It’s Friday here on Streaking the Lawn, which means it’s time for your blog-based preview. Boise State blog One Bronco Nation Under God (a/k/a OBNUG) was kind enough to answer our inquiries. Swing over there when you’re done and see what we had to say about the Cavaliers!
STL: The Broncos have had Bryan Harsin at the helm for 3 years now, averaging 10 wins each season and not worse than 2nd in your division. But Boise State only finished in the Top 25 in 2014—Harsin’s first season—after a run of five straight Top-25 finishes (including three straight Top-10). First world problems, to be sure, but the Petersen era set high expectations. What’s your read on the state of the program, and its trajectory under Harsin?
OBNUG: I think the state of the program is just fine...but I don't know if that's the consensus among the fanbase. I think Boise State's divisional struggles have been 1 part preparation and 1 part luck. In both of the last two seasons Boise State could have clinched the division by simply defeating Air Force, yet they've been unable to. Why? I'm not sure, as you'll see teams that BSU trounces in the regular season manage to knock off the Falcons. Truly they've become Boise State's kryptonite (they even defeated the Broncos the year we won the title AND the Fiesta Bowl). I think this has given rise to a lot of angst among the fanbase that maybe Harsin isn't the man for the job. But if you really look at the recruiting numbers, he's pulling in higher-caliber guys than Petersen ever did. I think one thing Pete did well that Harsin receives an "incomplete" on is developing talent and retaining assistants. In Harsin's 4th season at the helm, we're on our 2nd DC and 3rd OC and also lost our WRs coach and OL coach in the offseason. That kind of inconsistency isn't uncommon in the Group of Five—but I do think it's partly responsible for Boise State's mood swings.
STL: Through three games, how would you rate the 2017 Broncos? With two wins that were closer than normally comfortable for this program, plus a thriller of a 3OT marathon against Washington State, what’s stood out as the core things the team does well? Any glaring weaknesses?
OBNUG: I think most fans would point to the Boise State defense as a major strength. Top to bottom, it's a young unit of mostly freshman and sophomores, but they play fast, they hit hard, and swarm to the ball. The field position they've provided the Broncos has contributed to the success of the offense, which frankly ... hasn't been all that successful. The offense at this point is doing enough to win, but not enough to excite the fanbase. Keep in mind: Boise State is the ONLY program in the FBS with 8 straight seasons of producing at least an 1,100-yard rusher. But through 3 games, they look completely lost in that department. The running back-by-committee approach has failed to produce much, the O-line has looked oftentimes confused, and Brett Rypien has played sparingly due to injury (or simply to protect his life based on aforementioned O-line struggles). As a long-time Bronco fan it's very strange to say the offense has been a weakness, but the numbers don't lie. It was the offense that was primarily responsible for the BSU loss in Pullman (both turnovers resulted in scores); the D did all they could.
STL: What’s the latest on Brett Rypien? He certainly terrorized UVA fans in Charlottesville two years ago but has ceded time to the more-agile Montell Cozart while dealing with the ever-popular “undisclosed” injury. If Rypien can go 100%, will we still see both guys on Friday night?
OBNUG: Before Rypien got squashed at WSU (due to a badly missed block), I think we saw how the Broncos INTENDED to use Cozart, and that's as a change-of-pace QB with certain RPO (run pass option) plays designed for him. It's purpose is to make the opponents have to prepare for both QBs, but obviously Rypien's status has given us more Cozart than we bargained for. Cozart has actually been quite good (5 TDs, 1 INT) but the playbook just isn't as wide-open for Cozart and since he's only been here for 2 months it's really not all that hard to see why. UVA will definitely see both guys on Friday night, but how much will depend on how Ryp has healed up from his bell-ringing in Pullman.
STL: Who are the defensive guys to watch this week? Any concerns about depth along the defensive line after David Moa’s arrest last weekend?
OBNUG: Statistically, MLB Tyson Maeva and WLB Leighton Vander Esch have been racking up the tackle numbers and Vander Esch in particular has been fantastic (36 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 PBUs, and an INT). Rounding out the top 3 is true sophomore De'Andre Pierce—son of former NFL LB Antonio Pierce. Pierce isn't very big, but he may be one of the hardest hitters on the roster and already has 3.5 TFLs on the year from his safety position. Moa hasn't been off to the hottest start this season after shifting from nose tackle to DT, but he creates pressure that leads to big numbers for his fellow defenders (and helps create turnovers). His crime was not egregious enough that people would be angry if he got the start (got in a shoving/shouting match downtown outside a bar), but neither would fans be too upset if he had to miss a half or full game just to send a message about making a bit better choices. Currently, the line depth is good enough that the Broncos could live with his absence, but man...I wish we didn't (potentially) have to. If Moa can't go, look for Daniel Auelua, Matt Locher, or possibly Kayode Rufai to get more defensive snaps. Freshman Curtis Weaver already has two sacks on the season and has been good at getting into opposing backfields as well. We'll be losing leadership if Moa's out, but probably not a huge amount of production.
STL: The Smurf Turf has worked its magic on many a weekday night, and every Virginia fan knows this will be a tough one for our Cavaliers. You’ve highlighted an improved running game and better field position as keys for Boise State, and laid out a 31-24 predicted win for your Broncos. How do you see this playing out?
OBNUG: I honestly wish I knew. This is a highly unpredictable Bronco team so far. I feel like they could get their act together offensively and show some of those patented Boise State fireworks, but even with Rypien back, he has to have time to throw and the O-line (which lost 4 full- to part-time starters to graduation) has not gelled quickly at all. The running game woes can also be pinned somewhat on the lack of O-line cohesion. I don't think they're a lost cause, but they need to show more than they have been for me to start predicting any blowouts. The defense is good enough to keep the Cavaliers from going crazy, IMO—and Benkert won't be able to pass at will against a talented Bronco secondary. IF the offense gets off to a fast start, getting past the 30-point threshold isn't an impossible task, but I do think a miscue or two offensively gives the Cavs a short field from which they can put some on the board as well. I'm sensing a bit of a "too-close-for-comfort" game with homefield getting the Broncos over the hump.