BF.C BOWL GAME IN-DEPTH: Boise State defense

CORVALLIS – Let's take the magnifying glass to Boise State's D. The Broncos have many threats in the stop corps but who is the Big Kahuna, and why? What makes their defense unique, and what challenges will they present to Beavers in the Hawaii Bowl? (Dec. 24, ESPN, 5 p.m.) Will Sean Mannion have time to throw, and what needs to happen to make him effective? All that and a prediction, of sorts.

The BSU Front Seven – A Thundering Herd?
I watched some footage of the Boise State front seven and the first thought that came to my mind was "Damn, these guys are fast."

The Broncos, in contrast to many of the opponents that Oregon State has faced in recent memory, employ a d-end/outside linebacker, who has the option of lining up as either a ‘backer or down lineman, and typically specializes at getting to the QB. That's something that BSU has been very good at in 2013, notching 30 sacks as a defensive unit.

By my count, linebackers and D-linemen have been responsible for at least 26 of those sacks, and have proven to be dominant with the blitz due to the frequent rotation of their defensive front. BSU has a lot of substitution packages – ones built for speed, others built for brawn and so on. This rotation keeps an offensive line on their toes and forces them to deal with a bevy of differing styles of pass rushing throughout the game.

The combined efforts of the Broncos front line are altogether quite impressive, yet no one stands out more than Walter Camp second team All-America pick Demarcus Lawrence.

I've seen but highlight reels of Lawrence this season, and his numbers are enough to make any Beaver fan jittery. Lawrence has accrued 19.5 TFL, 10.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. If I'm Mannion in the film room, I've recently accrued some butterflies. And not the good kind.

Lawrence plays both sides of the line, meaning that BSU D-coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski can place the junior across from senior left tackle Michael Philipp, or freshman right tackle Sean Harlow and let him go to work. Both Harlow and Philipp have struggled to block both speed and size oriented D-linemen this season, and Lawrence might be the faster than any they've faced.

And then there are redshirt freshman WILL Ben Weaver and junior D-end Beau Martin, who have not-so-quietly aided Lawrence in his pursuit of opposing QB's this season. Martin has amassed the second most sacks for BSU this year with four, while Weaver has supplied ample pressure against the ground game and has proven more than capable of forcing QB's to throw early. Weaver leads the Broncos in tackles for with 86, a hefty 49 of which have come without help.

The short and sweet is that BSU can not only pressure the QB, they can do it with authority. They force the signal caller to move around in the pocket to an area where there is generally another defender waiting to give him a proper pop to the midsection, or make an interception.

Among those defenders are junior SAM linebacker Corey Bell, junior tackle Tyler Horn and his sophomore complement Armand Nance, or senior nose tackle Ricky Tjong-A- Tjoe, who have all proven formidable in their own right this regular season.

Good thing Mannion is such a terrific scrambler…Oh wait.

There is of course a tried and true way of combating the blitz if you can execute it.

Run Mike Riley, run.

There's also another factor in play here and it's that Boise State plays a level of competition that is not up to the Pac-12. But from my chair, Oregon State has not done enough up front to convince me they're going to be able to stuff a Mountain West opponent and coast to an easy win. I think they're going to be challenged. At the same time…

How About that Secondary?
It is in the secondary where BSU is the weakest if we are going by numbers alone. The Broncos are currently ranked 81st in the nation in yards allowed though the air, averaging out at 248.4 hashes conceded per game. They will be facing a Beaver passing attack that sits at third the BCS for passing offense, putting together an average of 382 yards per contest.

Mannion and his favorite target, Biletnikoff award winner Brandin Cooks, could have every chance to shred the Boise State secondary -- provided that the Beavs O-line can give Mannion a little breathing room, something they really struggled with during the Beavs' five game losing streak.

Cooks and sophomore split-end Richard Mullaney will be lining up against two cornerbacks in Donte Deayon and Bryan Douglas who have notched five and four interceptions, respectively. Further, both Deayon and Douglas to my eye have speed and can tackle well in space. So even though the secondary looks to be a weak spot, guys like Mullaney and redshirt freshman slotback Malik Gilmore will need to make, not expect, things to happen.

From my chair, the blight of BSU's secondary has not necessarily been a matter of physical talent, but rather a deficiency of cohesiveness and communication between guys like Deayon and Douglas with safeties Dillon Lukehart, Jeremy Ioane and Darin Thompson.

The group has only allowed 16 passing TD's to opponents in 2013, but has surrendered huge chunks of yardage in the process of defending the pass and trying to make a pick, something which OSU may be able to capitalize on with the cannon arm of Mannion and the Speed Racer mentality of Cooks.

However, my gut tells me this game will not come down to X's and O's, nor though the air, not if OSU wants to win. Boise State, all in all, has a stout defense, one that creates fissures in opposing offenses, ones they didn't know they had.

Once again, this game will come down to Riley's willingness to operate outside of the game plan they prescribed to virtually all of 2013. I believe OSU will need to run like hell, and use that nifty little screen game they've got working to throw the Broncos off balance. And then everything else can open up from there.

Put another way, OSU will need to adapt – both before and during the game.

For the first of this two-part series, In-Depth on the Boise State Offense, CLICK HERE

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