After another undefeated regular season was capped off with yet another BCS snub—some might think that the Boise State Broncos have little left to play for. They would be wrong.
After back-to-back losses in 2007 (to Hawaii and East Carolina) cost the Broncos their momentum and a potential preseason ranking, the word on every Broncos' lips in 2008 has been "finish."
Well, the Broncos, at 12-0, have "finished" every game, and opponent, they've faced this year—from a surprisingly dominant performance at Oregon's Autzen Stadium to a post-Thanksgiving beatdown of rival Fresno State...but their season is definitely not finished until they take care of TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 23. The young Bronco squad is up for the challenge...but it won't be easy.
Something's gotta give
The Broncos have been the highest scoring team in the nation since 2000. In that same time frame, the TCU Horned Frogs have had some of the nation's most dominant defenses, so most are probably expecting this game to be a battle between a high-scoring offense and a tough-as-nails defense...but looky here: Boise State's got a defense too...and a darn good one.
TCU is currently ranked No. 2 in the NCAA in scoring defense...the Broncos are No. 3. TCU, at 10-2, have given up an average of just under 11 points per game, the Broncos, at 12-0, have given up an average of just over 12 points per game—the TCU defensive "advantage" comes out to only 1.4 points per game.
In total defense, the gap widens, with TCU still claiming the No. 2 national ranking and giving up a paltry 215 yards/game while the Broncos fall in at No. 16, giving up 294 yards/game. Most would agree, however, that the most important stat line on defense is points allowed, and the Broncos and Horned Frogs have been stingy all year.
Now, the Mountain West Conference is a slightly better conference from top to bottom, but the WAC has more prolific offenses from top to bottom, so we'll call defense a push.
Let's not forget that the defenses, a strength for both teams, will not be playing each other in San Diego; however, they'll be lined up against the opposing offenses, and that's where I see some separation forming between the two squads.
Offense wins championships too
The Broncos' offense, though streaky at times during the season, still managed to sneak into the top 15 (No. 12) scoring offenses in the nation (higher than any Mountain West team) and is ranked 12th in passing offense as well.
The fact that the Broncos only rank 49th in rushing offense is a moot point, since the Horned Frogs are tops in the country in stopping the run and likely won't allow much to the Broncos anyway. Boise State's offensive success, quite simply, rests on the shoulders of freshman phenom Kellen Moore, who, outside of Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, will be the best quarterback that TCU will see this year.
Moore has had big games against the biggest competition this year and will be the key to a Bronco victory. Moore, who has only thrown nine INTs against 25 TDs this year, will need to maintain his accuracy (70 percent) and cut down on the costlier turnovers (like the three picks he's thrown this year that have been returned for TDs), and the Broncos will be fine.
The Broncos' O-line, which has seen a number of looks and taken a while to gel, will have their hands full with TCU's All-American DE Jerry Hughes, who will be looking to get in Moore's grill all night and rush him into making a bad decision.
Moore is more than capable of making quick reads, but has, on a few occasions, made the wrong one...against TCU this would be disastrous. Look for the Broncos to use a two-back set to disrupt the pass rush of the Horned Frogs and to try to sneak out a few of the Broncos tight-ends to open up the passing game a bit more.
The Frogs also placed three DBs on the MWC first or second team defense, so Jeremy Childs, Austin Pettis, Vinny Perretta, and company will need to run precise routes and go after the football aggressively to keep the fierce Frog secondary at bay.
When the Frogs are on offense, the Broncos need to stay disciplined against a deceptively good Frog rushing attack. Though TCU's top rusher only has 494 yards rushing on the year, the team has the 13th ranked rushing attack in the country.
The Boise State linebackers and safeties will need to play their assignments and keep tackling like they have in the open field or the Frogs will be able to chew up the clock on the ground. The Broncos have already faced the nation's No. 2 rushing attack in Reno, and handled it well, so I doubt the Frogs will find their offensive groove on the ground.
That means that sophomore QB Andy Dalton will have to spark the Frogs's offense through the air, bringing about my mismatch of the game. The Frogs' passing offense is ranked 70th in the nation, and Dalton has only been completing about 58 percent of his passes on the year. Dalton will have to play above himself to get over on a Broncos secondary that is stacked with speed and talent.
Boise State is third in the nation in pass efficiency defense...and while the Frogs are no slouch at No. 4...Andy Dalton is simply not Kellen Moore, to put it delicately. Look for the Broncos to bring the pressure on the ends from Byron Hout and Ryan Winterswyk early and often to force Dalton to put the ball in play where Kyle Wilson, Brandyn Thompson, George Iloka, or Ellis Powers can get at it.
The Broncos' squad has intercepted 20 passes on the year and would love to make these game-changing plays on TCU. In the two previous games that Dalton played against top current top 10 opponents, he threw zero touchdowns and completed barely over 40 percent of his passes.
The Broncos won't allow Dalton to get in a groove, and I would expect him to throw for a low percentage, if not turn the ball over a time or two. The Horned Frog offense relies on field position to power the ball into the end zone from the red zone.
The Broncos' D can't and won't allow the Frogs to win the field position battle; their best chance, in my opinion, to score offensively on the Broncos.
Helping either team in the vital field position battle will be the kicking and kicking coverage teams. TCU and Boise State both have excellent punt returners, Kyle Wilson for the Broncos and Jeremy Kerley for the Horned Frogs.
Wilson is averaging 14.69 yards per return and has really found his groove as of late returning three punts for TDs in the last five games.
Kerley is averaging 13.88 yards per return. Neither team has received many kickoffs throughout the year, so a large advantage does not present itself in the kickoff return game. TCU's Aaron Brown has performed well on returns and returned one for a TD during the year, so we'll say that the kickoff return advantage leans slightly in the Horned Frogs favor.
As far as kickoffs go, Boise State's Kyle Brotzman has kicked 13 touchbacks on the year, with two kicks on the year going out-of-bounds, while TCU's Drew Combs has eight touchbacks on the year, with four going out-of-bounds.
Brotzman, who pulls double duty as the team's punter certainly has the edge on leg strength and control, it would seem...though neither team has allowed a kick return for a TD and both are holding their opponents to under 20 yards per kickoff return—we'll call this one a push.
On the punting side of things, Boise State's Kyle Brotzman has been really booming his rugby-style punts this year but hasn't ascended the collegiate rankings, for lack of attempts. Brotzman's 45.48 yards/punt average has kept Bronco opponents safely on their own side of midfield and TCU's Anson Kelton's average of 42.04 is not too shabby either.
The punt-return coverage favors the Broncos by a wide margin..as they've given up only 94 yards in punt return yardage all year and allowed no scores...TCU has allowed 193 punt return yards on the year and gave up a return TD against Stanford—Kyle Wilson will certainly test the Frog return coverage and hopefully can put the Bronco offense in business against the tough Horned Frog D.
Special teams as a whole will favor the Broncos.
The matchup will certainly pit two top notch defenses against each other, but will also line up two of the great mid-major coaches in the nation across from one another. Boise State's Chris Petersen is widely known as an offensive genius, and his OC protege Bryan Harsin will no doubt throw some new wrinkles at the Frogs' D.
The Broncos love to put multiple men in motion and confound defenses with misdirection plays, reverses and halfback passes. Gary Patterson's defenses are quick and nasty and there is little doubt that Kellen Moore will have to think quickly and get rid of the ball in a timely manner.
As I've said before, if Moore does not turn the ball over, the Horned Frogs will be in for a long night. That said, TCU's defense held Oklahoma's Sam Bradford to his lowest completion percentage of the season, but he still tossed four TDs.
I think we can expect Moore to dip below his 70 percent completion average on the 23rd, but the yards and TDs will come...especially if the Horned Frogs sellout to stop the Bronco run game.
It's tough to place an advantage in the "intangibles" category here; both coaches will have their team prepared and both want a win badly. Maybe the Broncos have more to prove after the betting lines opened with them being undefeated underdogs...We'll see on Dec. 23 in San Diego.