Mid-Season Review

The 2004 Bronco football team came into the season with generally high expectations. How has the season gone so far?

"Mid-Race Review"


At the Halfway Mark


     Although it is still a few furlongs until the final stretch, this bye week is a convenient spot to take stalk of where we stand.  It goes without saying that the most important observation is Boise State is simply undefeated.  Before we get into the hows and what's of that, a quick shout out to the BCS – don't bore me with your mindless non-sense of who we beat or how we beat them.  The scheduling thing is pure silliness.  We didn't know Oregon State couldn't beat wet tissue when we scheduled them.  That was done at just about the time they scored like Girls Gone Wild on Notre Dame in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl.  Sorry to point out the obvious, but they seemed to fool you as well in the "Debacle in the Bayou"!  I could go on about how you thought BYU looked pretty good after soundly beating Notre Dame and how you thought Notre Dame looked good after handling Michigan the following week.  Every time you take it upon yourself to utter this content-free drivel, you prove the point that there is nothing any mid-major can do to please you.  So enough already. 


Looking Back at the First Turn


     We know the Broncos are capable of performing at extremely high levels.  From an expectations management point-of-view, the Idaho game probably hurt more than helped.  Aside from a very late breakdown by the 3rd team defense and a couple of turnovers, this was essentially perfect football.  You can look it up – even on the field goal, we still penetrated the Vandal 10.  It was easy afterwards to forget how young this team is and begin to dream with visions of sugar plums.  The Idaho game wasn't an isolated instance – our ability is evidenced by the 2nd and 3rd quarters against Oregon State, the start against BYU, and the 1st half on defense against SMU.  I'm not sure who the imposters are that take the field the rest of the time, but I think they were trained on Alias.


     Beyond this, we know we can't just mail it in.  We don't have to be reminded about UTEP and BYU.  No disrespect for UTEP, but I never feared Boise State might lose.  No disrespect to Hawk, but I certainly feared we might against BYU.  From an expectations management point-of-view, BYU probably helped more than it hurt, since it reminded everyone of exactly how vulnerable the Broncos can be.  They are perfectly capable of playing completely lackluster football and doing so at terribly inopportune times.  The Karma Bank has been tapped out - whatever happens from here on out will have to be earned plus interest.  Nonetheless, we've undefeated, baby!



Offensive Review



     Z has performed admirable in place of the all-time D-I leader in passing efficiency.  He needs to take better care of the ball – but when I was a sophomore I needed to take better care of my beer.  We all spill a little at that age.  His efficiency rating is 155 and he's completing 66% of his balls.  He's proven to be quite elusive with the exception of the BYU pass rush, and made some nice runs.  I'd be pleased if Sanford saw a bit more playing time in case we need him somewhere along the way, but I'm in no hurry if SMU is any indication (for the record, I think Sanford was actually impersonated by the same guy who pretended to be Favre in OT of that Eagles playoff game last year – but enough of the conspiracy theories).


     I must admit I was no doubt spoiled by what seemed like an almost endless streak of interception-free games by RD.  OK, I exaggerate, but as a team Boise State has thrown as many (7) in 5 games as RD threw all of last year (14 games including the Fort Worth Bowl).  Tack onto that 5 lost fumbles –the ball has been put on the ground 11 times – and Boise State is -3 in turnover margin (that's 12 turnovers against 9 takeaways; in addition to 8 picks, Boise State has forced only 3 fumbles, of which only 1 was recovered).  My brother's name isn't Alias, but I don't need him to know virtually no one has gone undefeated while losing the turnover battle.  That's something to watch the rest of the way. 


     While a few too many balls are being caught by the wrong jerseys, not many others are hitting the ground.  Did you realize that 17 Broncos have actually caught a pass, or that at least 8 different guys have caught a ball in every game, or that we average 10 receivers a game?  We expected good production from T.J. Acree, and figured Lawrence Bady was due to break out, but Drisan James has probably achieved more to this point than I would have ever guessed (in case you didn't realize, he leads the team in both catches and yards).  We need Schouman to get healthy and when he's in there we need to get him the ball more. 


     The Fantasy Football aficionados amongst us probably hate the running back by committee, but this is a pretty impressive stable of Broncos.  The backs have run on people like a public track, breaking 200 yards 3 times and getting 4.1 on average.  Marks is getting 4.5 yards at a whack and Carter has been solid with 5 TD.  Q is shocking with his speed – I wish he'd get a few more carries.  I hope Brad Lau can hold onto his fingers. (Sorry, I couldn't resist "pointing" that out.  Really, that's it for my "index" of finger jokes.) 


     The O-Line has done a good job all the way around.  There have been good holes to run through and good time to throw.  The penalties have been at a minimum.  They've come together as a unit and have good depth.



Defensive Review



     The most obvious place to begin is with the secondary.  With due credit to Mike Hass (OSU) and Todd Watkins (BYU), I doubt either will suit up for my fantasy league team on Sundays (of course I've shown the intellect of a slug in this department, so I might need to rethink this point).  Seriously, they torched the secondary.  Molotoved!  5 alarm fires!  I'll go on the record to say that if Boise State gave up another 200-yard day to an individual receiver, they almost surely lose.  Even Trinity got hit eventually.  You better believe Fresno and Hawaii are licking their chops.  The injury to Chris Carr certainly didn't help the cause.  Cabaong has done a nice job at safety to fill the box and he along with Alexander, Franklin, and Carr have all nabbed at least one ball.  Overall, however, this is the spot that needs the most improvement anywhere on this team.


     Linebackers?  Three words – Res Ipsa Loquitur.  "The Thing Speaks for Itself."  I had to Google that one.  Korey Hall may very well be the best Bronco to ever line up on this side of the ball – 3 picks (oh, those glorious OSU picks) and the lone fumble recovery.  Andy Avalos has been solid.  You've got to love it when your linebackers lead the team in tackles (Hall, 39 and Avalos, 35).  Throw in Colt Brooks (17 tackles) and any daylight being seen is pretty much Sunday morning.  6 sacks for this group.  I won't diminish their accomplishments by droning on.  Res Ipsa Loquitur.


     The D-Line has done a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage.  The Bronco "D" is surrendering less than 100 yards a game and have allowed only 14 total first downs on the ground.  Opponents have only converted 20 of 68 third downs.  That pretty much starts with the D line – don't give up a lot rushing on 1st downs, then don't give a lot of time to pass on 3rd downs.  The depth has been impressive as the d-line has rotated through several guys. 


     Overall, the Broncos need to force more turnovers.  3 forced fumbles and 1 recovery simply won't get it done.  The 7 total picks is really obscured by Hall's 3 against OSU (oh, those glorious OSU picks; sorry, I repeat myself).  Boise State needs to average more than 1 per game and certainly needs to be grabbing at least 1 in every game.  Undefeated teams win the turnover battle; I'm probably guilty of oversimplification but it's sort of hard to lose if you have the ball and aren't turning it over (see Rice last weekend). 



Special Teams



     We've seen exceptional special teams play which says a lot because we've grown pretty accustomed to great special teams play (that Gilligan kid wasn't exactly a pushover!). Carr has been outstanding on kick returns, our kicking game has been excellent, and the coverage has been great.  We'll have to see how Boise State fares in Carr's absence but somehow I think they'll be OK (Austin Smith, that means you!).  Tyler Jones is simply awesome on kickoffs.  It's a wonder anyone actually gets a chance to bring one back.  As a side note, it's also a wonder that opponents did try to bring back a few of those kicks.  Be glad for the quality of our special teams coaching.


     The score is two punt returns for a TD to one seriously shanked FG.  By the way, much was written following the FG about the line surge.  I don't mean to burst anyone's bubble, but go watch that spot on iVision.  It occurs at the 1 hour and 3 minute mark of the second section of the iVision replay.  (When you load it, push the bar all the way to the right to go through the first 2+ hours of the game.  Then, on the second section, push forward to 1:03).  Succinctly, the OL has not been pushed back much more than a yard when Payne makes contact.  While there is a blur as guys jump from the backfield, it would be extremely unlikely that they rattled Payne.  There's even a replay angle from the backside, and I just don't see where our push could have distracted him.  You can be your own judge – that's just my opinion.  One other thing, it appears on replay that ball was still going up when it gets to the goalposts – that might have gone from 70 had it been straight.  As it was, it was wide and the Broncos are still alive.  "Somehow the Broncos shockingly still have the lead."  "I can't believe we just saw that."  (Thanks to Paul J and Jeff Caves for timeless quotes.  I may inscribe that on my headstone.)  I could just rewind and watch this over-and-over. 


     That's special teams for you.  I think Boise State walks into each game with the upper-hand in this department. 



On to the 2nd half



     So where do the Broncos go from here?  Hopefully 11-0.  Hopefully Tempe.  But there are still 6 more dates with destiny between now and then.  And the blind date for the Fiesta Bowl could very well turn out to be a no-show. 


     Boise State comes back with Tulsa and probably the most important thing here is to be sure they don't come out of the bye week flat while on the road.  There surely is the talent to get this thing done, but again, you can't just mail it in.


     After which, there's a smarting Fresno State team who's not pleased about the La Tech loss or the 3-in-a-row the Broncos have hung on them.  This is almost the reverse of 2001.  But Pinegar looked pretty mortal at the end of that La Tech game and I don't need to remind anyone about their last trip to the Blue (something about RD coming in with 10 to go in the 2nd and hanging 400+ and 5 TD's on them).  Permit me a small diversion here, but I'm guessing RD can move the Dolphins offense about as well as Fiedler and Feeley combined.  I'm sure he and Brock can't do worse than the roulette wheel of a backfield they've got right now.  Anyway, Fresno's got a score to settle and Boise State had better be ready.


     The week after is Hawai'i.  Potential let-down city.  Just in case there's not enough danger in facing Fresno, don't forget Hawai'i will be looking to hang a C-note on the Broncos.  You can't be flat against June Jones.  By now we'll hope to have Chris Carr back.  I'm told the scoreboard will be outfitted for extra digits in this one--could be several 200 yard receivers in this one.  We'll hope they're in Blue.


     Then the Broncos get a week off before the San Jose State game.  Lest you forget, these are the guys who came back from 34-7 last week to win 70-63.  We'll hope it doesn't come to this, but strange things happen on the road. 


     Louisiana Tech visits the week thereafter.  The Moats kid looks like the real deal right now.  He ran for 81 and 97 on Miami and Tennessee respectively, and no one else has kept him under 200.  That's not a typo.  I know, our run D is lockdown, but the ‘Canes and ‘Vols aren't exactly chumps. 


     Finally, Nevada.  Two words – Chris Ault.  Two more – Shawshank Redemption.  This could be a trap, assuming the Broncos are still undefeated.


     In short, peril abounds.  Danger around every corner.  But there is talent enough to run the board.  Don't look a gift horse in the mouth.


     One last word, I want to go on record now.  No matter how unpopular this is, if Boise State is 11-0 at this point, and can't get a Top 25 BCS team or a mid-major conference champ, I vote to stay home for the Bowl.  Ultimately, it's up to the seniors.  But the Broncos would be sitting 36-2 over 3 years with 22 in a row at that point, no doubt ranked in the Top 15 for the 3rd consecutive year.  They don't owe anyone anything.  If the seniors want to play on the road for the sake of doing so, the more power to them.  But it doesn't prove anything to beat the #47 team from the Big Pac 14.  You don't get a shot at Ali unless you're the top ranked contender.  You don't get a shot at "The Streak" unless you're ranked or a conference champ.  Period.  That's just my opinion. 


     And down the stretch they come…It looks like, the Broncos by a nose. 


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