Boise State Game Preview

SEATTLE - The Boise State Broncos travel to Montlake Saturday night to face a familiar foe in the Washington Huskies in the newly-renovated Husky Stadium. Having played each other in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas to end last season, both teams are set to go at it again to begin their respective 2013 seasons.

The Broncos are fairly young this year with 13 new starters but have an established contributor and senior leader in quarterback Joe Southwick.

The fifth-year senior threw for 264 yards and two touchdowns against the Huskies last year while running for 39 yards, most of them coming in near-sack or third-down situations. With Chris Petersen at the helm of this well-coached Broncos team, don't expect Boise State to bow down to the Huskies just because of a new stadium and atmosphere.

Here is an in-depth preview of the team who will be christening the newly renovated Husky Stadium along with the Huskies.

Players to Watch:
#2 JR 6'3" 222-pound WR Matt Miller
2012 stats: 66 REC for 769 YDS, 11.7 YPC, 52 long, 5 TD

Sneak Peak: Miller is Joe Southwick's go-to-guy. When it's third-down and Husky Stadium is arguably louder than it has ever been, Miller will be the guy the Huskies' secondary need to keep an eye on. He was named to the All-MWC Second-team and will most likely be a first teamer when it is all said and done. Miller is a very strong receiver and has the ability to go up and snatch a pass out of the air in jump-ball situations. The Broncos have a solid core of receivers, including Kirby Moore and Geraldo Boldewijn (along with multi-purpose athlete Shane Williams-Rhodes) so it will be important for the UW secondary to cover their respective underneath and over-the-top routes. Miller doesn't have the speed that some of the other receivers have but he is their main possession wide receiver. He knows how to get open.

Husky Comparison: Kasen Williams
#8 JR 6'3" 245-pound DE Demarcus Lawrence
2012 stats: 48 total tackles, 13.5 TFL, 9.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FR for 1 TD, 4 FF

Sneak Peak: This guy is an absolute beast on the end. The Huskies did not get the chance to face Lawrence last year in the bowl game because of his suspension, but they will sure feel his presence on the field this year. Lawrence has the speed to beat any offensive tackle in the game, but has the strength as well so he can bull-rush when he chooses. No matter where he is on the field, Lawrence draws attention and in this aspect, he is a game-changer. It would wise for the Huskies to double team Lawrence with a tight end or have a running back keep an eye on the right side of the line where he will be coming from. He missed two games last year and still put up impressive numbers. Many felt that he should have been MWC Defensive Player of the Year and there is no question that Lawrence will be an All-MWC First Teamer this year. He led the MWC in sacks and was tied for the lead in tackles for loss. If he stays out of trouble, Lawrence will be a sure-fire future top NFL Draft pick. But for now, he has to worry about getting past Ben Riva, Micah Hatchie, and anybody else UW throws at him.

Husky Comparison: A faster, stronger, more versatile Josh Shirley
#10 JR 5'10" 190-pound S Jeremy Ioane
2012 stats: 70 total tackles, 2.0 TFL, 0.0 sacks, 3 INT and 1 TD, 1 FF

Sneak Peak: Sometimes, big things come in small packages and that is exactly the case with Ioane and the hits he gives out. He's very active at his safety position and is all over the field when the Broncos are on defense. Ioane is really the do-it-all guy for Boise State as he can stop the run and cover any receiver. He really has the strength and speed to do both. Ioane and LB Blake Renaud are the leaders of this defense, Ioane specifically in the secondary. He will be tasked with watching John Ross and Jaydon Mickens to see if they go over the top with their routes, and if they do, expect Ioane to be close behind, if not right there with them.

Husky Comparison: Sean Parker
#11 SO 5'6" 157-pound WR Shane Williams-Rhodes
2012 stats: 25 REC for 142 YDS, 5.7 YPC, 19 long, 1 TD
Rushing: 21 CAR for 97 YDS, 4.6 YPC, 28 long, 2 TD

Sneak Peak: Husky fans know Williams-Rhodes all too well as he had some flashy, big kick returns against UW in last year's bowl game, notably the 47-yard return that set up Boise State's game winning field goal. Williams-Rhodes changes the whole game with his speed and his size actually gives him an advantage in some cases. When he is running behind blockers he is hard to track and can also slip under would-be tacklers. A whole new element is added to the Boise State offense when Williams-Rhodes is on the field because you have to account for his blazing speed and fancy moves. He can line-up all over the field and his impact isn't only felt in one aspect of the game. He is an excellent offensive player, as well as a special teams player. Williams-Rhodes learned a lot over his first year of college football and I only expect him to be better this year.

Husky Comparison: A smaller Jaydon Mickens
#13 JR 6'2" 243-pound LB Blake Renaud
2012 stats: 46 total tackles, 0.5 TFL, 0 sacks, 0 INT, 1 FF

Sneak Peak: With the departure of senior LB J.C. Percy, a leader and the leading tackler on the team, Renaud has some big shoes to fill. Coming out of high school, Renaud was a skinny linebacker who didn't seem like he would succeed at the D1 level. But as Boise State has done with most of their players, Renaud has developed into a veteran leader on defense. He was sixth on the team in tackles last year and has added some very good weight to his 6-foot-2 frame. Because of the added weight and strength, Renaud has come to be known as a big-hitter. Renaud is a great run-stuffer at his linebacker position as well and puts a ton of pressure on himself to perform even better, especially with the loss of two key starters within BSU's linebacking corps. Every player on the defense now looks up to Renaud, and most think he is ready to handle the overall pressure that comes with the job.

Husky Comparison: Princeton Fuimaono
#16 SR 6'1" 202-pound QB Joe Southwick
2012 stats: 248-371 for 2730 yards, 66.8% completion, 7.36 YPA, 19 TD, 7 INT, 141.8 RAT
Rushing: 46 CAR for 121 YDS, 2.6 YPC, 17 long, 0 TD

Sneak Peak: The face of the team is arguably senior leader and quarterback Joe Southwick. Southwick started off the 2012 season a bit slow; he didn't surpass 200-yards passing in each of the first nine games last season. However, Southwick was spot on the last four games of the season. He threw for nine touchdowns and only one interception after those first nine games and like Husky fans all know, led the Broncos to a MAACO Bow Las Vegas win.

Southwick doesn't have the strongest arm but his accuracy is exceptional. He seems to anticipate throws very well and as mentioned above, his favorite target is Matt Miller. Leading up to the Washington game this year, not a ton has been said about Southwick's mobility. His legs showed up big in last year's game against UW and expect them to be a factor in this year's game as well. I don't want to overblow the notion that Southwick is a scrambler because he truly is not, but it is something to look out for.

Husky Comparison: Keith Price
#27 SO 6' 220-pound RB Jay Ajayi
2012 stats: 82 CAR for 548 YDS, 6.7 YPC, 71 long, 4 TD
Receiving: 1 REC for 14 YDS, 14 YPC, 14 long, 0 TD

Sneak Peak: Boise State always seems to have 1,000-yard rushers in their offensive backfield, and with the departure of D.J. Harper, Ajayi should step right in and become the next great Bronco running back. The strength of this team will be the running game, and this year's backfield depth is exceptional. Even as Harper's backup, Ajayi averaged 6.7 yards per carry. Most starting college running backs don't come close to that average. Ajayi is probably the best offensive player on the team now and will be the most important player to contain.

This offseason Ajayi shed some unneeded weight, and because of that he has gained speed. Along with being an explosive runner, Ajayi is a tough runner as well and is hard to bring down. In his second year recovering from an ACL tear, Ajayi says it feels fine and he is 100 percent healthy. Although Southwick may be the face of the team for now, Ajayi could take over that role if he lives up to the hype this season.

Husky Comparison: A slightly bigger Bishop Sankey
#43 SR 6'3" 300-pound DT Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe
2012 stats: 37 total tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 0 INT, 0 FF

Sneak Peak: When most people look at the BSU defensive line, the first name you think of is Demarcus Lawrence. However, the biggest and most experienced man on the line is Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe. He is a big, strong defensive tackle who should match up well with Washington center Mike Criste. Tjong-A-Tjoe has the ability to stuff the run because of his size and quickness. You will probably find him in the backfield more often than not, either recording a tackle for loss or pressuring the quarterback.

Fellow defensive tackle Tutulupeatau Mataele has been suspended for academic reasons for the Washington game; this could hurt Tjong-A-Tjoe's production. Although they have never played together in an actual game, both have shown that they feed off one another in scrimmages. Despite Mataele's suspension, Tjong-A-Tjoe should still have a good game Saturday night.

Husky Comparison: A more nimble Danny Shelton
What the Offense Looks Like:
The tricks of the Bronco offense are always in place, but the coaches have implemented a change in pace - much like UW. After talking to multiple people who have been around Boise State's spring and fall practices, it has been observed that the team is moving towards a more up-tempo, no-huddle offense. But what team isn't moving to that kind of offense these days? The offense isn't like Oregon's offense, but there should still be a significant uptick compared to years' past.

This up-tempo offense does not necessarily mean spread, as the strength of this offensive attack looks to be in the running game. The Broncos still have a very strong passing attack with QB Joe Southwick, but the true star of the team, even if he may be relatively unknown to some, is sophomore running back Jay Ajayi. He did not see the majority of carries last year since he was a backup to 1,000-yard rusher D.J. Harper, but the job is all Ajayi's this year. Most people believe Ajayi will step right into the role that D.J. Harper left behind and will become another 1,000-yard rusher in Boise State's rich running back history. The offensive side of the ball is definitely the strength of this team, as the offensive line is experienced and should be much improved since last year, but the skill on the defensive side of the ball is not too shabby either.
What the Defense Looks Like:
The key to Boise State having a successful game on defense is getting to the quarterback. With First Team All-MWC DE Demarcus Lawrence on the job, the Broncos will look to do just that Saturday night in Seattle. However, Lawrence is not alone as massive Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe also generates a very solid pass rush. If Tjong-A-Tjoe's counterpart Tutulupeatau Mataele wasn't suspended for academic reasons, this Boise State defensive line would be scary.

The linebacking core on this Boise State defense is solid and is led by MLB Blake Renaud. As stated above, the key for the defense is getting a solid pass rush and the linebackers will need to help out with that. With two new starters at cornerback, Washington's wide receivers could have a big day. The Broncos will need to make sure Keith Price does not have time to find his open receivers down the field.

The BSU defense has done away with their "nickel" position this year and now the fifth DB/hybrid will be considered more of a strong side linebacker. Because of this the Broncos might have more of a 4-3 look at times on defense with the fourth defensive lineman actually looking more like Washington's 'RUSH' player.

As the newcomers go, so does this defense. If the young players can't maintain focus Saturday night in what's expected to be an electric atmosphere, it could be a long flight home to Boise.
Three Keys to the Game:
1. Stop the Boise State running game - Jay Ajayi is the strength of this Boise State team and if the Huskies can shut down the run early, they should find success in making Joe Southwick throw. Although Southwick has the ability to burn a defense, Ajayi is even more of a threat, so if the Huskies shut down Ajayi, they should have a good shot at containing the Boise State offense.

2. Get Keith Price in a rhythm - Keith Price seems to always perform better when he is just in that offensive rhythm and I think the no-huddle, up-tempo offense will help out with that a ton. Price needs to just play and get lost in the game. He doesn't need to think so much while he's playing. Price should also be able to capitalize on the height of the Boise State cornerbacks, as both are shorter than 5-foot-10. I expect Price to be better than last year, but by how much remains to be seen.

3. Contain Demarcus Lawrence on the edge - Husky fans really don't know what is coming in Lawrence since he did not play in the bowl game last year, but they will know once the game starts. Lawrence is almost on that level of an elite pass-rusher, if not already there. The Washington offensive line will need to know where Lawrence is at all times in order to make sure Keith Price's mind remains sound and his jersey clean.
Boise State
1. Contain Bishop Sankey - Sankey destroyed the Broncos last year in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. If he does that again, I think Boise State would be the luckiest team in the world if they escaped with a win. But I don't think they will if Sankey puts up numbers close to the same area code to last year.

2. Play like experienced starters on defense - This is one of Chris Petersen's youngest teams at Boise State. Add in the fact that the Broncos will be playing in the newly-renovated Husky Stadium opener and there is a lot of room for mistakes. The young guys will need to keep their composure and focus if they want any chance at winning this game.

3. Get creative with the offense and throw in a few trick plays, as usual - Both teams are familiar with one another, so expect change-ups in both offenses. Boise State is well known for their trick plays and I think if they scatter some in Saturday they should be able to capitalize off their cleverness as long as they come at the right times.
Prediction: UW 31-23
Statistics sources: Sports Reference – College Football, ESPN
Boise State sources: Drew Roberts, Top Stories