The Boise State Broncos finished the regular 2012 season with a 10-2 mark that just as easily could have been 12-0, 8-4 or even 7-5. The losses, to Michigan State and San Diego State, could just as easily have been victories. The wins over Brigham Young, New Mexico and Nevada—given a bit more time on the clock or one less big play by the Bronco defense—could easily have been marks in the loss column.
Throughout the season, the Broncos did show tendencies that might be of concern heading toward the Dec. 22 date with the Washington Huskies in the Las Vegas MAACO Bowl. There are also overall impressions from the 2012 season that were noteworthy.
So, without further adieu, here are a few observations from the 2012 season.
When a team graduates a bunch of top players, who all wind up in the NFL, it generally means a down year next season. Not so much for the Boise State defense. The Broncos didn’t rebuild as much as they reloaded.
The Broncos were ranked No. 9 in the nation in total defense and No. 3 in turnovers gained. The achievements get deeper, as well. Boise State was ranked No. 6 in scoring defense, No. 14 in sacks and No. 7 in red-zone defense.
And before saying that Boise State will lose too many top players to graduation (notably J.C. Percy, Tommy Smith and Michael Atkinson), it should be pointed out that of the top seven tacklers on the 2012 team, only three are seniors.
The Broncos did indeed reload in 2012, and should again in 2013.
While Boise State had a number of standouts on the 2012 team, and several of them were first-time players in the Broncos’ various color schemes that pass as uniforms, two players really distinguished themselves for the level of excitement they brought to Bronco football.
Demarcus Lawrence, a junior college transfer, was a defensive nightmare for opposing teams. He finished No. 6 on the Broncos’ regular season tackling list with 48 tackles, but was far and away the leader in tackles for loss and sacks with 13.5 and 9.5 respectively. His sacks total was good enough to rank him at No. 18 in the nation, while his tackles-for-loss totals ranked him at No. 32 in the nation.
Lawrence was in the backfield so often it was almost like he lined up there. Quick to the attack, he also had four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a pair of quarterback hurries on the season to date.
Lawrence is only a sophomore so Bronco fans can look forward to seeing him back on the blue in 2013.
On the offensive side of the ball, Shane Williams–Rhodes stands 5’6” and weighs in at 154 pounds. He is a true freshman that was about as exciting to watch as any player to put on a Bronco uniform. One television announcer said Williams-Rhodes was so fast that he could “make a tackler miss in a phone booth.”
“Shake and Bake”—as he has been called—had plays designed just to use his quickness and to get him involved in the offense on an expanding scale. A true freshman, Williams-Rhodes caught 24 passes for 137 yards (mostly of the bubble-screen variety) and a touchdown, rushed 19 times for 116 yards and two scores, and returned eight kickoffs for 189 yards.
You can't really talk about the 2012 Broncos and the offense without talking about D.J. Harper.
As sixth-year senior running back Harper went, so too did the Bronco offense. Harper had 1,065 yards of net rushing and 15 touchdowns, while snagging 20 passes for 149 yards and a score. He also had 188 yards on seven kickoff returns.
There were a few television announcers that likened Harper to departed star running back Doug Martin. That’s an invalid comparison. Harper is a different type of runner.
But let’s look at that. In 2011, Martin had 1,299 net rushing yards and 16 touchdowns while hauling in 28 passes for 255 yards and two scores. Martin averaged 4.9 yards per carry compared to Harper’s 5.0 yards per carry.
Martin also carried the ball more in 2011 than Harper did in 2012. Martin had 263 carries while Harper only had 212.
When you consider that the Bronco offense was much more prolific, Martin’s stats should have been slightly better. In 2012, when Boise State was able to break Harper loose, the Broncos tended to win big, or at least jump out to a first half lead that was commanding enough to survive a second half letdown.
The switch was flipped in the second half of games in 2012. Boise State dominated first halves, for the most part, but struggled offensively and allowed some teams to get back into the game. The Broncos outscored opponents 235-40 in the first half of games, but lost the battle on the scoreboard in the second half, 130-139.
Nine points may not seem like a big deal but when five games are decided by six points or less, those nine points looms large.
By comparison, in 2011 (yes, under Kellen Moore and with Doug Martin toting the pigskin) the Broncos outscored opponents 322-97 in the first half and 253-146 in the second half.
Opponents held the ball longer than the Broncos in terms of time of possession: 30:18-29:42. The longer a defense has to be on the field, the more worn down it can become.
Comparing the Bronco offense under Joe Southwick to the Kellen Moore-led attack is comparing apples to oranges. Sure, they are both healthy and fall under the same general food group (fruits and vegetables), but the appearance and taste are completely different.
The Broncos’ aerial attack did out gain the rushing attack per game by a 216.9-173.1 margin. Southwick, under center the majority of the time, did spread the ball around like his predecessor did. While Boise State still had real daggers in the receiving corps, the Broncos struggled to get the ball to those weapons.
Southwick only averaged 18.5 completions per game. When eight or nine receivers are involved in the attack, that means no one gets a lot of passes thrown his way.
Matt Miller was the Broncos’ top receiver in 2012, but he only caught 60 passes on the season. In 2011, he caught 62, ironically for the same yardage (679 yards).
To say Boise State struggled to throw the ball in the red zone would be a bit of an understatement. Southwick found more success swinging the ball to the flats, and letting the receivers run into the end zone with it than he did throwing the ball downfield for the score.
Boise State has some great receivers returning in 2013. What the Broncos will need is a quarterback that can get the ball to them a bit more frequently.
At the end of every season, there is speculation that head coach Chris Petersen is eyeing other offers. There is absolutely no guarantee that "Coach Pete" will leave Boise State for other fields of play, but history shows that Bronco head coaches that depart have struggled elsewhere.
You can reference some of the more recent Bronco coaches: Dan Hawkins and Dirk Koetter. Houston Nutt did marginally well at Arkansas, but coaching in the SEC is a hard task to begin with.
Petersen, purportedly the highest paid state worker in Idaho, may be a hard one to lure away, but his coaching staff has certainly not been.
Brent Pease, the 2011 offensive coordinator, is at Florida in a similar position, and all he did was help Florida to a No. 3 spot in the BCS standings. He didn’t exactly transform the Gators into an offensive dynamo, but Florida was good enough to win many key games.
Boise State actually ranks well ahead of Florida in total offense; Florida sits at No. 102 in the NCAA stats while the Broncos are at No. 77.
If there is one coach on Petersen’s staff that may be lured away, it is defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski. He is an alum of Boise State, and it was only his second year as defensive coordinator, but he did an outstanding job of turning a Bronco defense that lost nine starters into the No. 9 ranked team in total defense in the country.
The Broncos were also No. 3 in the nation in turnovers gained.
"Coach K" has had success at Boise State as well as when he was at Montana State. He does have strong ties to Boise State, but if (as the saying goes) “offense sells tickets and defense wins game,” then Kwiatkowski has to be on a few lists for coach vacancies.