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Boise State Football: Fixing the Broncos' Offense

Martin SondermannAnalyst IIOctober 21, 2016

Boise State Football: Fixing the Broncos' Offense

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    "We'll get it right," is what coach Chris Petersen said in his postgame interview following one of the strangest games in recent memory for Boise State.

    What he was referring to was the fact that the Broncos offense had a dismal outing against BYU. It was the second time in three games that the once-powerful scoring machine of the orange-and-blue was feeling much more blue than orange, as they were held without a single offensive touchdown.

    Against BYU, Chris Petersen's once-feared offensive powerhouse produced only 261 yards of total offense without a single point being placed on the scoreboard. The Broncos' only score came on a pick-six by big defensive lineman Mike Atkinson—which proved to be the game-winning touchdown.

    If it hadn't been for the absolutely amazing performance of the Boise State defense, this game would have been a disaster for the Broncos. In the end it was a 7-6 victory, but it felt more like a tie.

    Most Boise State fans were left with a strange, empty feeling, which is something that shouldn't happen after a win. However, with what Bronco fans witnessed on offense Thursday night, you can't help but understand their bittersweet reaction.

    In that same postgame press conference, Petersen went on to say that he and his staff were going to "analyze everything," noting that two big issues that had to be resolved were red-zone and goal-line play. But those might only be the tip of the iceberg.

    When you look closely at the offensive issues the Broncos were having against the Cougars, you find several problems. Some of those issues seem only to need minor tweaks, but others might require coaches to move mountains. Either way, they all need to be corrected.

Were the Coaches Most to Blame?

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    First-year offensive coordinator Robert Prince has taken some of the blame for what has transpired on offense this season so far, and for good reason. After all, he is the man in charge of the Broncos offense.

    The biggest area of criticism seems to be in the area of play-calling. However, early in the BYU game, the play-calling seemed to be solid—at first.

    The Broncos were mixing it up early with screens, sweeps, runs between the tackles and even deep passes. While they didn't hit it deep, on their second series, the Broncos earned a pass interference call that helped them get in position for a field goal—which went painfully wide right.

    The real problem came at the end of that second series, when the Broncos went into a wildcat formation. Joe Southwick was moving the ball well and finding a rhythm, but then on a 3rd-and-6, they took him out of the game. Chris Potter came in, and on a wildcat option play the Broncos were stifled.

    It seems that if the Broncos want their young quarterback to improve, they need to allow him the best available situation to succeed. Taking him out of the game when he is on a roll just doesn't make a lot of sense to many.

    The next real big question mark was a 4th-and-2 on the Broncos' own 22-yard line. Instead of punting, Boise State decided to fake a punt—seriously? They didn't get it, and it put a lot of pressure on the Broncos defense. However, as they did all night, the defense responded and got the ball back on an interception.

    Southwick then did some things to give the Broncos some space. He hit a huge first-down pass to Matt Miller. But on that series following the BYU turnover, the Broncos had to waste a timeout because the play wasn't quick enough from the sidelines to Southwick. That was a problem against Michigan State as well.

    If Boise State wants their new quarterback to succeed, they must give him every opportunity. Getting the plays to him late won't help the process.

    Southwick led the Broncos down the field again, but holding on the offense hurt Boise State and put Joe in a third down with 17 yards to go.

    What happened next? Another wasted timeout because of a substitution problem. Again, if the Broncos want to get their young quarterback a rhythm, they need to clean up some of these coaching issues.

    At that point in the game, the Broncos made another questionable call. Southwick hit a screen to Matt Miller for a gain of 13. However, instead of lining up for a field goal, the coaching staff decided to go for it on 4th-and-4.

    Yes, the kicker missed the first one, but if a team wants their kicker to improve, they should probably give him some game experience. After all, the only way a person can succeed is if they are given the power to fail. That is how lessons are learned, and in this case, a second field goal try would have been prudent.

    After several decent drives led by Southwick, the Broncos came away with nothing. You can't blame that on the quarterback, the running back or any other player. All of that rests at the feet of the coaching staff.

    Southwick then was allowed to run the no-huddle offense, and he looked great. However, on fourth down in field goal range, what do the Broncos do? They called a pass into the end zone. Huh? Kick a field goal! Or, at the very least, try for the four yards and a first down. But a low-percentage pass into coverage in the end zone?

    It was puzzling that the coaching staff chose to destroy the work Southwick and the rest of the offense had produced. At this point in the game, the score should have been 6-0 at least. But at the half it was tied, 0-0.

    That tie was broken when the Broncos scored their only touchdown of the game. It wasn't on offense. Defensive lineman Mike Atkinson intercepted a ball and rumbled in for a 36-yard touchdown.

    In the second half, the Broncos' players hurt themselves several times with penalties in key situations. On a few occasions those penalties thwarted a first down or a big gain.

    Joe Southwick did some good things, including a quick kick that pinned BYU on their own 1-yard line. However, the Broncos got the ball back and couldn't score starting with a 1st-and-goal at the 1-yard line.

    Here is where some serious play-calling issues were evident. It is easy to understand that coaches think they should just be able to run up the gut and get one yard. However, against BYU it wasn't happening.

    How about a fake to Harper and a naked bootleg or quarterback roll-out with a tight end escaping into the end zone? Tackle eligible? Statue of liberty? Quick slant? Mike Atkinson at running back? Anything would have been better than what transpired.

    It seems like there were far better options than to keep running between tackles when everyone in the stadium knew it was coming. The Broncos did try a screen out to Harper, but he came up just short. However, that probably should have come on first down and not third.

    On fourth down, Boise State then tried a quarterback sneak. The line didn't move an inch, and BYU took over on downs.

    At the very least, the Broncos should have tried a field goal. That would have made the game 10-0 and out of reach for BYU with the way their offense was being stifled by the Broncos' D.

    After BYU scored and missed their two-point conversion, Joe Southwick led his offense down the field and ran down the clock.

    In the end, the biggest factors that seemed to stifle the Boise State offense mostly come back to coaching.

    Between late plays coming into the huddle, substitution errors, not allowing the kicker to kick, questionable play calls at crucial moments in the game, gambles like a fake punt deep in your own territory and stopping your quarterback's rhythm by replacing him for a wildcat package all contributed to the ineffective offensive production by the Broncos.

Is It All Joe Southwick's Fault?

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    Joe Southwick is taking a lot of heat in his third-ever game as the Boise State starting quarterback.

    However, as previously mentioned, the coaching staff should take much of the blame for Southwick's disappointing performance against BYU.

    Joe does have some key areas he must improve on, however.

    The first glaring need has to be his play inside the red zone. Whether it is nerves or not, only Joe knows, but he seems to become far less confident and tries to force things when he gets close.

    His throws sail, his feet get happy and he locks on to a single target. Which brings up another big issue for Southwick.

    There are times during the game when Joe simply locks onto his first target and never deviates. Well, that might work against a horrible defense, but BYU is no horrible defense.

    For him to be successful, he is going to have to make sure to weigh his options. Of course, that kind of patience comes with confidence, and confidence seems to be in short supply for the redshirt junior.

    Southwick was 15-of-25 for 145 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. Think about that. Against the BYU defense, Southwick didn't have a touchdown, but he didn't throw an interception either.

    During the game, there were times when Southwick did the right thing and threw the ball away rather than try to force it. That bodes well for the Broncos, and it proves that Joe can and does make good decisions.

    The last big issue for Southwick seems to be touch. He has a great arm and can throw the ball a mile, but his receivers might as well be about a quarter mile behind the deep throws.

    Southwick had Aaron Burks wide open early in the game for what would have been about an 85-yard touchdown. However, he overthrew him by about seven yards. If he can get a bit more touch on the ball, the deep threat will actually be just that.

    For what it is worth, it appears that Southwick has the potential to be a good quarterback for Boise State. But he is going to need far more help from the coaching staff.

    They need to put Joe in situations that allow him to shine. Southwick looked good in the no-huddle offense and when the play calls included more than just runs between tackles.

    Maybe the answer is to allow him to do more rather than less.

    Some fans might not think that is the answer, but they should probably go back and watch the tape. Southwick looks much better in hindsight, and it is clear many of the issues he had against BYU originated in the coaches box.

Is Kicking the Problem?

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    This is getting old. Readers are tired of reading it and writers are tired of writing about it. However, the Achilles' heel of the Broncos offense has been the kicking game for many years now.

    During the BYU game, the Broncos had the chance to go up 3-0 in the first quarter. However, the 33-yard attempt by Michael Frisina went wide right.

    Had the Broncos made that kick, the game would have looked much different.

    There were two and possibly three more times coach Petersen would have most likely kicked a field goal rather than attempt to go for it on fourth down during the game if Frisina had nailed that first one. If the Broncos had added two or three more field goals, the conversation surrounding this game would be far different.

    In reality, Coach Petersen should have continued to allow the kicker to kick. Part of the problem with the kicking game is the lack of confidence by everyone, but especially the coaching staff.

    If you don't allow your kicker to kick, then you don't allow him to get better.

    Yes, the kicker must make more field goals. No, you don't stop using him just because he misses one.

    In the end, the BYU game didn't have to be the 7-6 contest it ended up being. If Petersen had allowed his kicker a few more opportunities, you have to believe that he would have made two or at the very least one of those.

Should More Players Be Involved?

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    D.J. Harper carried the ball 31 times against BYU. The only other running back to touch the ball was Jay Ajayi, and that was his first carry of the season.

    Boise State has always utilized the change-of-pace factor to loosen up a defense. This may be much bigger of an issue than many think.

    By using Harper only, the Broncos didn't have the same kind of effect they have had in previous seasons.

    To be successful moving the ball, Boise State must—repeat, must—get others involved running the ball. Drew Wright has looked good in his limited action in previous games. Freshman Jack Fields has also shown some spark, and now that Jay Ajayi is back, one carry for the powerful back is not nearly enough.

    The coaching staff was probably looking to avoid what happened last year against TCU when an inexperienced running back, Drew Wright, fumbled late.

    However, that came on a hit nearly any running back would have had trouble handling, and you can't run an offense based on fear.

    The Broncos must also get more wide receivers and tight ends involved. Against BYU there were only five receivers who caught balls, and only one of them was a tight end.

    The Broncos of old utilized the tight ends and spread the ball around to at least eight, nine or even more targets. Doing so keeps opposing defenses on their toes and loosens up coverages. That didn't happen Thursday.

    Boise State has one of the best receiver corps they have ever had—think about that. Why aren't they using them?

    Offensive coordinator Robert Prince is also the wide receivers coach. You would think that he would want to get them more involved in his offense.

    Perhaps the cure to the offensive woes for the new coordinator is sitting right under his nose. Bronco fans are hoping he sniffs it out—soon.

Play to Win, Don't Play Not to Lose

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    Coach Chris Petersen made a name for himself in his first season as head coach for Boise State.

    Who will ever forget the 2007 Fiesta Bowl?

    The thing about that game, and many others since, is that Coach Petersen let it all hang out. He played to win, no matter what.

    However, against BYU most of the game, Coach Pete seemed to be directing his team not to lose. Yes, he did go for a fake punt early deep in the Broncos' territory, but that wasn't even characteristic of the types of chances the excellent coach usually includes in his arsenal.

    It seemed that Boise State didn't trust anyone enough to take a risk. Southwick was limited in what he was allowed to do. The kicker was certainly limited as well, and D.J. Harper was asked to be the only running back touching the ball most of the game.

    There are some very talented players on the Broncos offense, and they need to get more involved. Will there be mistakes? Yes, of course there will be. However, you have to believe the reward of variety will far outweigh any issues that might arise.

    If Coach Petersen simply returns to the attitude of playing to win at all costs rather than limiting play because it might cost, the Broncos are going to be dangerous this season.

    The defense is amazing, and if the offense starts to click, there is no opponent left on the schedule that stands a chance against the Broncos.

    Boise State is truly the biggest opponent Boise State has on its schedule. If they can overcome their own internal issues, another special season awaits.

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