Boise State vs. Georgia: Why the Bronco Running Game Could Take Center Stage

S. FordContributor IIAugust 28, 2011

Doug Martin carries the ball in Boise State's win over Virginia Tech
Doug Martin carries the ball in Boise State's win over Virginia Tech

Much of the talk in the college football offseason surrounding the Boise State Broncos has been focused on the departure of the dynamic wide receiver duo of Titus Young and Austin Pettis, and for good reason.  The pair combined for over 2,872 total yards and 20 touchdowns for the Broncos during the 2010 season. 

Those are the kind of numbers that can be difficult to replace for any team, especially when the leading receiver who returns for Boise State had just 32 catches last year. The numbers for the rest of the young receiving corps fall off dramatically from there. 

It would, however, be a huge error to say that the Broncos will not have a prolific passing attack this year. They bring back Heisman candidate QB Kellen Moore for his senior year as well as an experienced offensive line that allowed less than one sack per game in 2010.  With a four year starter possessing a 38-2 career record at the helm, the Broncos should remain confident that their vertical game will maintain its perennial ranking among the best in the country.

There has been some talk of the return of running back Doug Martin, who anchored the Bronco rushing attack last season by amassing 1,260 yards and averaging over six yards per carry.  The senior running back is a classic downhill runner who carries the ball with a style I like to call “Brute force trauma."  Entering his senior season, Martin seems poised to have as good or better of a year in 2011, which would be noteworthy for any team in the country. 

The Broncos also have a few players who are significantly under the radar in terms of potential contributions at the running back position. They may provide some highlights of their own, en route to establishing the Bronco rushing attack as one of the top in the nation for the coming season.

D.J. Harper scores on a 71 yard run en route to a win over Virginia Tech in 2010
D.J. Harper scores on a 71 yard run en route to a win over Virginia Tech in 2010

Forgotten by many outside of the Bronco Nation is fifth year senior running back, D.J. Harper. He will come back this year after playing in only three games each of the last two seasons, having sustained injuries that kept him out the rest of the year in both 2009 and 2010. 

Some may remember his outstanding performance in the Boise State opener last year against 10th ranked Virginia Tech. Harper scored on a 71-yard run from scrimmage to spark the Broncos to the eventual win over the Hokies.  Harper is a bit of a contrast to Martin’s straight forward style and throws in some great lateral movement that should keep opposing defenses off balance when facing the two.  If Harper can stay healthy, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him emerge as the Bronco’s leading rusher over Martin this year.

Another most likely forgotten member of the Bronco stable of backs is sophomore Malcom Johnson.  Johnson red-shirted for the Broncos in 2009, but then transferred to Mt. Hood Community College for 2010. He is now back on the Blue turf to start off what could very well be one of the best careers in history for a Boise State running back. 

With a perfect combination of size, speed and agility, Johnson—5’11" and 200 lbs—came out of High School in Greshem, Oregon with 6,975 career rushing yards, including 2,635 on just 287 carries, scoring 25 TD’s in his senior year.  Coach Petersen will undoubtedly work him into several rushing packages for the Broncos this season as he sets Johnson up to take over the primary responsibilities in 2012. 

Johnson has the potential to rewrite the record books for Boise State running backs, as long as he stays healthy and maintains the high standards of academic and moral character that Coach Pete demands.  All three of the feature backs for the Broncos will have the advantage of running behind Senior Fullback Dan Paul, who at 6’1", 251 lbs can create some pretty impressive holes for them to break out of that initial mob of linemen.

A couple of other potential weapons in the Bronco ground game actually come from the receivers unit and figure into the game plan with fly sweep and reverse plays, from both the standard and wild bronco formations. 

Geraldo Boldweijn (formerly Geraldo Hiwat) runs a sub 4.4. Even though he is considered the most likely deep threat of the Broncos returning receivers, I expect to see him running the ball in multiple situations to both take advantage of his speed and make up for his relative inexperience catching the ball. Boldweijin is a native of the Netherlands and only took up football when he transferred to a Boise High School for his senior year.

In addition to Boldweijn is redshirt freshman, Matt Miller, Miller was the Montana High School offensive player of the year and the 2009 Gatorade Montana player of the year his senior season at Capital High in Helena. 

Miller is expected to make an instant impact at receiver. His size—6’3" and 215 lbs—will not only help him get that big body between the ball and defenders, but should also help the Broncos coaching staff take advantage of his running abilities on the edges when they have favorable matchups against smaller corners. 

As a senior in High School, Miller rushed 67 times for 864 yards. So even though his primary role will be at the slot position, he is no stranger to getting the ball at the line of scrimmage—and you can bet that Petersen will not overlook that capability.

The Georgia Bulldogs run a 3-4 defense, which gives them a little extra speed on the field with four linebackers. However, it sets up nicely for a Bronco running attack that sends the ball directly to the sparse three-man D line. 

I see the Broncos using heavy doses of Martin and Harper early to establish a solid inside run game, which will in turn suck the linebackers up to fill the gaps and slow down the rushing offense. 

I also expect to see the Bulldogs use that extra linebacker to bring run blitzes in obvious first and second down situations.  By bringing that extra backer on a blitz, however, they will leave the Broncos with unfair matchups with receivers. Kellen Moore reads defenses as well as any college quarterback in the game and should know where to put the ball in the air before it touches his hands.

The Broncos typically bring a pretty balanced attack to the offensive side of the ball. In this opening game against the Georgia Bulldogs, don’t be surprised to see a heavier than usual dose of ground and pound to set up the short and intermediate passing game, which will most likely prove to be too much for Dawgs to handle. 

Common logic would dictate that it’s not a good bet to try to make a living against an SEC team by running the ball straight at them. But in this case I predict that the Bronco running game is going to not only turn the heads of the commentators, but also the heads of the Georgia Bulldogs as they watch the ball go past them, smothered in a white Nike combat uniform with a snorting Bronco on the helmet.