An area that is perhaps the most maligned of the Boise State football team is the defensive line. Now this is on a Bronco team that was 10th in the nation in stopping the run. Most of the criticism comes from the Broncos' pass rush. Often opposing quarterbacks had all day to throw, allowing wide receivers time to get wide open and burn the Broncos for long pass plays. Part of this can be explained by the Bronco D's philosophy of stopping the run first. Still, some Bronco fans are hungry for more sacks. Besides, Louisville churned up 329 yards on the ground in last year's 44-40 Liberty Bowl win and Georgia's ground game is famous. With six players who saw significant time last year returning to this fall's campaign, the group hopes to improve. Against Georgia, they'll have to.
Five of those returning Broncos started at some point during the 2004 season. Both defensive tackles are back, Andrew Browning (6-0, 278) and Alex Guerrero (6-1, 293). Guerrero, a tenacious lineman, is difficult to move off the line of scrimmage and epitomizes the Bronco defensive lineman. He was 5th on the team in tackles last season with 46, and led the team in tackles for loss with 8.5. Guerrero had 2.5 sacks. Browning was voted as the team's outstanding defensive lineman after his sophomore campaign after recording 31 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and one sack.
Junior Tim Volk (6-2, 270) and Sophomores Dan Gore (6-5, 281) and Ian Smart (6-3, 277) will battle for the other backup slot. Redshirt freshman Phillip Edwards (6-4, 266) moves into the picture, but another redshirt freshman, Joe Bozikovich (6-1, 283), was injured in spring ball and will miss the 2005 season.
Mike G. Williams (6-3, 244) returns at left end for his third season as a starter. Williams had 40 tackles, four tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in 10 games. He will be backed up by redshirt freshman Mike T. Williams (6-4, 240). The younger Williams is the fastest defensive lineman on the Bronco team and has gained 45 pounds thanks to great work in the weight room.
The one starting spot out of the four defensive lineman positions that opened up is at the other defensive end, where Julius Roberts presided for three years. Returning players, Mike Dominguez (6-2, 251), Tim Volk (6-3, 260) and Eagle High School's Nick Schlekeway (6-4, 261) are battling to become Roberts' successor. All saw plenty of playing time last year with each starting at least one game. Dominguez is a strong pass rusher who finished with 13 tackles, three tackles for loss and one sack. Volk, also a junior, had 14 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. Schlekeway had 15 tackles, one tackle for a loss and half a sack while playing as a true freshman. Those three will be challenged by junior college transfer Dennis Ellis (6-3, 270), who originally signed with Texas A&M out of high school, but spent the past two seasons playing JC ball. Is Ellis the player Bronco fans have longed for? He did record a sack in last Friday's scrimmage. It's a tight battle for that other defensive end position that is still up for grabs with just two weeks to go before the start of the new season.
So how does this unit stack up against the big offensive line from Georgia? The answer to this question may very well determine the outcome of the game, for it is a key area to watch. If Georgia is allowed to pound it out on the ground, and mix in the pass from quarterback D.J. Shockley without any pressure from the front four, they will win the game. It's really that simple. For Boise State's high-octane offense to shine, it must have equal time to show what it can do. Make no mistake; Georgia would love a situation where the 'Dawg offense is controlling the clock and keeping Zabransky and company off the field. The Bronco defensive line must do what it does best--stop the run--but it must also create havoc for Shockley when he drops to pass and above all, keep him from scrambling for first downs, ala the Liberty Bowl game. Shockley has much more ability, is quicker and more mobile than the Louisville quarterbacks. The former Elite 11 quarterback who is starting his first game must be pressured into mistakes.
Max Jean-Giles (6-4, 340, Sr.), Dennis Roland (6-7, 309, Sr.), Russ Tanner (6-4, 297, Sr.), Daniel Inman (6-7, 328, Jr.) and Nick Jones (6-3, 285, Jr.) went into the Georgia fall camp as the projected starters but there's plenty of depth with several players pushing for playing time. Jean-Giles decided to remain with the team after considering entering the National Football League draft as a junior. He was selected this summer by the Southeastern Conference media to the All-SEC preseason team after earning all-conference honors last season. Jean-Giles is on the Outland Trophy watch list for the second consecutive year. Josh Brock has started for the Bulldogs in the past at guard, and Fernando Velasco will also provide backup. Brock suffered a concussion a few days ago in fall practice and had not returned to action. Ryan Schnetzer will play a lot at center after forgoing entering medical school to play another year this fall. Sophomore Ken Shackleford provides backup at tackle while Chester Adams provides depth at guard. The offensive line allowed only 21 sacks last season and has played great this spring, allowing Shockley plenty of time to sit back and make reads.
Jean-Giles is referred to as the team's "tight guard", and you can bet the 'Dawgs will run to his side early and often. He presents a huge matchup problem for whichever defensive tackle is lined up across from him. One way to negate that huge size will be Bronco stunting along the defensive line. Boise State will have to use quickness to keep Jean-Giles from leading a parade of Georgia runners through the Bronco defense. Jones, with 15 career starts, will be the starting strong guard. Jones started 5 games at center in 2003, but says he prefers guard because "he likes to pull". Jones suffered a slight ankle injury in the second week of practice but is expected to return soon.
Tanner is an anchor in the middle of the line for Georgia with 25 career starts. He was on the Rimington Watch List as a junior, and was one of the nation's six finalists for that award last year. The Rimington Award is given annually to the country's top center. Tanner is another giant to contend with and, as a former basketball player in high school, is athletic as well. Korey Hall for Boise State will again have to use quickness to find his way around Tanner. Tanner held Erasmus James of Wisconsin at bay in last year's Outback Bowl.
Roland gets the start at tight tackle. An article on Georgia's Scout.com site pointed out that Tanner was once a liability, but through impressive work in the weight room, is now one of the strengths of the team. Inman, with 23 career starts, is the strong tackle. The entire Georgia line is big, but if the Bronco defensive line is to get a surge, this will be the place. Expect several blitzes to utilize Boise State quickness against these monsters.
As in the Louisville game, the Georgia contest presents the smaller Bronco defensive line with significant obstacles. But it is an area that Boise State must neutralize. Georgia is going to chew up big chunks of yardage and at times will dominate. The big test will be in the red zone, when the Bronco defense must find it within them to stop long Bulldog drives and at least hold them to a field goal. If the defensive line can force a fumble or two, that would be huge in a close game. Georgia will try to wear down Boise State's line with their big, tall players, especially with the humidity. Depth on the line will be important, and look for the Broncos to shuffle players in and out to get a breath or two. This is a matchup that on paper, the Broncos cannot win. Yet they must keep from losing the battle, especially in the crunch, for Boise State to emerge from the struggle victorious.