The Bronco defense finished an embarrassing 99th in the country last year in pass defense. The eyes of Georgia Defensive Coordinator Willie Martinez just got bigger. Over 254 yards per game was gained in the air last year against them. New Georgia starting quarterback D.J. Shockley's eyes just got bigger also. Boise State surrendered 21 touchdowns via the passing game in 2004--only 21 teams in Division I-A gave up more. The entire Georgia offense just began to salivate. "That's not bad for the pass-happy WAC," you might say. But then when you see that Fresno State finished 13th, San Jose State was 18th, Nevada 21st and Tulsa 22nd in that very same Western Athletic Conference, there goes that line. Part of it can be explained by the Bronco defense's philosophy of stopping the run first; after all, they were one of the top rush defenses in the nation. However, there's not too many teams who run the ball on 3rd and 15 or 3rd and 20, and yet the Broncos still could not stop the pass in those situations. Part of the reason for the high numbers also comes from the Broncos being ahead and other teams having to go to the air to try to catch up.
Boise State's defense allowed wide receiver Mike Hass of Oregon State to have a career day. When the game was over, Hass had collected 12 receptions for an unbelivable 293 yards and 3 touchdowns, including 2 of over 45 yards. Senior quarterback Derek Anderson accumulated 411 passing yards on that day.
The Broncos then allowed running back Howard Jackson of UTEP to get loose for a 70-yard scoring play on the game's opening play from scrimmage.
Later on in the season, they allowed BYU receiver Todd Watkins to amass 9 catches for 211 yards including a 79-yard touchdown catch and run, this by a team they had routed in Provo 50-12 just a year earlier. BYU drove nearly the length of the field to get in position for a chip shot game-winning field goal by usually reliable Matt Payne that went left.
Boise State's defense went into San Jose and allowed scoring passes of 69 and 79 yards against the 2-7 Spartans. The Broncos needed double overtime to put away San Jose 56-49. Rufus Skillern had 10 catches for 167 yards and Tyson Thompson 3 for 105. The Broncos also had trouble with Tulsa, who was 1-5 at the time, allowing 42 points and needing a game-winning field goal of their own by Tyler Jones to win that one. Tulsa quarterback James Killian touched the Broncos for 305 yards on 19 of 29 passing.
So what has changed this year for the Broncos regarding the passing game? Well, senior Gabe Franklin is gone and is currently with the San Diego Chargers, not much help to Boise State this Saturday. Chris Carr is currently making heads spin in Oakland and he is expected to make the Raiders' roster. Carr won't be anywhere near Athens Saturday. The #3 tackler in the history of Boise State, linebacker Andy Avalos, was a senior last year as well.
The starting cornerback for Boise State has played very few downs on defense. Their starting linebacker is suspended for the opener. His backup is injured and won't be able to play.
Safety Cam Hall has been off the team while he deals with charges form a highway incident this summer.
Not one but two other safeties have quit the team to get more playing time at I-AA schools.
Lions and Tigers and Bulldogs, oh my!
So you see the concern among Bronco fans. Will the team that plays Saturday allow Georgia to beat it to a pulp, or will they begin to assert themselves, especially against the pass? Will they be susceptible to the long bomb again this season? We have heard it said many times that Boise State leaves its corners "on an island". We know that Boise State does not accumulate big sack numbers because of the stopping the run mentality. Stopping the run or not, if and when Georgia gets in a 3rd and 20, that is time to pin back the ears and let it fly straight for Shockley. If he is not sacked, pressured or hurried, he will have time to get his confidence. If there are no Broncos ready to bring him down in such a situation, more salivating--either a completed pass or the athletic Shockley tucks it up and runs for the first down.
The Broncos have moved Nick Schlekeway over to defensive end and Tim Volk over to tackle to enable those players to play at more natural positions. Fortunes are not fixed in stone--they can be changed. It is indeed possible to stop the run and stop the pass; many college teams do it. A very depleted Bronco defense with young unproven players will be severely tested by Georgia. The Bulldogs will line it up with their 300-pound+ linemen and their stable of talented backs and pound the ball at the Bronco D time and time again. Quarterback Shockley, who was named the nation's top high school quarterback when he signed a letter of intent with Georgia, will use quick strikes to star tight end Leonard Pope. And don't be surprised if Shockley tries to light up the combustible Bronco defense with some long passes of his own.
The answer to the question in this article's title will determine the outcome of this game. If Boise State's defense allows themselves to be pushed up and down the field and burned on key pass plays resulting in Georgia touchdowns on long drives (the punching bag option), the Broncos have no chance to win this game. If, on the other hand, the players have had enough of being maligned in the press, can force Georgia into field goal attempts on a few of their drives and stop the Bulldogs from converting 3rd and 15 or 3rd and 20 situations (characteristic of a unit ready to prove itself), Boise State has a very good chance to win the football game.
All eyes will be on the Georgia offense vs. the Boise State defense. Here's hoping the Bronco defense has "Amped It Up" this season!