Boise State Football: 5 Most Important Takeaways from September
Boise State (3-2, 1-1 MWC) finished the month of September with a convincing 60-7 win over Southern Miss in Bronco Stadium, but for the month of September, the Broncos were 3-1 overall.
The only loss for the team during September came in the way of Fresno State.
Sept. 20, in Bulldog Stadium, the Broncos lost a painful offensive slugfest, 41-40, to an undefeated Fresno squad. That game could be a preview of the Mountain West Conference Championship Game in December, but Boise will have to fix a few things before earning a rematch.
Going forward, the Broncos have a bye week, but then they will face a good Utah State team in a Mountain West Conference, Mountain Division showdown. That game will probably be the biggest game of the year, so far, for Boise State.
Whoever wins that game in Logan, will be in the driver's seat to represent the Mountain Division in the MWC title game.
However, before we can go forward into October, we must go back. Let's look at the five most important takeaways for the Broncos in September and try to figure out what it all means as the season progresses.
The New Offense Is Clicking
The new hurry-up, up-tempo, no-huddle, or whatever-you-want-to-call-it offense didn't start off so well.
In the first game of the season, which was in August not September, the Broncos sputtered to just six points against Washington.
It was enough to send all of Bronco Nation into a tailspin of worry.
However, since that time, the Broncos have rebounded nicely. Against Tennessee-Martin on Sept. 7, Boise amassed 472 yards of total offense and scored 63 points. Of course, it was against an FCS team, but it showed that the firepower existed.
Against Air Force on the Sept. 13, the Broncos continued to show signs of an offense with some gusto with 533 yards of total offense.
The balance was there as well, with Southwick and company hooking up for 304 yards passing and 229 yards on the ground. However, turnovers in the red zone caused the Broncos to miss out on a couple of scores.
Then came Fresno State. It was a concern of most Boise State fans going into the contest to see if the Broncos could keep up with Derek Carr and the Bulldogs.
Boise State actually outgained the high-powered offense of Fresno. The Broncos racked up 561 total yards on offense, which included 361 yards by air and 200 by ground.
However, a missed two-point conversion try and turnovers, again in the red zone, doomed the Broncos.
Still, it was an impressive offensive display by Boise State.
The 60-7 thrashing of Southern Miss Saturday was also another very impressive performance by an offense that continues to get better.
Boise State ran up 545 yards on offense against the Golden Eagles. That included 229 yards rushing and 316 yards passing.
Also, Boise State had seven different players contribute in the ground game, and eight different receivers caught passes on the night.
Boise State is now ranked 18th in points scored on the season. However, if you subtract the Washington debacle, the Broncos are averaging 51.5 points per game. That would be good enough to be ranked fourth in the nation in the category.
The encouraging thing for Boise State fans right now is that this is an offense that is full of weapons in its arsenal and seems to be getting better every week.
The Broncos Will Have to Step It Up to Win the Mountain West
Even as good as the offense is playing right now, the Broncos will have to step it up to compete for a Mountain West Conference title.
Most Boise State fans know that the area of biggest concern is the defense. However, so is turning over the ball on offense—especially in the red zone.
Against Air Force, the interception by Southwick and fumble by Ajayi in the red zone didn't come back to haunt Chris Petersen's team. However, against Fresno State, it sure did.
This is a problem area the Broncos will have to solve.
Of course, the big area of concern, as previously mentioned is defense. Right now, the Broncos are allowing an average of 24 points per game against the defense. It doesn't sound all that bad until you realize it is 56th in the nation.
Not only that, the real issue is yardage. So far this season, Boise State has allowed 405.8 yards against the defense per game and 5.35 yards per play. That ranks them 73rd in the nation in this area.
With pass-happy Utah State, and its impressive dual-threat quarterback Chuckie Keeton looming, the Broncos are going to have to step it up in a big way. Shutting him down will be quite the task.
If the tackling, coverage and speed to the ball doesn't continue to improve, the Broncos may find themselves on the outside looking in for a MWC title.
Boise State still faces a decent Nevada offense and an outstanding Wyoming quarterback, junior Brett Smith, who is quietly having a remarkable season.
Ranked second in the nation, Smith is actually one position higher than Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr when it comes to total offense.
Keeton, meanwhile, is impressive in his own right. He is ranked 18th in the nation in total offense.
Boise State is going to need to get much better on defense and get turnovers on offense under control if they want a chance against both Wyoming and Utah State.
Broncos' Young Defense Has Struggled, but They Are Getting Better
As mentioned, the Broncos are going to have to improve on defense to compete for a title. However, the month of September did see some key signs of growth that could be encouraging for Boise State fans.
However, before looking at those improvements, it is important to note just how young this defense is—at least when it comes to playing together.
Boise State has seven new starters on defense this season, and only two of the current starters are seniors.
Among the listed starters, besides the two seniors, the Broncos start six juniors, two sophomores and a freshman. However, key backups who have a significant role consist of 12 underclassmen.
Among the group of juniors, there are also three JUCO transfers who are new to the system. That list includes cornerbacks Mercy Maston and Cleshawn Page and tackle Justin Taimatuia.
Overall, it is clear that there are a large number of players who are new to the system or have very limited playing-time experience.
Is it any wonder they have struggled at times?
Is it any wonder that they are getting better every week?
Against Tennessee-Martin, the young Boise State team struggled in the area of tackling. It got better against Air Force, especially in the second half, but there were still arm tackles and open-field tackles that were missed at far too high a frequency.
Against Fresno State, the secondary was exposed big time, but some of that was how they chose to play coverage. The corners were 10 yards off the wide receivers, many times at the line of scrimmage, and Derek Carr had a field day picking apart the huge gaps the Broncos were giving.
Against Southern Miss, the coverage was better, missed tackles were far less frequent and the defensive line started getting penetration—something that had not happened in any game previously.
Also, the young defense seems to be gaining confidence. Saturday night, in Bronco Stadium, the defense was flying around like the type of Boise State defense we are used to seeing. Players were swarming to the ball, laying down big hits and going for the ball at every opportunity.
It was, by far, the best defensive performance of the season for Boise State. Granted, it was against a Southern Miss team that has lost every game this season, but it was the way the defense played more than who they played.
It looked like a much meaner, faster and better defense than previously seen this season. That bodes well for the Broncos, as they get into the thick of their Mountain Division schedule, starting against Utah State on Oct. 12.
Joe Southwick Is Playing at a High Level
One thing that was consistent for the Broncos in September was the play of senior quarterback Joe Southwick.
Mustache or no mustache, Southwick is playing at a high level right now. Currently, he is 14th in the FBS in passing yards and fifth in completion percentage, completing over 73 percent of his throws.
He has thrown nine touchdowns with just three interceptions, rushed for 106 yards with two scores on the ground and has a quarterback rating of 153.1 for the season.
Even in the loss to Fresno State, the senior played a good game, completing 31 of his 45 attempts for 313 yards with a single interception. This after he was thrown hard to the ground in the second quarter of that game and yet remained, displaying toughness and leadership.
If he continues to play at this level, along with the wide receivers who seem to be stepping up and a defense that is improving, Boise State will be much better the second half of the season.
That means good things for them and bad things for the Broncos' opponents.
Young Players Are Stepping Up
It has been touched on, especially on the defense, but the number of young players making an impact this season for Boise State has to be encouraging for the future of this program.
What is meant by future is not just next season either, but the remainder of 2013 as well.
On defense young players like true freshman cornerback Jonathan Moxey are making a name for themselves. Moxey has been impressive flying around the field and making great open field tackles. His coverage has also been impressive.
Redshirt freshman Ben Weaver is another young player making some noise. So much noise in fact, that Weaver is now a starter at linebacker for the Broncos. He is also the lead tackler on the team, according to cfbstats.com.
On offense, the young players abound as well.
First, every Bronco fan knows the name Shane Williams-Rhodes. The true sophomore is a play maker and fun to watch. He has been included much more in the offense so far this season, and you can expect that to continue.
True freshman running back Aaron Baltazar joins sophomore Jay Ajayi in the backfield this year. Baltazar actually got the start against Southern Miss because of the fumble problems Ajayi has had.
However, don't be fooled, Jay Ajayi is an outstanding running back who will be a huge asset for the Broncos as the season continues.
Behind those two underclassmen are sophomore Jack Fields and another freshman named Charles Bertoli. Both backs scored their first touchdowns as Broncos against the Golden Eagles late in the game Saturday. Bertoli has also been impressive on special teams.
Overall, the youth on this Boise State team continues to impress.