshirt freshman Mike Coughlin (6-foot-5, 215) gives the Broncos some nice depth at quarterback. (Tyrone Willingham, take notice).

In the spring game, Lomax posted the best passing efficiency of the four quarterbacks (125.97). Behind him were Hamdan (88.29), Tharp (79.93) and Coughlin (62.73).

Coach Peterson has lost his top three wide receivers (Jerard Rabb, Drisan James, and Legedu Naanee), but returns a talented group of young receivers. Four varsity letters are shared among returning WRs Jeremy Childs, Vinny Perretta, and Tanyon Bissell. Childs is expected to be Boise State’s next big-play receiver. WR Toshi Franklin (Jr., 6-foot-1, 178) had a strong spring, and the coach said he might be the "most improved guy since the winter."

On defense, the Broncos return defensive ends Nick Schelkeway (Sr., 6-foot-4, 262) and Mike T.Williams (Jr., 6-foot-4, 238). Inside tackles Andrew Browning (All-WAC defensive tackle) and Dennis Ellis have departed. College of the Siskiyous DE Jeff Lowe (6-foot-2, 235) has agreed to walk-on for the Broncos. He needs permission from the NCAA clearing house to participate in summer conditioning and to join the team in the fall. Last season, Lowe had 14 tackles for a loss.

At linebacker, the Broncos believe they have enough talent to replace Korey Hall (WAC defensive player of the year) and Colt Brooks (second team All-WAC).

Returning safety Marty Tadman (Sr., 5-foot-11, 182), the defensive MVP of the Fiesta Bowl, heads into the season as the national active leader with 12 career interception returns for touchdowns. He intercepted 2 passes in the Fiesta Bowl, one for a touchdown. Austin Smith (Sr., 5-foot-9, 173) is expected to start at the other safety position. He played backup corner last season and was a starter at safety two years ago.

Both cornerbacks return: Orlando Scandrick (Jr., 5-foot-11, 187) and Kyle Wilson (5-foot-10, 186). Scandrick finished fourth on the team in tackles, registering 52.

Redshirt freshman Kyle Brotzman boomed a 49-yard field goal during the spring game and is a contender to do the punting if incoming freshman Brad Elkin (Tacoma, WA) should come a cropper in fall camp.

Coach Peterson won the 2006 Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award, and he’ll come to Seattle riding a 14-game winning streak. Peterson recently signed a seven-figure contract with the Broncos and there is talk of a movie deal. Take note, Tyrone, the heat is on. Injuries, inexperience and a tough schedule, taken as an aggregate or singularly, will be unacceptable excuses for a fourth-consecutive losing season in the minds of many Husky fans.

Media ballyhoo and what to expect:

It would be nice for the Huskies to ride the Broncos' hoopla into some fanfare of their own, but on a much smaller scale so it won't make heads swell into the need for new helmets. Since 1999, the Broncos are the winningest team in Division I-A football, winning 86 games and losing 16. Even so, they will be the darlings of the media going into the game, assuming an underdog’s role in the hearts and minds of the scribes, along with TV guys and girls, because they are a non-BCS team going up against a legendary team that plays in the BCS. According to the media, it will be David versus Goliath. Forget the fact that Goliath hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2002 and is 14-33 over the last four years.

You would think that the last thing long-time suffering Husky fans need to bear is to watch the media gush all over their own self-proclaimed "underdog" – a Broncos team, ironically, that will be favored to win, that will be in the top 25 going into the game, and that wants to win on the home field of a BCS team for the first time in their short, but glorious history. The misplaced bias of the media will make a Husky victory, should it happen, all the sweeter, as well as emboldening UW for the rest of the season.

Summary:

Coach Peterson must rebuild his offense. Having a strong offensive line (ranked fourth-best in the nation by Athlon Sports) and a proven runner in Ian Johnson will make that task much easier. Failing to plug the holes up the defensive middle could prove vulnerable to a strong running attack. However, Peterson likes his line-backing corps. Having to replace his punter and place kicker may give him a queasy feeling. Wanting to win on the home field of a BCS opponent for the first time in Bronco history should provide plenty of motivation, ironically, for both teams.  

Despite the statistics below, we believe that UW, as a whole, has better personnel and should win the game, providing it can handcuff Ian Johnson -- though Ian will have been chained to a marriage contract this summer.

---------------------

2006 Six-stat comparator: Boise State: 14.08; Washington: 77.08, where the lowest national number wins. [#]

Statistics: If you believe the stats above and below, the Dawgs have little chance to win, assuming the meaning of the stats aren’t roiled by graduation losses. The Huskies’ numbers from 2006 appear in the first column, while the Broncos’ stats are listed in the second column. Do the figures below need some sort of Pac-10/WAC normalization, considering the Broncos 2-8 record against Pac-10 teams? Yes, so take these stats with a grain of salt.

1. BALL CONTROL

Time of Possession: 29:12; 32.35

2. BLOCKING AND TACKLING

Rushing Offense: 127.9; 214.15
Passing Offense:
193.8; 206.46
Rushing Defense:
139.2; 89.08
Passing Defense: 242.2;
194.92
Pass Efficiency Defense:
131.3; 114.87
Pass Efficiency Offense: 108.6;
161.46
Total Offense:
321.8; 460.62
Total Defense:
379.3; 284.00

3. MISTAKES

Penalties:
42.3; 49.8
Turnover Margin: -.67;
.85

4. FIELD POSITION

Kickoff Returns:
19.3; 20.03
Punt Returns: 6.5;
8.41
Punting (Net Per Punt): 33.9;
36.60

5. SCOREBOARD BABY:

Field Goals: 83.3%;
92.9%
Points For: 21.8; 39.69
Points Against: 25.9;
17.67

[#] SSC = ((TO+TD)/2 + (RO+RD)/2 + (PEO+PED)/2 + (SO+SD)/2 + (SF + SA)/2 + TM)/6, where TO=Total Offense, TD=Total Defense, RO=Rushing Offense, RD=Rushing Defense, PEO=Pass Efficiency Offense, PED=Pass Efficiency Defense, SO=Scoring Offense, SD=Scoring Defense, SF=Sacks For, SA=Sacks against, and TM=Turnover Margin. The variables consist of the numbers for the team’s national ranking in a certain category. For example, the Huskies ranked seventy-fourth in the nation in Total Offense last season.

Malamute can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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