Boise State Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Hawaii
Boise State’s trip to the islands to play Hawaii Saturday is less about the Warriors than it is about the Broncos. Boise State needs to find its missing offense, younger players need to step up to fill the shoes of injured or suspended Broncos, and the team certainly needs to rebound after the upset at the hands of San Diego State.
Sure, it’s a Mountain West Conference game, but the Warriors are struggling and sit at 0-5 in Mountain West Conference Play and 1-7 overall. According to ESPN, the team ranks No. 104 in the nation in passing yards per game, No. 109 in rushing yards, No. 107 in points scored per game and No. 122 in points allowed. Ouch.
The Warriors’ only win was a 52-2 thrashing of Lamar back in September.
The Broncos, on the other hand, lost more than the game against the Aztecs. They dropped from the rankings (expected), are no longer leading the conference standings, lost a key player and misplaced the offense in the second half. Some of those things can’t be changed, but the last item on that list—the MIA offense—needs to be found and in a hurry.
On paper, this game is a huge mismatch. Boise State should win this game handily, but what is at stake is much more than a win. Boise State is struggling to find itself offensively, and while the defense has played well, it has been riddled with injuries to starters and suspensions.
This game almost goes from the category of must-win to must-perform. With that in mind, here are some of the keys to the game at Hawaii.
Play the Second Half
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Boise State has only dominated teams on the scoreboard a couple of times this season in the second half. Games are not won at halftime. The guys in the other locker room are not hiding and trembling and afraid to show up for the last two quarters. The intensity has to be greater in the third quarter than it was in the first.
The two Bronco losses this season have been aided by the lack of production in the second half by the offense and a defense that is on the field too much and starts to wear down.
Hawaii is struggling. This is a chance for the Broncos to put together a complete game.
And, during the weekly press conference, senior receiver Chris Potter pointed out that Boise State is going to Hawaii, but it is not a vacation. The Idaho Statesman quoted Potter as saying, about the Hawaii trip, that “everyone’s on vacation but you.”
The coaches will hammer that point home. Whether they are successful on that will be determined by the Broncos’ play on the field.
Younger Players Need to Step Up
Boise State's Mike Atkinson was lost for the rest of the season with an ACL injury sustained in the second half of the San Diego State game.
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Injuries happen in football—it’s the nature of the game. Suspensions also happen, but that’s players not keying on what is important and letting other stuff interfere with the goals and missions of what put them on the team in the first place.
Boise State has been hit by injuries to key defensive starters like Bryan Douglas and Mike Atkinson. The secondary has been hit by the suspension—of the indefinite variety—to Lee Hightower. That means that some younger Broncos will get their chance and they need to step in, focus and step up.
A suspension to the long snapper resulted in a younger player snapping the ball on the Broncos’ first failed two-point conversion try against San Diego State. You can’t account for nerves that affect execution.
If that was what doomed the play before it even started, then there is not much that can be done. But if the injuries and suspensions continue, younger players will be called on more, and they need to be ready to play and to execute.
The Offensive Line
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Boise State’s offensive line started out well against San Diego State, but then came the second half and the Bronco offense, as a whole, seemed to forget to leave the locker room. Boise State had a lead and the offense was on a roll in the first half. After halftime, the offense couldn’t find a running game, was outscored 14-6 and accumulated less than 100 yards of total offense for the half.
The Aztecs stunted across the front line, got penetration, sacked the Bronco quarterback a couple of times and took away the rushing attack.
There are two halves to a football game and Boise State’s offensive line needs to show up for both of those. Hawaii is a team that is struggling to contain opponents offensively.
This should be a huge scoring game for the Broncos, but that will start on the offensive front. Boise State needs to dominate the line of scrimmage, open the holes, protect the quarterback and have a huge game.
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Boise State was ranked at No 2 in the nation in takeaways at one point in the season. The number or takeaways per game has dropped off and the Broncos have slipped to No. 5 nationally. It’s really not that big of a deal when one realizes that the Broncos have had the opportunity to takeaway the ball on numerous times in more recent games and didn’t finish.
Potential interceptions have slipped through hands, fumbles have been generated but not recovered. Boise State’s defense came out of the gates hungry and predatory. It needs to find that hunger again.
The Quarterback Riddle
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Redshirt junior quarterback Joe Southwick has struggled this season under center when the Broncos could least afford it. Don’t expect to see him replaced. According to an Idaho Statesman story, Boise State head coach Chris Petersen has no plans to replace Southwick with Grant Hedrick. Jimmy Laughrea—the other backup on the depth chart—was not even mentioned as seeing action.
Don't expect to see anyone other than Southwick under center for the rest of the year, barring an injury.
Petersen and Boise State will be relying on Southwick, so don’t expect him to be someone he is not. Southwick is not any of the Bronco quarterbacks from the past and should not be expected to be those guys. He has his own set of skills, proficiencies and deficits.
Southwick has not proven he can play from behind, and if the running game is gone, the Broncos cannot rely on his passing to win ballgames. That means that Boise State, as a team, has to put Southwick in position to win games, and that means by winning the battle for field position by special teams, and the defense has to garner takeaways or just keep the opponent’s offense locked down.