BSU Football: 5 Takeaways from Friday's Loss to MSU
Anyone that watched the Boise State-Michigan State game on Friday probably had to pinch themselves. No, not in that “these guys are amazing…are we sure this is Boise State?” kind of way. Rather in the disbelief that the Bronco offense could play so poorly and yet the Broncos still almost won the game.
Boise State had 206 yards of total offense. According to an Idaho Statesman story, that is the lowest offensive output since Chris Petersen first joined the BSU coaching staff back in 2001. The Bronco offense also failed to score a touchdown—something that has not happened since 1997.
It was pretty ugly. Sure, the Broncos graduated a lot of fine football players, but then every team graduates players every year. There were veterans coming back and experience at virtually every position.
Face it, the Broncos didn’t play well. The Broncos have been ranked for 62 straight polling weeks. Bronco fans can expect that streak to be broken. The Broncos didn’t lose by much to a Top 15 team, but they sure didn’t look all that great doing it. That will speak to the pollsters; it won’t matter that BSU covered the point spread, or could have won. What will matter is that the offense stumbled in East Lansing and the Bronco football team that took on the Spartans was a far cry from teams of the past.
The BSU coaches have their work cut out for them. Here, though, are some of the take-aways a couple of days removed from the loss.
Offensive Line Needs to Improve
The Bronco offensive line has some experience returning, but at the start of the game it looked like they were blocking on roller skates. BSU quarterback Joe Southwick was forced to scramble out of the pocket early in the game.
Yes, the Spartans were big and experienced, but BSU can expect that throughout the year. Standing up to pass block or clearing a hole for the running game to get started will be the challenge for that front six (throwing the tight end into the mix since, as a receiver, the tight end was underutilized as a target for the passing game Friday).
The game against Michigan State will be the blueprint for other teams that hope to knock off BSU.
Better Decisions in the Passing Game
Departed quarterback Kellen Moore did not have the strongest arm in college football but Moore anticipated where receivers would be better than any other Division I QB. Receivers would come out of the break and the ball would be right there. It almost seemed like a case of catch it or get hit with it.
Joe Southwick doesn’t have that kind of intuitive sense passing the football. Not being inside his helmet, one cannot say what he did or did not see. However, too many times he tried to force the ball through defenders to receivers and too many times he tried to cram the pigskin into receivers that were well covered.
He was lucky that MSU only got one interception. Had the MSU defense been as opportunistic as the Bronco defensive secondary, that pass knocked away in the fourth quarter on the key fourth down and 2 on the MSU 42 might have gone the distance the other way.
Some of the passes were badly under-thrown. Dan Paul is a big, bruising fullback. The ball was tossed in his direction once, and hit the ground at his feet. Paul, at 262 .lbs, was the closest approximation to letting the MSU defense feel what it would have been like to try to tackle its own Le’Veon Bell. The BSU fumble later in the game was a backwards pass that was not on target either.
Overall, Southwick was 15-31 for 169 yards and one interception. That simply won’t get the job done at the Division I level.
The Broncos Need to Find a Running Game
This had to be mentioned. Take care of the first two items (O line playing better, passing game clicking) and this will receive a boost. D.J. Harper is a solid talent, but he really didn’t have room to run throughout the game. Still, Boise State handed the ball to him 15 times. Harper ended up with a net of 8 yards rushing for the game. QB Joe Southwick, scrambling, netted 18 yards on four carries.
Drew Wright, listed as the No. 2 running back, didn’t get a carry, and the Broncos, in an effort to try to generate some speed, used freshman receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes on some end-arounds. Williams-Rhodes ended up with three carries for a net of 10 yards.
Trick plays will only last so long. They work because they are not utilized often and catch other teams by surprise. When one element of an offense is completely wiped out, the defense can focus on other areas and start shutting those down—whether that means that the passing game gets hammered, or the ‘trick’ plays are diagnosed before they can be effective.
Special Teams Were a Mixed Bag
Chris Potter scrambled on punt return for 17 yards. D.J. Harper had three kickoff returns for 71 yards. Bronco Nation probably breathed a sigh of relief when Michael Frisina nailed two field goals during the course of the game.
Punting needs to be improved. Too often Trevor Harman hit low line drives that didn’t go very far. He got fortunate with one punt that MSU backed away from and it rolled for 56 yards. Take that away and you wind up with four punts for 147 yards or an average of 36.75 yards per punt.
Defense Played Hard but Too Much
The Bronco defense solved everything except for Le’Veon Bell. Bell took over the game and wore out the Broncos. Linebacker Tommy Smith was the tackles’ leader for BSU, posting 12 total tackles for the game. Defensive linemen Mike Atkinson and DeMarcus Lawrence had 10 and nine, respectively. Defensive backs Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins tied with eight total tackles while linebacker J.C. Percy and nose Dextrell Simmons rounded out the Top Five with seven total tackles.
The Broncos also wound up with four take-aways, one of those resulting in the lone BSU touchdown on the Jeremy Ioane 43-yard interception return for the touchdown.
As much as the MSU defense showed weaknesses in the Bronco offense, the BSU defense showed the weakness and strength of the Spartan offense. Without Le’Veon Bell, the Spartans probably wouldn’t have won that game. Spartan QB Andrew Maxwell was not passing well when pressured; the only receiver he found with consistency (aside from Bell) was tight end Dion Sims, who had seven receptions for 65 yards.
On the downside, the Broncos had opportunities to hold Bell in check several times but arm tackles won’t work on a bruising power back like Bell. And the secondary coverage seemed a bit soft at times.
MSU finished the game with 39:19 minutes in terms of time of possession to Boise State’s 20:41. If the BSU defense is going to be on the field that much for the rest of the season, the Broncos will be in trouble.