Could Boise State Possibly Upset Nevada?

In two previous articles this week, we've seen how good the 2008 Nevada football team is. We've also learned that most college football fans are betting on Nevada in the game this weekend. It is possible, however, for Boise State to emerge victorious.

In the companion article "Vegas Bettors:  Nevada is Better than BYU", we learned that the majority of bettors are putting their money on Nevada rather than Boise State in the upcoming game this weekend.  Is there anything Boise State can do to pull off the upset and thwart the majority?

It's a tall order, but here goes.  We know that Nevada leads the nation in rushing and has piled up huge chunks of real estate all season long.  So that's a good place to start.  If Wolf Pack runners are allowed to roam free, busting through the Bronco line for 7-10 yards at a time (or in quarterback Colin Kaepernick's case 60 yards at a time), it will be a long, weary afternoon for the Boise State defense.  Kaepernick is outstanding at faking the football, so this style of offense shouts out for assignment football.  Either Boise State's defenders play it or they get burned--pure and simple.  In Boise State's 69-67 win over Nevada last season, the Broncos were burned repeatedly.

Enter Darrell Acrey into the middle linebacker spot.  Acrey has proven to be a force this season and has greatly bolstered the Bronco run defense.  Acrey needs to stay home to be in position to nail Vai Taua coming up the middle.  Taua is 5-10, 225, fitting the perfect definition of a "bowling ball" type of runner.  Don't be fooled though, Taua also has speed.  Acrey and the other Broncos near Taua will need to hit him low and hold on until he is down.  Opponents have found out too many times this season that any tackling technique that is less than perfect will result in a big gainer.  It would be a good idea if Acrey and many of his friends meet to escort Taua to the turf.  Taua will get his yards no doubt, but the goal is to limit those yards per carry and make him work for his yards.

Kaepernick is one of the most talented running quarterbacks in the nation and, as Bronco fans found out last year, if he gets outside he could easily be next found in the end zone celebrating a Wolf pack touchdown.  On straight runs in which Kaepernick fakes to Taua before heading around the end, the Bronco linebackers must stay at home in case he pays a visit to their territory.  Last year, I noticed he almost always will run to his right side (the left side of the Bronco defense) but both Bronco LB's must be ready.  When Kaepernick drops back to pass, the Bronco ends must be sure not to over-pursue, leaving Kaepernick a path through the Bronco pass rush to pick up a big gain on a quarterback scramble.  As with Taua, Kaepernick is going to get his yards--you just don't want to see him get 60 in a matter of seconds.

Boise State's secondary has been stellar all season and nothing short of a great afternoon is needed from this group.  They will need to help out with the rushing defense, but they cannot be lulled to sleep either.  Nevada will only need to connect on a few pass plays here and there to keep drives alive and win the football game.  If I'm the Bronco Defensive Coordinator, I would also tell the guys to be alert for a halfback pass.  If it is obvious the Bronco secondary is aggressive in stopping the run, expect Nevada to pull this play out of its bag.

It can be frustrating playing a running team as good as Nevada.  You're not going to get too many chances to stop them and they don't beat themselves often.  That's good advice for the Bronco defense as well:  do not give Nevada any more plays--they don't need any help.  If a Nevada player is out of bounds the Broncos need to be focused and not get stupid mental penalties.  

In summary then, play assignment football, gang tackle, hit low, wrap up, be focused and alert for the halfback option and avoid drive-enabling penalties.

For the Boise State offense, we know that Kellen Moore can pass the football and he's going to have to be sharp tomorrow afternoon.  But this alone will not get the job done for the Broncos.  Nevada has held nearly all their opponents to under 100 yards, including a negative 23 rushing yards for San Jose State last weekend.  Fresno State ran for 106, but it wasn't nearly enough to beat the Wolf Pack as Nevada won easily 41-28.  Texas Tech only got 124 and Missouri 132, but both of those teams were able to win with superior passing attacks.  It would dictate, then, that the Bronco running game needs to get a minimum of 125 yards or so to win and probably at least 150.

Nevada does allow passing yards, but that's only if the quarterback has time to throw.  Most of the time, a Nevada defender is either standing over a sacked quarterback or they have greatly harassed the QB into making a poor throw.  Texas Tech and Missouri were able to pass the ball consistently and those two teams possess two of the best quarterbacks in the country (Graham Harrell for Tech and Chase Daniel of Missouri).  It is therefore incumbent upon the offensive line that they hold their blocks and don't allow too many sacks by the aggressive Wolf Pack defense.  Moore needs to be aware of where these tigers are and be ready to throw the ball away.  An incompletion is far more desired than a sack or an errant throw in desperation.  Moore must play intelligent football, get rid of the ball quickly and not try to force anything.  He likely won't have much time to find a receiver, so the Bronco receivers must create space quickly to provide a target for Moore.  The Broncos may occasionally roll Moore out to cross up the aggressive Pack and give him time to throw.

As is the case with the defense, the Broncos cannot commit turnovers and put even more pressure on themselves.  The Nevada defense will do plenty of that as it is. 

Turnovers are obviously always critical in a close game and if this one indeed lives up to the billing, Boise State runners must wrap both hands on the ball at all times.  The Bronco special teams could make the difference in a close game, but they must be careful to not try to do too much (i.e. run into the kicker in an attempted block, fumble when trying to get a few more yards on a punt or kickoff return, etc.)

If Boise State plays mistake-free football and puts on a tackling clinic, their chances are better than the six previous Nevada victims.  The Bronco defense, meanwhile, must try to create turnovers on their own and stick to their assignments.  The Boise State corners must play shutdown football, especially on third downs.  Should Boise State stop the Pack on first and second down creating a passing situation, those third down situations will be all the more important.

So yes, Boise State can thwart the majority of college football fans who are betting on Nevada.  But it will take a complete effort over four quarters.  This one should be fun.


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