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
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 Nick 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! The 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).
The list to replace the inside is impressive
as ever. With senior Ian Smart, juniors Joe Bozikovich (6-1, 278, Jr.) and Phillip 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. NationalChamps.net 2004 review. http://www.inside99.net/2004/sub/previews/boisestate.htm