Boise State Football: What We Learned from the Week 1 Game vs. Michigan State

Martin Sondermann@@GamedayreporterAnalyst IISeptember 3, 2012

Boise State Football: What We Learned from the Week 1 Game vs. Michigan State

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    Boise State opened the season once again against a highly-ranked, difficult opponent from a major college football conference. In the previous three season openers, the Broncos have taken down No.16 Oregon in 2009, No. 6 Virginia Tech in 2010 and No.19 Georgia last season.

    However, 2012 would not bring the same kind of success the BCS-busting Broncos are accustomed to.

    Michigan State was ranked No.13 going into Friday night's contest and touting the lofty goals of a Big Ten championship and subsequent Rose Bowl. It may just achieve those dreams this season.

    It was a hard-fought, tough, sloppy but exciting game in East Lansing. Boise State came to play, but Michigan State was all about protecting its house. In the end, the Spartans took the victory, 17-13, leaving Boise State with a losing record at 0-1.

    When was the last time the Broncos had a losing record?

    Answer: The last time they faced a No.13 ranked opponent from a major conference.

    In 2005, the Broncos went to Georgia and came home 0-1 after being thoroughly thumped by the Bulldogs 48-14. Boise State then went on to lose its second game that same season to Oregon State, 27-30, but most fans who remember that game know that a very controversial call gave the Beavers the win.

    Boise State finished that season 9-4 after losing to Boston College in the MPC Computers Bowl.

    So, how will the Broncos respond to this year's disappointment? Will they rebound against Miami Ohio? Let's look at what we learned from the Michigan State game and what it might mean for the rest of the 2012 season.

We Learned That Michigan State's Defense Is Who We Thought They Were

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    The Spartans have one of the best defenses in the nation, and on Friday night, they proved it.

    Boise State was held to just 206 total yards. That is usually a halftime result for the Broncos, and much lower than the kind of yardage coach Petersen expects or is accustom to.

    New Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick completed just 15 of his 32 attempts and didn't throw a single touchdown pass. He did, however, throw an interception. His progress was thwarted all night by the fact that the Broncos couldn't do anything on the ground.

    Michigan State held the Broncos to just 37 yards rushing. All night long, they controlled the line of scrimmage and starting running back D.J. Harper. Harper couldn't break outside and couldn't find a hole inside. It had to be very frustrating for the senior.

    The Spartans defense proved that the nine returning starters from a year ago are still going strong. Opponents who face this team will realize that it is the strength of the 2012 squad.

    It will be interesting to see if Michigan State's defense can carry them all the way to the Rose Bowl. If Friday night is any indication, the answer has to be a resounding yes.

We Learned That the Boise State Offensive Line Needs to Step Up

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    Last season, the Broncos averaged well over 400 yards per game. This season, they are averaging just over 200. OK, it's only the first game, but the Boise State offense did not look like a typical Chris Petersen group.

    The offensive line looked good in the area of pass blocking, but as far as opening up running lanes, forget it. All night long, the powerful front seven of Michigan State closed gaps and created havoc in the Broncos backfield.

    This caused the running game to be non-existent and forced the brand-new Boise State quarterback into a near impossible situation.

    Lack of offensive production also contributed to inability of the Broncos defense to stop Le'Veon Bell down the stretch. Sure, he is an incredible running back, but when the time of possession favored the Spartans by a margin of 39:19 to 20:41, how can you expect a defense not to get exhausted?

    The Broncos are going to have to work on the running game especially if they are going to succeed this season. However, it all starts on the O-line, and you know Coach Petersen will make that a focus over the next two weeks.

    If the line can open holes, it helps the running back get some traction. If the running back is able to make some noise, it allows the passing game to spring into action. It all starts with the foundation of the line, and without their production, the whole offensive factory comes grinding to a halt.

    Other players might grab the headlines and accolades, but it is the offensive line that dictates what an offense does. Friday night, we learned that the veteran offensive line of the Broncos needs to step up if Boise State is going to compete for a Mountain West Championship.

We Learned That Le'Veon Bell Might Be a Heisman Contender

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    What can you say about Le'Veon Bell that isn't being said?

    This guy was incredible against the Broncos. To say he was the workhorse for the Spartans is a drastic understatement. He carried the ball 44 times for 210 yards and both of the Michigan State touchdowns. He also caught six balls for an additional 55 yards.

    His leap over a Bronco defender early in the game set the tone for the rest of the night.

    The increasingly tired Boise State defense had a very hard time slowing Bell down all night, but especially down the stretch.

    If this guy continues to play like this all season and stays healthy, you can expect the Heisman vote to be a blowout.

We Learned That the Broncos Need a Power Back

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    D.J. Harper is a powerful running back, but not powerful enough to take on the middle of the Michigan State defensive line.

    Harper's style demands open spaces and, at the very least, a small opening to run through. He is not the kind of running back that can push, pull or move a pile when needing a few yards.

    So do the Broncos have such a player on their roster? Yes, but he was suspended for Friday night's game, and no word yet if he will see the field any time soon.

    Jay Ajayi had a knee injury last season and then ended up getting in some legal trouble. He was suspended for Friday night's game, perhaps because of last season's shenanigans, but could have been very helpful.

    Ajayi looked very good in the fall scrimmage. He looked like the type of running back Boise State could have used against the Spartans. In that fall scrimmage, he was moving whole piles and gutting out extra yardage like a snowplow in the Sawtooths mid January. However, his absence Friday night could have been costly.

    D.J. Harper was unable to get the momentum he desired, but most of that was the fact that running lanes were rare on the night. Ajayi, on the other hand, could have been a bruiser and taken some of the middle-of-the-line plunges and possibly created a bit of space for Harper to contribute.

    If Boise State is going to have a running game this season, it will have to open lanes, create space and have a running back on roster that can move the middle.

We Learned That Joe Southwick Isn't There Yet, but He Could Get There

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    Some Bronco fans seem ready to give up on their new quarterback, Joe Southwick, after the Michigan State loss. However, fans and critics shouldn't be so eager to write him off.

    First, he faced one of the best defenses in college football Friday night in his debut start. Considering all that could have gone wrong, Southwick's performance wasn't nearly as bad as some might charge.

    Second, the lack of a running game put a lot of pressure on the junior to make something happen. Joe was actually the leading rusher on the team with 18 yards. In fact, although the Broncos only had 206 yards, Southwick was responsible for 187 of those.

    On the night, the Bronco QB went 15-of-32 for 169 yards and one interception. Not a good night by any means, but certainly not the disaster some might claim. Again, void of any running game, the pressure on Southwick was tremendous, and it should encourage Bronco fans that he didn't have a meltdown in East Lansing.

    Throughout the game, Southwick had glimpses of what could be. There were several "almost" incredible plays, including three late deep passes, any one of them could have been the game winner. However, they were thrown just out of the reach of the receiver or in one case, under-thrown because of poor footing on Southwick's part.

    You have to believe that now that this first pressure-filled opener is out of the way, Southwick will take the lessons from it and move forward. The extra week off before the next contest probably helps him reflect, assess and enter the Miami Ohio game a bit more confident and ready to go.

    A home game is just what the doctor ordered for Southwick. If he comes out on September 15 against Miami Ohio and is partnered with a solid running game, expect Joe to have a stellar performance.

    In fact, you might want to make note of this prediction. Southwick should throw for over 300 yards and have at least two touchdowns.

    Joe Southwick made plenty of mistakes against Michigan State, but with the dramatic lack of running support and considering the environment and team they were playing, Boise State can be encouraged that the junior will be a solid leader as the season goes on.

We Learned That the Broncos Defensive Secondary Is Who We Thought They Were

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    Going into Friday night's contest, Boise State knew that it would be OK in the area of pass defense.

    With several returning players and exciting new faces on the roster, the secondary could be one of the best in the nation.

    The Broncos secondary forced all four Michigan State turnovers, and Jeremy Ioane's interception and 43-yard run back was the only touchdown the Broncos scored on the night.

    In all, three interceptions and one forced fumble kept the Broncos in the game, and they can give credit to the defensive secondary for making this game much closer than it might have been otherwise.

    Michigan State's offense finished the night with 248 yards passing, no passing touchdowns and three interceptions. Contribute all of that to a pesky, talented and relentless Boise State defensive secondary.

    Look for good things from this group all season long.

We Learned That the Kicking Game for Boise State Can Be an Asset

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    Another bright spot for Boise State was the kicking game. Yes, you read that right, the kicking game.

    Senior Michael Frisina made his only extra-point try, but it was his two field goals that kept the Broncos in the game. In fact, it was Frisina's second field goal that gave the Broncos a 13-10 lead going into the fourth quarter.

    Trevor Harman also did a good job punting the ball. He had a total of five punts averaging 40.6 yards, with his longest being 56.

    All together, the kicking game for Boise State seems to be in very good condition this season. Bronco fans are no doubt hoping that continues.

We Learned That the Boise State Defensive Line and Linebackers Must Play Better

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    All night long, the Boise State defensive line found itself on its heels. The offensive line of the Spartans was able to dictate the progress of the game, and Le'Veon Bell was almost unstoppable.

    The front four were ineffective in slowing down and stopping the rushing game of Michigan State, and the linebackers were dismal at times when it comes to keeping Bell contained. Linebacker Tommy Smith did have a decent performance, as did defensive lineman Mike Atkinson, but decent won't cut it down the stretch.

    Missed tackles, and being beat off the ball were habits formed early and often for the newly-rebuilt Broncos front.

    If Boise State wants to be the team it has been known as being, it will need a huge improvement from its defensive line and linebackers. The team cannot expect to win the Mountain West unless those players step up in a big way.

We Learned That the Broncos Have the Potential of Being Very Good Again in 2012

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    With all the criticism and Monday morning quarterbacking spinning around Bronco land, it is easy to forget the huge task Chris Petersen and his staff faced going into this season.

    In the grand scheme of things, Petersen took a team with 15 new starters, including a rookie quarterback, into a very hostile environment, and faced possibly the best team in the Big Ten conference and almost won the game.

    It was a gutsy, gritty and tough performance by a new group of starters and a handful of veterans.

    The Broncos had a real chance of taking a victory home Friday night, but watched it slip away in the fourth quarter. That fact alone should have Bronco Nation encouraged.

    Petersen has helped to build something special at Boise State, and to continue to be competitive at this level says a lot about him, his coaches, the players and the program itself.

    Look for a huge jump in performance in the coming weeks as the team gels together. Look for the Broncos of 2012 to continually get better and better, and look for them to climb their way back into the rankings and contend for the Mountain West title.

We Learned That Bronco Fans Have to Avoid Becoming Spoiled

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    Hopefully, Bronco fans will expect excellence without becoming a spoiled, whiny bunch. Other fans of top programs in the nation have become known for the latter.

    Without mentioning any names, Bronco Nation is too classy to sink into the swamp of fair weathered fanaticism or get caught up in the tide of elitist expectancy.

    Boise State fans should sooner avoid the attitude of arrogance and duck the punch of those who would rather sip its 12-Pac than step down from the pillars their Colosseum is built upon.

    Bronco fans should take the bull by the horns and make sure not to badger their own team in criticism when they should be celebrating what they have accomplished and continue to achieve.

    Boise State fans can't afford to get swept up in the hurricane of political posturing or be suckered into a conversation by those who think they have the tiger by the tail.

    Just be who you are. You are Bronco Nation. The nation that rises above it all. The nation that demands excellence without expecting people to be perfect. The nation that does it differently than most, without the silver spoon or entitlement issues.

    Keep cheering your Broncos on, Bronco fans, and don't allow what the critics say or the pundits think to dictate your view, expectations or the enjoyment it brings to see your team take the field.

    Whatever you do Bronco Nation, don't become a jaded group who demands too much, but gives back only when it suits them. Continue to be Bronco Nation and don't let anything spoil that.