Denying the Opposition

One segment of the Bronco football team that has quietly getting better each year is the defensive line. Although key performers such as Andrew Browning, Dennis Ellis and Mike G. Williams must be replaced, the d-line has shown a knack for reloading each year. In this article, Beef Zerkie explores this trend and previews this fall's Boise State defensive line.

RELOAD is thy name, and Blue is thy color!

The Bronco defensive line is a staple of blue-collar motors working hard and shutting down opponents' running game. Year after year, after year, after year. 

But before I get into the specifics of the D-line let me take a minute to lay the groundwork for my premise. 

Every year there are new reasons the rest of the world uses to doubt Boise State's chances of having another good year. First, it was moving from the little Big West Conference to the Western Athletic Conference. Boise State took second in their inaugural WAC season and won a championship the next. The first championship was won in such dominating fashion, (a WAC record margin of victory of 37 points per game), that the next criticism was how everyone wanted to avenge the blowout loss and the Broncos would be a giant target. Un-phased, Boise State continued to blow teams out and win conference championships, winning a title in seven of the last eight seasons and going 39-1 in conference play through the WAC title run.  

After proving themselves in the WAC, the next reason skeptics downplayed the Broncos was based on their record against BCS teams. Never mind that most of the BCS stats were based on games played as a brand new member to division 1A, or even when they were from a lower division; nor that most of those games were on the road, skewing the normal statistics. The 2006 season laid that to rest after thoroughly pulverizing the PAC-10's 3rd place team, (who happened to beat USC), Oregon State, at one point scoring 42 straight points. Then, the boys capped it off with the legendary Fiesta Bowl win over national powerhouse, Oklahoma

Even now, the minimizing of Boise State continues as they are not picked to repeat as Champions, thanks to the selection of Hawaii, who has never actually beaten Boise State in WAC play. So what is the justification this time? Losing too many good players, they say. I have never entirely agreed with that 'prediction' philosophy. While I do agree that if a player is great, you would rather have the proven commodity back, on the other hand, does having a lot of returning players mean anything if the team was average or stunk the year before? To me, that means you are stuck with another year of an average or crappy team. Certainly I am not referring to Hawaii in this case, as they were not a bad team last year at all. I'm just saying it doesn't always mean a lot to rely solely on how many veteran players one team has. Even Hawaii has some critical positions to replace.  

In my estimation, precedence is more valuable for upcoming analysis than just being lazy with #'s returning vs. not returning. So when was the last time Boise State lost this many starters and two-deep players, and what happened? How soon these very pundits forget their criticism of Boise State in 2004, when the Broncos' personnel losses were even greater than they are in 2007. Boise State had just gone 13-1, with an impressive win over ranked TCU in their home field inaugural Fort Worth Bowl game in 2003. After losing the bulk of their two-deep roster, their new two-deep roster was calculated to be the youngest team in ALL of Division 1 football!  

That brings us to the defensive line. In 2003 Paul Allen and Dane Oldham were rocks inside, and Julius Roberts had moments of brilliance outside, countered by limited playing time from then freshman Mike G. Williams. These guys led a Bronco defense that allowed only 100.5 yards rushing per game in 2003, along with just 10 touchdowns on the ground for the entire 14 game (13-1) 2003 season. Lost were both of the defensive tackle masters, as well as the senior depth on the outside with only Roberts and sophomore Mike Williams returning. Described in one 2004 preview, "Both are in essence linebackers (averaging 245 pounds) playing on the outside.1" And replacing the DT's were an inexperienced junior and walk-on sophomore with limited playing time, noted in the same review as being "very small and hard-nosed guys, but without much experience playing together." The  rest of the defense was young as well, replacing big time playmakers Travis Burgher-"Sam" linebacker, free safety Wes Nurse and cornerback Julius Brown; so the new DT's could not simply rely on the rest of the defense to step up for them. The outlook to repeat rushing defense dominance was bleak. Or so they said. 

True to Bronco form, Boise State ignored the pundits. In come Alex Guerrero (Jr.) and a walk-on Andrew Browning (So.) at tackle, and Mike G. Williams was assisted by true freshman Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketNick Schlekeway opposite Julius Roberts. What they did in 2004 was help the team to their first undefeated regular season as a Division 1-A team and a nail-biting loss to a top 5 Louisville program in their territory that came down to the last play of the game for a 12-1 record. The new D-line did their part by only allowing 103.9 yards per game, good for a top 10 ranking in Division 1 football. It was here that Boise State illustrated best its ability to simply re-load. Youth and inexperience meant nothing. Boise State had learned how to find hidden talent, develop it, and lay it all out on the field.  

So here we are, in yet another season of heavy turnaround and already the outsiders are looking for Boise State to fall. Last year the D-line allowed 3.2 yards per rush, 89.1 per game (Good for top 10 in the country), and only seven touchdowns (tied for 3rd best in the country). Just over half a touchdown per game with running powerhouses Oregon State and Oklahoma on the ticket! Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe D-line turnover is IDENTICAL to that of 2004. Lost inside are impressive studs Andrew Browning and Dennis Ellis. Returning on the outside are an experienced Schlekeway (6-4, 262, Sr.), and ironically, Mike T. Williams (6-4, 245, Jr.) who may also end up with a true freshman coming in to rotate, super-stud Chuck Hayes (6-3, 245).

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe list to replace the inside is impressive as ever. Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketWith senior Ian Smart, juniors Joe Bozikovich (6-1, 278, Jr.) and Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketPhillip Edwards (6-4, 287, Jr.) - all with plenty of game experience and even some starts - leading the way. Add Sione Tavake (6-1, 300, Sr.) and other upper classmen ready to rotate in, and even with rumors of some formidable freshmen pushing to burn their redshirts, this defensive line will have NO problems Re-loading!




1. 2004 review.


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