Can Boise State Upset The #14 Ducks?

Sometime after 11 p.m., we will very much know how good Boise State is. They are facing one of the premier teams in the land, the 14th-ranked Oregon Ducks tonight in the season opener for both teams. Kickoff is set for about 8:15 tonight in Bronco Stadium.

The 2009 season gets underway tonight with Boise State facing the unenviable task of taking on the #14 team in the nation, the Oregon Ducks.  Oregon has so much talent that they rolled over Oklahoma State in the Holiday Bowl and jumped the Poinsettia Bowl-losing Broncos in the final poll.

Oregon is favored by eight in the E/A Sports software simulations.  It's a good thing the game will be in Boise or they might be 15-point favorites.  They are by far the best team to ever grace the Blue field of Bronco Stadium.  To get us prepared for tonight's opener, we've prepared an analysis of the matchups.


Oregon Offensive Line vs. Bronco Defensive Line:

Junior Ryan Winterswyk (6-4, 263) and sophomore Jarrell Root (6-3, 259) have the job of containing the outside, but especially the running of Duck quarterback Jeremiah Masoli (5-11, 214, Jr.).  Masoli blossomed under then-Offensive Coordinator Chip Kelly's (now Head Coach Kelly's) spread offense last season and if Masoli is given the freedom to do what he pleases and indeed "spread" the Bronco defense, it will be a long night.  Masoli rushed for 718 yards (5.7 average) and 10 touchdowns last year, but even that is a little deceiving.  He started slow early in the year, but was at full throttle by the Holiday Bowl against favored Oklahoma State.

All Masoli did in that game was rush 16 times for 106 yards against the Cowboys, scoring three times on option keepers of 1, 17 and 41 yards, and pass for another 258 yards and one score.  On the 41-yard touchdown, Masoli completely ran over Cowboy senior free safety Quinton Moore.  

To keep all of that from happening, Bronco tackles Billy Winn (6-4, 288, So.) and Chase Baker (6-1, 296, So.) must get penetration and yet not overpursue, not creating any open lanes for Masoli to dart through.  It's a difficult job because their task will be to get into the Oregon backfield and disrupt the Duck offense while also containing the run game up the middle.  Star Oregon back LeGarrette Blount does the bulk of his running up the middle, putting additional pressure on the Boise State tackles.  Blount bulled over, around and through defenses for 1,002 yards and 17 touchdowns last year, sporting a sensational 7.3 average in the process.  The Broncos know him all too well, as they allowed him 99 yards and a TD last year.

Sophomore Carson York (6-5, 285) gets his first collegiate start at left guard, likely going against Baker.  While Baker has 11 pounds on the big Duck sophomore, York will be out to make up that difference with technique.  Big Mark Asper (6-7, 323, So.) started seven games last season, so he is well versed in blocking for the spread.  He could be going against sensational sophomore Winn in a key matchup.  Given that the left side of the Bronco defense is their strength, look for a "cat and mouse" game all night between new Duck OC Mark Helfrich and his counterpart, Justin Wilcox, Defensive Coordinator for Boise State.  Helfrich will likely attack the relatively untested side of the Bronco line (Baker and Root), while Wilcox will be shuffling his players around to get the best matchups.  Expect sophomore Byron Hout (6-0, 241) to get plenty of playing time at end and we may see Shea McClellin (6-3, 262, So.) as well.

Junior C.E. Kaiser (6-4, 290) is one of the more experienced linemen for Oregon, and he gets the job of blocking Winterswyk.  Both the Duck tackles (Bo Thran (6-5, 303, Jr. being the starter on the left) have distinct size advantages and fans will see the classic size vs. quickness battle on the ends.  But remember that Winterswyk and Root's main duties will be to contain the outside, so they don't have to necessarily win the battle but just make it a draw so they are there looking Masoli in the eyeballs as he tries to get outside.  

I believe this matchup on the line to be the key place to watch all night.  If Oregon wins this battle, it will be tough for Boise State to win.  The beauty of the spread offense, especially in this case where Oregon runs it to perfection, is that it keeps defenses on their heels.  Most teams that run it don't have the run game to keep the defense honest.  Blount (6-3, 229, Sr.) is a freak of nature; he's fast, he's big and he's strong.  The only way to stop him is to A)  hit him low, B)  hit him at the line of scrimmage and C)  gang tackle him.  That said, Blount has so much athletic ability that he will simply jump over you if you go too low.  If you hit him high, you'll bounce off him like so much rubber.  You get the idea why he can be a defensive player's nightmare.  Once Blount gets past the line, he is like a locomotive.  He will plain run over you, especially if you are a defensive back, or he'll carry a pile 10 yards or more.  Usually one guy cannot stop him, so a swarming defense is a prerequisite against Blount.  If you're lucky enough to hit him and still be upright, you call out for "Help!" from your teammates.

This is where we bring in the Bronco linebackers.


Oregon vs. Boise State Linebackers:

Junior center Jordan Holmes (6-5, 285) is one of the leaders of the Duck line.  He will be leading the charge up the middle against MIKE linebacker Derrell Acrey (6-1, 235, Jr.).  This is another great matchup to watch.  Acrey can be dominating at times--for this game, Boise State needs him to be consistent.  With the quick, powerful Blount and the shifty and strong Masoli looking to run up the middle, Acrey is Boise State's man in the middle.  If Derrell came to Boise State to be in the middle of the action, he'll get his wish tonight.  This is the time for him to show what he can do.  He has to be that disruptive force that plugs holes and makes the stop for, if he misses, Blount could be gone.  

The other matchup is Mackey Award candidate Ed Dickson (6-5, 243, Sr.) at tight end against WILL linebacker Aaron Tevis (6-3, 228, So.)  Dickson is a savvy blocker as well as an outstanding receiver, being just 21 receptions shy of the school career receiving record for tight ends (held by Josh Wilcox with 103).  Josh just so happens to be the brother of Bronco DC Justin Wilcox in that famous football family.  Tevis has torn it up in practice for Boise State and Bronco coaches are confident he can get the job done.

Nickelback Winston Venable (5-11, 223, Jr.) has dual responsibilities at the hybrid position.  His size will allow him to play up against the run, but his quickness and coverage abilities also allow him to slip back and cover Blount out of the backfield or provide extra help with the Duck receivers.  In fact, it wouldn't be a bad idea at all for Venable to shadow Blount all night and be wherever LeGarrette goes.     


Duck Receivers vs. Boise State Secondary:

Dickson's blocking will help dictate the success of the Oregon running attack; his receiving could mean a Duck victory.  As mentioned above, Boise State believes they have the guy in Tevis.  His size is comparable to Dickson, although the Broncos would rather him be about 10-15 pounds bigger.  He does have good athletic ability to be able to hold his own in coverage, and depending on the package and the alignment, he may have help from Venable.  Dickson has 82 career receptions for 1,006 yards and six touchdowns, with 35 of those catches coming last year.  He burned the Bronco defense with seven catches for 103 yards and two late touchdowns in last year's game.  

The other three Oregon receivers are juniors Jamere Holland (6-1, 188), Jeff Maehl (6-1, 175) and sophomore Garrett Embry (6-1, 200).  Maehl is the top returning receiver with 39 catches for 421 yards and five touchdowns.  Last season in Eugene, he caught two passes for 46 yards in the game against the Broncos.  Holland and Embry did not record a catch and are eager to show what they can do.  Oregon has high hopes for both.

They'll test an experienced Bronco secondary who is equally eager to punish them if they catch the ball.  Senior All-American Kyle Wilson (5-10, 186) is a playmaker for Boise State and will need to do just that if the Broncos are to win tonight.  Although it isn't often, he can be beat deep and the matchup against Holland will be a good one to watch.  Junior Brandyn Thompson (5-10, 180) is Wilson's partner at cornerback.  Thompson improved his play tremendously last season and gives the Broncos excellent consistency.  What's more, opponents know they cannot pick on him just because they want to avoid Wilson.  

Hard-hitting safeties Jeron Johnson (5-11, 194, Jr.) and George Iloka (6-3, 207, So.) will do a lot of one-on-one coverage against the spread.  They have great instincts and athletic ability.  Helfrich very well might try to cross up the Broncos early with a flea flicker or end-around wide receiver option to counter Boise State's aggressiveness.  This is exactly what happened early in the 2007 Washington-Boise State game and Johnson and Iloka have to be careful not to bite too early on the run and know where the Duck receivers are at all times.

Remember too that Venable as a nickelback is in his position just for a game like this, where he is counted on to not only help stop one of the nation's best running games but also to provide good help in the secondary.  Most importantly, Venable needs to carry out his assignments and stay in position.

We bring Masoli back into the forefront and evaluate his passing skills.  Last season, he was 136-239 (56.9%) for 1,744 yards and 13 touchdowns against only five interceptions.  His job isn't to light up the scoreboard with his aerial strikes; with the running skills that he possesses he doesn't have to.  No, he just has to be accurate with short strikes to Dickson and be able to hit his wide receivers with bullets.  And he does just that.

O.K., we've looked at the matchups making up the Oregon offense vs. the Bronco defense.  Now let's flip it over.


Boise State Offensive Line vs. Duck Defensive Line:

The big games are won on the line and although I feel that the Bronco defensive line against the Oregon offensive line is critical to the game's outcome, this one is of course important as well.  Boise State's offensive front was the only weakness on the team last year.  Their pass protection was excellent, as they ranked fourth in the nation as a unit in allowing just 13 sacks last year.  It was the run blocking, especially against powerful teams like Oregon, in which they need to improve and improve in a hurry.

We saw it in the Poinsettia Bowl loss to TCU, where Boise State desperately needed to pick up first downs in short-yardage situations and could not get it done.  And, although it's been a year ago, we also saw it in Eugene, when Boise State rushed the ball 35 times for a net 38 yards.  The Broncos were fortunate last year because perhaps quarterback Kellen Moore (6-0, 187, So.) caught the Ducks off guard a bit.  He won't surprise them this year for he is very much a known commodity.

That increases the focus on the Boise State line.  They have bulked up in the offseason and probably more importantly, have another year's experience under their belts.  They'll need both against a talented, swarming Duck defense.  Tackles Matt Slater (6-4, 290, Jr.) and Michael Ames (6-4, 281, Fr.) will face off against Oregon defensive ends Will Tukuafu (6-4, 272, Sr.) and Kenny Rowe (6-3, 215 Jr.).  Tukuafu is a candidate for both the Ted Hendricks Award (which is given annually to the top defensive lineman in college football) and the Chuck Bednarik Award (top defensive player of the year).  He's a monster.  Rowe will be greatly outsized but has tremendous athletic ability and quickness.  

If Boise State Offensive Coordinator Bryan Harsin chooses to avoid those two, he'll have to contend with Oregon tackles Blake Ferras (6-6, 290, Sr.) and Brandon Bair (6-7, 250, Jr.).  Both are excellent against the run.  But Harsin will have to send the Bronco running backs, Jeremy Avery (5-9, 173, Jr.) and D.J. Harper (5-9, 198, Jr.) somewhere.  Obviously, given last year's anemic running performance, Boise State will have to do better if they want to stay in the game.  Avery is a speedy runner that hits the hole quick and yet has surprising strength.  Harper (The Texas Tornado) is the full package.  He's built low to the ground, has the great strength, but can also take it to the house on any play.  Neither were effective last season, however.  Avery carried the ball five times for five yards and Harper managed 12 yards on five carries.  Only Ian Johnson (19 carries for 40 yards) had any kind of success against the Ducks and he's gone.

The Broncos will put guards Will Lawrence (6-2, 293, Jr.) and Kevin Sapien (6-4, 286, Jr.) on Ferras and Bair.  Boise State hopes that with Byrd at Center, these two can assist the talented center in getting something started up the middle.  Frankly, it's an area of attack that is sorely missed.


Boise State vs. Oregon Linebackers:

 Center Thomas Byrd (5-11, 284, So.) will lead the Bronco charge up the middle against that swarming Duck defense.  He'll go against middle linebacker Casey Matthews (6-2, 235, Jr.) for Oregon.  Although Matthews is a great talent, this is a matchup that Boise State has to win to have a chance tonight.  Matthews had 67 tackles last season and 13 tackles for loss.  If he's a presence in the Bronco backfield, that means he's won the battle with Byrd and that scenario is one that Harsin doesn't want to see.  So watch that matchup--Byrd vs. Matthews.

Spencer Paysinger (6-3, 216, Jr.) ran roughshod over opposing defenses last year, piling up 95 tackles, 12 for loss, in 2008.  He's a menace.  Boise State will have to put a body on Paysinger tonight and, depending on the offensive package and the specific play call, that job will fall to Bronco senior fullback Richie Brockel (6-2, 240) or the tight ends:  Tommy Gallarda (6-5, 249, Jr.) and Kyle Efaw (6-4, 229, So.).  If Bronco Stadium announcer Bob Rosenthal is calling out Paysinger's name on play after play, it means Oregon has once again bottled up Boise State's running game.

The other Duck 'backer is Eddie Pleasant (5-11, 223, So.) on the strong side.  Although he's another guy Oregon looks to with confidence, expect Harsin to test him with constant shifting and short pass plays to Avery or Harper out of the backfield or quick tosses to Gallarda and Efaw.


Bronco Passing Game Vs. Oregon Secondary:

This is the only reason Boise State won last year's game in Eugene.  The Bronco running game was ineffective and the Boise State defense allowed Oregon to march down the field the entire fourth quarter.  It bears repeating that the Duck defense will be ready for Mr. Kellen Moore.  Free safety T.J. Ward (5-11, 201, Sr.) was Oregon's #1 tackler last fall with 101.  Walter Thurmond III (6-0, 180, Sr.) is a candidate for the Jim Thorpe Award (given annually to the top defensive back in college football) while Boise State's Kyle Wilson is not.  That should tell Bronco fans something.

On the other side, Oregon lines up Rover Javes Lewis (6-1, 185, So.) and cornerback Talmadge Jackson III (5-10, 182, Jr.).  Both have outstanding quickness.

As mentioned in the "Breaking Out" position preview for the Boise State receivers, the Bronco receiving corps looks to step up their game a level this fall.  Austin Pettis has been outstanding for the Broncos and will be the go-to possession receiver.  Pettis (6-3, 201, Jr.) is just coming into his own after earning second-team All-Western Athletic Conference last year.  He had 49 catches for 567 yards and nine touchdowns, seventh on Boise State's all-time single-season list.  He runs great routes, possesses great hands and has outstanding leaping ability.  Count on Pettis to come up with key catches tonight.

Titus Young (5-11, 170, Jr.) will be the "X" receiver in more ways than one.  Young could be a factor tonight with his speed.  It will be important for him to break free early to set the tone and stretch the Duck defense.  Tyler Shoemaker (6-1, 207, So.) gives the Broncos another breakaway threat.  Bronco fans know he has the ability and has been lighting it up in fall practice.  The question to be answered tonight is:  Can Shoemaker perform in the big game under the lights against the #14 Ducks on national television?  Well, if you put it that way, few people could, but Shoemaker will have to do just that if the Broncos are to win.

Moore is poised and polished as a second-year starter.  An avid studier of game films, Moore and his boss Harsin will have to come up with some different twists to achieve a repeat performance.  Moore may roll out on occasion to escape the Duck rush and will this year have the ability to audible a play at the line of scrimmage.  His football intelligence (being a coach's son) should aid him greatly.  It will be on Moore to look over the Duck defense and be able to analyze in a moment what will work and what won't.  This added responsibility will be another key to the game.  If the Ducks confuse him, plus stop the running game, it's a Duck rout.  But if Moore can read the defense, adjust, keep his poise, and let the game come to him, he gives Boise State another dimension.


Battle Of The Special Teams:  Boise State vs. Oregon:      

If, after duking it out on the front lines, with the hogs battling to a standstill, the game will come down to special teams.  Boise State can only hope they get to this point.  Even so, both teams take great pride in their special units.  Morgan Flint (5-9, 163, Sr.) is a dependable placekicker but doesn't have great distance.  If the Broncos stop Oregon shy of the 30-yard line, the Ducks may let Rob Beard (6-0, 214) try a long field goal or simply go for it.  Boise State's Kyle Brotzman (5-10, 201, Jr.) will need to be deadly accurate to take advantage of scoring opportunities, as few as they may be.

Brotzman will also handle the Bronco punting and he puts out gem after gem in that department.  Not only averaging 45 yards a kick last year, Brotzman also pinned opponents deep on several occasions.  Jackson Rice (6-3, 225, Fr.) will do the booting for Oregon should Boise State be fortunate enough to stop them.

Thurmond III and LaMichael James (5-9, 180, Fr.) will be back receiving kickoffs for Oregon.  Young and Doug Martin (5-9, 201, So.) will handle kickoff return duties for Boise State.

Wilson led the nation with three punt returns for touchdowns but he didn't have any against Oregon.  Last year, Boise State had one punt return for a grand total of six yards.  Kenjon Barner (5-11, 180, Fr.) gets his shot at punt returns for the Ducks.


On paper, this looks like a great matchup for a season opener.  Most people expect Oregon to win, but the game is on the Blue, where often strange things happen to opponents.  Will the Blue Voodoo absorb yet another victim?  Or will Oregon pound the Smurfs into the turf in whence they came? 

Only one way to find out:  kickoff tonight shortly after 8!


Oregon Offense:

Pos. # Player Ht. Weight Class
WR 19 Jamere Holland 6-1 180 Junior
LT 69 Bo Thran 6-5 303 Junior
LG 77 Carson York 6-5 285 Freshman
C 54 Jordan Holmes 6-5 285 Junior
RG 79 Mark Asper 6-7 323 Sophomore
RT 68 C.E. Kaiser 6-4 290 Junior
TE 83 Ed Dickson 6-5 243 Senior
WR 23 Jeff Maehl 6-1 175 Junior
QB 8 Jeremiah Masoli 5-11 214 Junior
RB 9 LeGarrette Blount 6-2 229 Senior


Boise State Defense:

Pos. # Player Ht. Weight Class
E 98 Ryan Winterswyk 6-4 263 Junior
T 90 Billy Winn 6-4 288 Sophomore
N 97 Chase Baker 6-1 296 Sophomore
SE 96 Jarrell Root 6-3 259 Sophomore
MIKE 52 Derrell Acrey 6-1 235 Junior
WILL 36 Aaron Tevis 6-3 228 Sophomore
N 17 Winston Venable 5-11 223 Junior
CB 1 Kyle Wilson 5-10 186 Senior
CB 13 Brandyn Thompson 5-10 180 Junior
S 23 Jeron Johnson 5-11 194 Junior
S 8 George Iloka 6-3 207 Sophomore


Boise State Offense:

Pos. # Player Ht. Weight Class
Z 2 Austin Pettis 6-3 201 Junior
X 4 Titus Young 5-11 170 Junior
H 89 Tyler Shoemaker 6-1 207 Sophomore
LT 72 Matt Slater 6-4 290 Junior
LG 59 Will Lawrence 6-2 293 Junior
C 66 Thomas Byrd 5-11 284 Sophomore
RG 62 Kevin Sapien 6-4 286 Junior
RT 54 Michael Ames 6-4 281 Freshman
TE 85 Tommy Gallarda 6-5 249 Junior
QB 11 Kellen Moore 6-0 187 Sophomore
RB 27 Jeremy Avery 5-9 173 Junior
RB 6 D.J. Harper 5-9 198 Junior
FB 40 Richie Brockel 6-2 240 Senior


Oregon Defense:

Pos. # Player Ht. Weight Class
DE 39 Will Tukuafu 6-4 272 Senior
DT 88 Brandon Bair 6-7 250 Junior
DT 90 Blake Ferras 6-6 290 Senior
DE 58 Kenny Rowe 6-3 215 Junior
SLB 11 Eddie Pleasant 5-11 223 Sophomore
MLB 55 Casey Matthews 6-2 235 Junior
WLB 35 Spencer Paysinger 6-3 216 Junior
LCB 6 Walter Thurmond III 6-0 180 Senior
FS 2 T.J. Ward 5-11 201 Senior
ROV 14 Javes Lewis 6-1 185 Sophomore
RCB 37 Talmadge Jackson III 5-10 182 Junior


Boise State Special Teams:

Pos. # Player Ht. Weight Class
PK 35 Kyle Brotzman 5-10 201 Junior
Holder 46 Michael Choate 6-0 190 Senior
Punter 35 Kyle Brotzman 5-10 201 Junior
Snapper 44 Chris Roberson 6-0 222 Freshman
KR 4 Titus Young 5-11 170 Junior
KR 22 Doug Martin 5-9 201 Sophomore
PR 1 Kyle Wilson 5-10 186 Senior


Oregon Special Teams:

Pos. # Player Ht. Weight Class
PK 23 Morgan Flint 5-9 163 Senior
Holder 7 Nate Costa 6-1 215 Junior
Punter 49 Jackson Rice 6-3 225 Freshman
Snapper 46 Michael Clay 5-11 220 Freshman
KR 6 Walter Thurmond III 6-0 180 Senior
KR 21 LaMichael James 5-9 180 Freshman
PR 24 Kenjon Barner 5-11 180 Freshman

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