Boise State's Five Strikes: Blackjack! Broncos Streak Reaches 21
It took Boise State's ugliest effort of the season, but somehow the Broncos still walked away from a tougher-than-expected game with Louisiana Tech with a 29-point victory.
For the first time all season the Broncos defense showed some signs of weakness, despite having a ten-day layoff between games. As a unit, the Broncos D surrendered nearly 400 yards, including 172 rushing yards, a season-high against the Broncos.
And while they notched four sacks on La. Tech's Ross Jenkins, the senior QB still managed to pass for 222 yards and one score.
In fact, Louisiana Tech put up the most impressive numbers of any team this year against the Broncos, and they still managed to lose by nearly 30 points.
I think that makes a pretty strong case for Chris Petersen's squad.
Like usual, we learned tons of things from this game, and here they are...
Strike ONE: Blowout Much Closer Than It Seemed
Like I stated before, this game should have been much closer considering the nearly equal statistics.
Boise State outpassed La. Tech, but only by 83 yards. Tech outgained Boise on the ground, 172-163. Turnovers were even at two. Tech also had the edge in return yardage, first downs, rushing attempts and time of possession.
You also have to hand it to Tech for not caving when the Broncos jumped ahead 7-0. They stormed right back down the field and evened it at 7-7, showing they wouldn't be susceptible to the same first-quarter blitzkrieg that the Broncos have stormed every other team with this season. And while they struggled in the second quarter to move the ball, they were only down 21 at halftime and managed to bring that within 28-13 after the first possession of the third quarter.
Then Boise really showed up. Two turnovers (a turnover-on-downs and a fumble on the kickoff return) allowed the Broncos to put up two quick scores and take a 42-13 lead, effectively putting the game out of reach.
Without a couple of huge fourth-down stops and some well-timed turnovers, this very easily could have been a 42-35 game, eerily similar to last season's game against Tech.
Strike TWO: Despite the D's Trouble, The Offense Was Firing on All Cylinders
You know your offense is having your way with a team when your starting quarterback throws two TDs, catches another and manages a 54-yard pooch punt. That's what Kellen Moore did, however, possibly feeling that the added highlights might prevent Cam Newton from running away with the Heisman.
It wasn't as dominant an effort, most likely because they didn't hold the edge in time-of-possession, but the Broncos still looked like a machine on offense, scoring at will.
Jeremy Avery fumbled a direct snap, and somehow still managed to scamper, untouched, 26 yards for a TD in the third quarter. Three minutes later, Austin Pettis found a wide-open Kellen Moore for a seven-yard TD pass, and the Broncos offensive effort began and ended with a Doug Martin touchdown.
The Broncos rolled up 468 yards of offense, 305 through the air and 163 on the ground. Martin went for 21 carries, 150 yards and two scores. Avery went for seven carries, 29 yards and his sixth score. Slot wideout Tyler Shoemaker caught six passes for 124 yards and a score. Titus Young and Pettis combined for nine catches, 124 yards and a score of their own.
The only negative for the offense was Kellen Moore's interception (only his second of the season), and that's really all. I guess you could argue that they scored too quickly and didn't hold onto the ball long enough.
But that's just nit-picking.
Strike THREE: Special Teams Were a Struggle For the Broncos
Having regular kicker/punter Kyle Brotzman on the shelf with a leg injury didn't help.
Still, the Broncos missed a 30-yard field goal, punted for a net average of 32.5 yards (excluding Kellen Moore's 54-yard pooch punt) and notched negative-six punt return yards.
The Broncos very clearly missed Brotz, who should return next week. The 30-yard field goal would have been a chip shot and given the Broncos an early 10-0 lead, possibly giving them the psychological edge over Tech. It could have made the game an even bigger blowout, and sucked the wind out of Tech's sails.
They also missed his punting talents. Anytime your starting QB is put in charge of handling those duties (which he did quite well), that doesn't necessarily bode well. Trevor Harman might have a decent leg, but a 19-yard punt just will not do.
Luckily, the Broncos can afford to have these problems.
Strike FOUR: Broncos Starters Find More Playing Time
Everyone figured that this "tough stretch" in the Broncos schedule would see much more playing time for the starters. More Doug Martin, less Joe Southwick/Mike Coughlin and little-to-no Matt Kaiserman.
That pretty much held true. Martin received 21 of Boise's 36 carries. Southwick had two carries for zero yards, and Kaiserman had one carry for negative-1 yard.
Fortunately for the Broncos starters, this means more time to accumulate big numbers. Moore attempted the most passes since the Broncos Week 2 win over Wyoming, while Martin set season-highs for yards and carries.
Several Broncos are moving up the national rankings too.
Moore now ranks first in the nation in passing efficiency. Go figure. And it's not even close. He leads Iowa's Ricky Stanzi by almost 14 percentage points. The last time anyone had a lead that big was 2006, when Colt Brennan finished nearly 17 points ahead of BYU's John Beck.
Doug Martin now ranks in the top-25 in rushing yards nationally. His 7.3 yards-per-carry rank ninth in the nation, ahead of LaMichael James, Cam Newton and Trent Richardson.
Titus Young ranks 19th in the country in receiving yards and 25th in yards-per-catch. Boise's Chris Potter ranks eighth in the country in yards-per-return on punts.
Look for the trend of increased playing time for the first team to continue with games against Idaho, Hawaii and Nevada still ahead on the schedule.
Strike FIVE: What the Win Means For Their BCS Hopes
The Broncos only won by 29 points, which means several things.
Assuming all the other undefeated teams win, I would fully expect the Broncos to be jumped by Missouri, Michigan State and possibly even TCU.
All those teams have a tougher schedule the rest of the way, and TCU will get a boost from playing, and most likely beating, fellow undefeated Utah.
The Broncos could easily win out, and assuming everyone else does, they could just as easily finish outside of the top five in the BCS.
What was once an unbelievable thought, the Broncos could possibly be left out of the BCS stable of games altogether, despite compiling a 26-game winning streak and three consecutive undefeated regular seasons.
That said, if Missouri loses to Nebraska this week, that would allow the Broncos to at least hold their ground in the standings. Same if Michigan State falls against Iowa.
The ideal scenario is obviously if Auburn gets upset by Ole Miss, Michigan State and Missouri both lose, and Oregon takes a tumble against USC.
But, even if that happens, there will be 15+ one-loss teams arguing why they belong ahead of Boise State, instead of just five undefeateds.
Conclusion and a Look at Next Week
The Broncos get another 10-day break before hosting Hawaii.
Hawaii is the top team in the WAC right now, coming in with a 4-0 record. They play Idaho this Saturday, and shouldn't have too much trouble there, which means they would be coming to Boise with a 5-0 conference record. Assuming they aren't tripped up by Idaho, the Boise-Hawaii game should be the de-facto WAC title game.
The Warriors have won five in a row since their 31-13 defeat at Colorado, and Bryant Moniz has been on fire. He'll eclipse the 3,000-yard mark this week and already has 22 touchdown passes.
The game has all the makings of an offensive fireworks show, but this Broncos defense always plays better against Hawaii, and is always better at home.
Look for a score in the 52-21 range.
These Broncos should have no trouble scoring on anyone.