In two of the first three games of the 2012 season, the Boise State offense has failed to score a touchdown.
In one of those games, the Broncos failed to score any points offensively. Throw out the blowout of Miami (Ohio), discard the extra points and the Boise State defense is outscoring the offense 12-6.
According to ESPN, the Broncos offense was ranked No. 12 in the nation in 2011. After the Broncos’ third game of the season—a 7-6 win over BYU—the Boise State offense sits at No. 116 in the 120-team FBS rankings. Boise State’s one-time fiercest rival, the University of Idaho, is ranked No. 88.
The lack of offensive production has to be a bitter pill for the Bronco coaches and Bronco Nation to swallow. What makes discussing this at this time worthwhile is that Boise State has played two solid foes in Michigan State and Brigham Young in its first three games, and the Broncos should be able to fair well in their next game against New Mexico before facing a tough Southern Miss team.
So let’s take a look at the Broncos’ offensive problems…
Bronco Head Coach Chris Petersen has heard the grumbling. He knows there have been calls for replacing offensive coordinator Robert Prince Jr., as well as replacing Joe Southwick at quarterback.
To his credit, Petersen is trying to deflect the criticism by taking responsibility for the ineffectiveness of the offense.
He said in a press conference Monday he has no plans to fire anyone or replace starters. In that same press conference, Petersen also said that fans seem disappointed in the fact that Boise State had beaten BYU. Bronco fans are used to winning, but they are used to playing well and winning.
That disappointment seems to stem from the quality of the play, more so than chalking up another win.
On fourth-and-two on the Boise State 21-yard line, the Broncos tried a fake punt, didn’t gain the needed yardage and turned over the ball.
Bad call—plain and simple.
While it is true that the Bronco defense was able to stop a BYU score, the Cougars were not fooled by the call—or the actual play was not creative enough to get a ball carrier into open space.
Boise State’s offense has been sluggish, and has gone to the same well too many times. Wildcat formations are not fooling the defenses. A couple worked well, but when the Broncos go to them again and again the defenses have learned and adapted the second and third tries.
There seems to be an overall lack of creativity. Defenses do not look confused by the Boise State shifts. Throwing the ball to receivers blanketed by double coverage does not help, either.
The Broncos have been working on its red zone attack and has seen some success in recent practices. That’s great—particularly scoring against a defensive unit that won’t try to rip the head off a ball carrier because, after all, they are the same team. Scoring in practice and scoring in games are different animals.
The fact of the matter is that on a shorter field, BSU has struggled with stagnant play-calling and forced passing attempts. It almost looks like when the Broncos near the goal line that the stress levels go way up and the team tightens up. This is when precision passing is a must, and right now Boise State doesn’t have that capability.
When the pressure is applied, quarterback Joe Southwick has struggled.
For the season, Southwick is 54-for-87 for 618 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Against the pressure by Michigan State, Southwick was 15-for-31 for 169 yards and one interception; against BYU, Southwick was 15-for-25 for 145 yards.
Southwick has the arm strength to fire the ball downfield. He had a pass that (catch and run) went for 40 yards against Michigan State, and he hit receiver Aaron Burks in stride for 53 yards against Miami.
He seems to focus on receivers, and at times, tries to squeeze the ball into receivers who are covered tightly. He has also proved rather ineffective inside the red zone.
His clock management came into question in the BYU game and during that game—on a fourth down—he slid early and came up short of the first-down marker when a dive would have picked up the first down.
He has, though, been given every opportunity to succeed. Neither of the rostered back-up quarterbacks have played a down, and head coach Chris Petersen seems intent on keeping with Southwick going forward. No changes at quarterback have been announced. That kind of makes one wonder about the quality of the back-up quarterbacks
Matt Miller has emerged as the top receiver after three games. The sophomore has hauled in 16 passes for 200 yards, but has yet to find the end zone. Two receivers—Mitch Burroughs and Kirby Moore—have nine catches on the year, each with less than 100 yards in receiving for the season so far.
The tight ends have all but disappeared. Red-shirt freshman Holden Huff—a big target at 6’5” and 215 lbs—has three catches for 34 yards and veteran Gabe Linehan (6’4’”, 241 lbs, a red-shirt junior) has one grab for 23 yards.
The only Broncos with touchdown catches are running back D.J. Harper and wide receiver Chris Potter.
While 10 receivers have caught passes, three receivers have caught 34 of the 54 completions on the season. One of those receivers has caught one-third of all completions. That makes it easy for defenses to figure out who to cover.
D.J. Harper was stoned by Michigan State. He ran wild against Miami and had 31 carries for 118 yards against Brigham Young. Harper is a tough and talented running back. He is the only Bronco running back to hit the end zone so far, and he is one of two Broncos that have caught a touchdown pass.
Despite missing senior guard Joe Kellogg (6’3”, 305 lbs), the Bronco offensive line has done well at times. Southwick’s mobility has also limited the number of sacks allowed to one.
As hard as this is to say, in light of the Broncos' struggles over the past three-to-four years, Boise State needs to give kickers reps and attempt field goals when the offense stalls in the red zone. Three points is, after all, better than no points.
Michael Frisina is three-for-five on the season with a long of only 26 yards. In watching the misses, it's obvious he has the leg for longer attempts. It certainly doesn'tt do his confidence any good when the Broncos go for it on fourth-and-short inside his range and end up turning the ball over.
While it may not be the intended message, nonetheless a kicker will feel he is not trusted to get the three points.
Coach Chris Petersen said in an Idaho Statesman report that he told Frisina that going for it against BYU instead of trying the field goal had nothing to do with the kicker, but rather his hard-headedness in believing the team can get the yards.
That clearly is not the case. Reference four downs from the BYU one-foot-line and Boise State isn't able to punch it into the end zone. Reference the fact that Boise State is 0-for-6 on fourth down attempts for the season.
If you look solely at the percentages, the field-goal option is clearly higher.