Definitely, while they will tell you they're happy to be playing in the Las Vegas Bowl, I do believe they think that a Top 10 team deserves to play in one of the top bowls. Outwardly, they will behave in the classy way that their coach demonstrates. Inwardly, they have to feel slighted. They wouldn't be human if they didn't feel that way. I think the players' motivation is two-fold: 1) They want to prove that they deserved a better bowl and 2) They want that 50th win as a senior class, something no other senior class has done since 1900.
Coach Chris Petersen's success obviously makes him a hot commodity for any coaching vacancy. However, it seems to never affect him or the team. Do you view that as being somewhat surprising?
Coach Petersen does an amazing job of not getting caught up in the peripheral things that coaches face--the media, the fans, and all the gossip and rumors. In fact, he will only comment on coaching rumors if they are reported as fact. He handles the media very well, not getting caught up in the things that the media want to talk about, the one-liners, etc. but answering their questions on his terms. The players pick up on this and most will behave in the same way. Petersen and his staff preach focus...focus on one game at a time, focus on what you can control and don't let outside influences interrupt what you are trying to do. The players buy into this 100% and in fact it is one thing that the staff looks for in potential recruits.
I also know he is candid and honest with his players and when he tells them he's not going anywhere, that's all they need to hear. The one variable is how these rumors affect recruits. Being as Petersen comes across immediately as someone you can trust, both to recruits and their families, again when he gives his word to a recruit they can take that to the bank. Petersen's the kind of guy that if he is considering leaving, he just won't say anything.
This bowl game has will mark an end to a very successful career for QB Kellen Moore. As someone that has covered him closely for the last few years, what makes him one the best signal caller to ever play at this level?
So many things; he has all the intangibles that scouts or the so-called experts can never chart or clock with a stopwatch. One has to be an astute student of the game to appreciate what he offers. It starts with intelligence, not just academic intelligence (he has a degree in Kinesiology and is pursuing his Master's) but having a tremendous knowledge of the game, the Boise State offense and playbook, and what the coaches want him to do.
As a coach's son, he grew up learning everything about the game from his Dad. He can, in an instant, analyze the defensive formation at the line of scrimmage and know if the play called will work and, if it's a pass, which receiver has the best chance to get open.
Second, he is incredibly calm and makes great decisions. In four years, I have never seen him get nervous, bothered or upset. And he's been in some tenuous circumstances (the ending of the Virginia Tech game, the Fiesta Bowl win over TCU, for example). I don't know if the calmness comes from his knowledge of the game, giving him confidence in what he's doing or from his upbringing--it's likely a combination.
Moore's heady and steady play is infectious and makes him a great leader that the rest of the offense and the rest of the team can get behind. You won't hear him brag or jump up and down firing up his teammates; he leads by example, perhaps the best kind of leadership. Moore also has incredible vision and awareness--I often compare him to basketball's Larry Bird in that way. Like Bird, he seems to have eyes in the back of his head--he seems to know where everyone is on the field and when someone is coming at him from behind.
Of course, you don't accomplish what Moore has with intangibles. He makes all the throws--he can fire a football on a laser into triple coverage; he can float one over a defender into a receiver's outstretched hands and can hit the home run ball. If the ball needs to be low to prevent a defender from batting it away, the ball will be low.
He always seems to put the ball in the place where his receiver is the only one that can catch it. Although he is certainly not a runner, he is tough to bring down and part of that is having an uncanny pocket presence and knowing when to move. Moore knows he can throw it away if protection breaks down, but he rarely has to, because he knows where his receivers are at all times.
With the success that Moore and the passing game, it's easy to look over the ground attack. Can you talk about the Bronco running backs and their success?
Doug Martin is that rare combination of speed and strength. He will get the tough inside yards that every team needs to be successful for he has great determination and leg strength. Once he gets in the open, Martin has deceptive speed. He won't shake and bake you; he prefers to dish out the punishment. The bottom line is that Martin will do whatever it takes to do his job--he'll hurdle you, he'll run by you, or he'll run straight at you. And he can do it 30+ times in a game. D.J. Harper is the perfect complement to Martin; he has great speed, is through the hole in a flash and gone. Although both backs have breakaway speed, Harper is the more electric of the two. Martin is more inclined to drag a group of tacklers for a first down.
WR Tyler Shoemaker is the main beneficiary of Moore's prowess, but else makes this player one of the best in college football?
It starts with the offensive line; they have been one of the best units in football in protecting Moore in each of the past four seasons. He could not be the quarterback he is without the time to see the field. The members of the offensive line know the important role that they play and that their play has a direct influence on the team's success so they will go that extra mile.
Obviously, his coaches have taught him well, from his father at Prosser, instilling in Kellen a great work ethic and insider knowledge of the game and all the X's and O's, and Coach Petersen, who himself was a quarterback at Cal-Davis. Petersen knows what a quarterback needs to be successful and he has given Moore the tools to be great.
As the quiet leader he is, Moore has great rapport with and the confidence of his receivers. They know from experience that if they run the crisp, smooth routes that they are supposed to, the ball will be exactly where they need it to be to make the catch. Shoemaker can make the tough catches in traffic to be a possession receiver and can also burn defenses deep.
Matt Miller is a sensational freshman who broke Austin Pettis's record for receptions by a freshman. Miller has all the skills to be a great one. He has the hands, the instincts, runs great routes and has great speed and athleticism. Kyle Efaw has good speed and hands at tight end and has broken all school records at the position. The other receivers: Geraldo Boldewijn, Mitch Burroughs, Kirby Moore, Aaron Burks, Dallas Burroughs and Chris Potter all have their own unique skills and specific plays are designed with them in mind.
The Boise State offense as a whole is a very well oiled machine, but what are some of the weaknesses on this side of the ball?
Boise State will get their rushing yards, but they often don't come easy. Rather than a consistent four or five yards a pop, often what you will see are a run for no gain, a two-yard gain, perhaps a loss, and then a 15-yard run. They have missed the play of Thomas Byrd at center, one of the best you'll see at that position, although Cory Yriarte has filled in nicely.
Regardless of how the running game is going, coaches will continue to pound the ball because they know that Martin can carry the load and deal out even more punishment than he's getting and eventually, it will pay off. But I'm sure the coaches would prefer four or five yards a pop. Because of three injuries at the running back position, the depth is not there at this point of the season, but coaches are equally confident with Harper or Martin.
How would you assess the Bronco defense in terms of strengths and weaknesses?
The defensive line is one answer to both questions. They are the most experienced and talented unit ever to play at Boise State. They were incredible in 2010 and the top five players (all seniors) returned this year. They have had a few nagging injuries but nothing major. Billy Winn can make unbelievable plays, knifing through a gap to nail an unsuspecting runner (such as the safety on Oregon's LeGarrette Blount). Shea McClellin's ability allows defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski to utilize him in a variety of formations and assignments; he's quick and has a great nose for the football. Chase Baker is a stalwart in the middle who more often than not wins his battles. Tyrone Crawford is a beast with great determination, strength and quickness. When this unit is on, they can dominate a game.
However, they have had times when one wonders who is playing in their uniforms. Examples are the Air Force game, when it seemed as if the linemen could not see the ball carriers running past them and the Nevada game from 2010 and the TCU game this season, when the Bronco team badly needed a stop, a sack, to stop the other team and it didn't happen.
Byron Hout is a gifted athlete with great vision and unending determination; his motor runs all the time. George Iloka is one of the most dependable tacklers you'll see with the instincts and natural ability that will likely take him to the next level. With injuries to two top cornerbacks, Iloka has shifted to corner to stabilize that position and Lee Hightower has emerged as a dependable player as well. So that is a concern but not near what it was in early November.
Boise State critics anticipate the Broncos "coming down to earth" and not being in the BCS talk once they move to the Big East in 2013. Deep down do you feel that those sentiments are shared by those in the program as well?
I think some fans are concerned, but if you study Boise State, you know they have a consistent history of rebuilding year after year. This senior class is special, no question, but there is also great talent waiting in the wings.
The top people at Boise State view the conference move as a great opportunity and a necessary step to be thought of in the same light as some of the heavyweights in college football. Had the Mountain West remained intact in the form that it was when Boise State joined; the Broncos would have been in a perfect situation--a great conference with natural rivals in surrounding states. But right after the school announced the move, Utah left for the Pac-12, BYU decided to go independent, and TCU joined first the Big East, and then the Big 12. Part of Boise State's desire to move to the Big East Conference, after being passed over by the Pac-12 and Big 12, was to avoid situations like last year and this year, when they lose one game and don't get selected for a BCS Bowl.
They've been ranked in the Final Top 10 six times in the last eight years and gotten left out of the big bowls four of those times. The coaches and administrators welcome tougher competition and the move proves they'll do whatever it takes to get a tougher schedule even if it means joining another league two time zones away.
Of course, the BCS could eliminate AQ status but that would look very reactionary to Boise State's move. In summary, the top people at Boise State believe that rather than the Big East impeding the school's progress, it will help them on the road to getting the respect they want for the program.
With all the changes taking place at ASU, coupled with suspensions, do you feel that Boise State may be taking the Sun Devils lightly?
No danger of that, insomuch as Petersen has control over. He never lets the players get too high when they win or too down when they lose but wants them on an even keel. This is true for each game and it's a cliché but he preaches taking each opponent seriously one game at a time. There may be some individual players that don't take this to heart but Petersen can usually spot this and will bench or pull the players that don't have the right attitude. If things don't go right for Boise State, it won't be because of lack of preparation, respect or attitude. If Arizona State wins the game, it will be because they play better and execute.
What are some of the keys for a Boise State victory?
They need to carry out balanced, sustained drives that end in touchdowns. The Boise State offense will have to protect the quarterback and consistently open holes for the running game and block downfield. Boise State needs great play from their defensive line, because the Bronco defense gathers its strength from up front.
ASU is one of the few teams in the nation that can beat Boise State in a track meet, and the Bronco secondary must pay attention to their assignments in relation to the dangerous Sun Devil receivers. They're big and fast and can hurt you in a hurry. They will get their catches and their yards, but the Bronco defensive backs must take away the long ball and yards after the catch. They must play good, fundamental football, not beating themselves with penalties, turnovers, or poor blocking or tackling.