To The Top--Bronco Quarterbacks

Writing an article about how Boise State's quarterbacks can improve is challenging. You see, the Bronco QB's broke an NCAA record for the lowest interception ratio last year.

This series focuses on ways the 2010 Boise State football team can improve.  At this stage in its history, the focus of each unit should be on coming as close as it can to being the best in the nation.  Being named All-Western Athletic Conference is not enough to get the Broncos where they want to be.  

 This is a mouthful for a team that 14 years ago suffered through an embarrassing 2-10 beginning season in their initial foray into major college football.  But that is how far this team has come and to continue to improve, it is what the Boise State players should be focusing on—not what has been achieved last year or in the recent past but what they can do to get better at this point.  

The second article in the series looks at the Boise State quarterbacks.  To list the many attributes would require a five-page article and would waste time.  To heap praise on the Broncos serves no purpose; it doesn't make them better nor does it say anything people do not already know.  To truly break new ground, we must not be afraid to go into the unknown, to set new benchmarks and then to hurdle those benchmarks.

When you feature a quarterback that did as well as Boise State 's Kellen Moore did last year (277-431 for 3,536 yards and 39 touchdowns and only three interceptions), it is tough to find fault or, as this series attempts to do, find things that he can improve on.  After all, he set an all-time NCAA record for the lowest interception ratio in college football history.  Moore probably wasn't the best quarterback in the nation last year.  Florida's Tim Tebow finished with a higher quarterback rating.  Moore did hold the lead until late in the season and I suggest that perhaps the absence of a third "go-to guy" influenced that.  Moore finished 20th in passing yards per game.  He finished second in TD passes to Houston's Case Keenum, but 13th in completion percentage.  So Kellen was certainly "one of the best" but hard to say he was #1 in the nation.  I do believe that the Boise State quintet of Moore, Michael Coughlin, Joe Southwick, Mike Tamburo and Grant Hedrick, however, is in fact the best in the country.  

To be true to this series, though, I have to find areas that the Bronco quarterbacks can improve.  This requires one to be very picky.  Keep in mind that everyone knows the many attributes that Moore specifically brings to the position.  The focus of this article (and this series) is not on the great things that Moore does so let's put them aside for now.  Instead, we will try to look constructively at how he can improve.  There are only two things I can think of—perhaps you can think of others.  

Out of all the passes that Kellen threw last year, there's really only one that I can think of that was a mistake.  That was in the Louisiana Tech game when, pressured on one sideline, he threw across to the other side, where a Bulldog was waiting and took it in for a touchdown.  Kellen knew it was a mistake the instant he threw it.   

Instead, I'd like to focus on something that he might not know.  Yet he probably knows this as well.  All of last season, Austin Pettis and Titus Young were super and Moore threw to them constantly.  I would have liked (and this is as much or more the call of the coaches) to see him throw to the third, fourth and fifth receivers more often and develop them into game-changers as well.  Now before you say that Moore did a superb job of spreading the ball around (which is true), when I say develop other receivers I mean 30 or more catches on the season—someone you can count on, say if your star receiver gets hurt.   

The point is that when Pettis went down, Moore was not as effective.  He was 17-33 against Nevada .  Absolutely, he threw five TD passes and his efficiency rating ended up being 168, better than six previous games.  If you saw the game, however, a casual observer would have noticed that he wasn't as crisp as he had been previously.  He was 19-30 against New Mexico State with one touchdown pass and an efficiency rating down to 150.  Against TCU, he finished 23-39 (pretty good against a tough defense) but no touchdown passes and a rating all the way down at 104.      

You can say that he was off, or the defense played him better or whatever.  TCU is an especially tough defense which accounts for part of the struggling (just as Ohio State , Alabama or Florida would be!)  I suggest at least part of that was because Pettis and fellow receiver Tyler Shoemaker were out and Young was the only receiver left whom Moore had connected with more than 35 times.  Tight end Kyle Efaw became that third receiver in the Fiesta Bowl with a huge game, to both Efaw and Moore 's credit.  Still, remember it was punter Kyle Brotzman that threw the big pass to Efaw to put Boise State in position to finally score an offensive touchdown and pull ahead again after losing a 10-point lead.  Further, it took a great Fiesta Bowl to even get Efaw over 30 catches for the year.  

Again I realize this is nitpicking but it seems to me that had Moore been hitting brother Kirby (who had just 21 catches on the season), Mitch Burroughs (who had just 11) or Chris Potter (who had a grand total of eight) more often during the year, he might have had an easier time vs. TCU (or Nevada or New Mexico State for that matter).  There's a familiarity that comes with routine.  It is true that when Pettis and Shoemaker went down, Moore still led the Broncos to three more wins like the great quarterback he is.   

But had he clicked with Kirby, Burroughs and Potter like clockwork regularly during the year, that magic would have been there even with the fortunate injuries.  Again, the coaches being the outstanding coaches they are have probably already figured this out, hindsight being 20/20.  The importance of getting that third, fourth and fifth receiver 30 receptions or more is even more relevant this year for Pettis and Young graduate and it is important for Moore and the other three receivers to be on the same page from Day One of the 2011 season.  This season, Moore has the great fortune to be blessed with three more great receivers:  Geraldo Hiwat, Aaron Burks and Preston Minter.   

It does not matter which three receivers other than Pettis and Young have outstanding seasons—just that there are five that Moore develops a strong connection with.

There is the mobility issue also.   Moore 's offensive line does a great job of protecting him, and Kellen's three and five-step drops and quick release are superb.  Because of this, he almost never gets sacked.  However, there will be a time or two when the protection breaks down.  Moore seems to have a great knack for escaping trouble, scrambling, and then spotting an open receiver—he reminds me so much of the great John Elway in this way, as if he had eyes in the back of his head.  

That said Moore may be fortunate enough to play a Southeastern Conference team in the bowl season.  Those defenses feature not only big but catlike quick linemen.   Moore is never going to be fast or be able to scramble 30 yards downfield—that is not his style.  But he does need to work on his speed and some moves that may come in quite handy trying to run away from an SEC defender.  This will also help his draftability in the NFL.

He already has so much talent, so much pure instinct and so much knowledge of the game and he studies constantly.  If he can add that dimension to his arsenal he can be even better.  Again he's not going to be Fran Tarkenton but it is something to work on.  

The other Bronco quarterbacks—Coughlin, Southwick and Hedrick, we have not seen near as much of course.  There is no doubt in my mind that Coughlin could lead the Broncos to victory as well and the same is probably true for Southwick and Hedrick.  The Bronco coaches have done a superb job in recruiting high-quality signal-callers to Boise for years.  This is perhaps the best group they have ever assembled.   

Their job is to know the offense, work hard with the Bronco receivers on timing patterns, and be ready in case called upon.  B.J. Rhode did not know when or if he would get to start but an unfortunate injury to starter Ryan Dinwiddie made Rhode the man of the hour in 2002.   Boise State did not lose under Rhode who performed brilliantly.  So Coughlin, Southwick and Hedrick too must be ready.  

Listed as the #2 QB, it is important that when Coughlin gets into the game, he lead the Broncos into the end zone on nearly every possession.  There should be no letup from starter Moore to backup Coughlin.  I am not saying Boise State should run up the score—that would not only be unsportsmanlike but also un-Broncolike.  What they should be doing, however, is to have the mentality that they will not be stopped.  

What we have seen so far from Southwick has been excellence, but we have not seen enough to offer educated advice at this point other than the general advice to any backup that is given two paragraphs above.  Tamburo, also, has looked good what we have seen of him although he did not play in the Spring Game. We are still learning about Grant Hedrick, a quarterback with eerie similarities to Moore .

The job of coming up with ways Boise State can improve is not easy.  They did not get to this point without amazing players and the best coaching staff in the land.  As we are pondering this topic, I am certain the Bronco coaches are already working with the QB's on the very same issues I am bringing up.  The status quo isn't a very good thing in football and despite Boise State 's historic rise, wins are never a given.  There is always room for improvement and never time for complacency (among fans, coaches or players).   

It bears repeating that I feel the Bronco quarterbacks are the best in the nation.  In the next article, we will look at how a great group of defensive linemen can improve to where they too can say they are the best in the nation.

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