Thursday, August 21, 2014

Question Mark and the Broncos

Question Mark and the Mysterians were a 60’s band, best known for their big hit “96 Tears”. 

Unlike the band, the “Question Mark” here doesn’t refer to anyone specific, but rather a vast number of question marks surrounding the Boise State team. 

Bryan Harsin had an amazing record as an assistant coach, helped rebuild Texas’s offense, and did a fine job as the head man at Arkansas State coach.  But the team he inherits in Boise isn’t the one he left—up until last year, Boise State had not lost a game by more than four points since way back in 2007.  Last year’s Bronco team was crushed 38-6 by Washington, thumped 37-20 by BYU, and ripped by Oregon State 38-23.  You have to go all the way back to 2001 to find a blue and orange team that lost three games by 15 points or more.  Until last year. 

Are the current Boise State players on the level of the Broncos of 13 years ago, or was the coaching just poor last year, or some combination? 

People who produce the recruiting ratings are no experts, and people who follow them know that great prospects don’t necessarily translate into great players.  But the recruiting classes at Boise State the last few years have been among the best in the history of the school.  So it seems that the Broncos certainly had the talent to be champions.  The old Bronco coaching staff installed a new offense a few seasons ago, a highly predictable system that relied chiefly on bubble screens and runs up the middle.  But the question remains:  Did Boise State lose the most games since 1998 (5) because of poor coaching or poor execution?   

Boise State built its reputation on having strong, aggressive offensive lines, and has sent many linemen to the National Football League.  The Broncos always prided themselves on picking up the tough yard on fourth and short.  Last year, Boise State slipped in fourth down production, ranking all the way back at #55 in that department.  Was that because the Bronco line is not up to the level of past years, or was the play-calling just bad?  

Well, Boise State sent another one to the NFL (tackle Charles Leno), and two other starters are gone, so unfortunately, we may not get an answer to this one for a while.  The 2014 Bronco offensive line is very young and relatively inexperienced.  It will take a few games to get a good handle on their talent level.  Will they be able to not only hold their blocks, but resume serving pancake blocks, then running downfield to knock someone else down?  Boise State was one of the best in the nation at protecting the quarterback not that long ago.  But last year, the Bronco line also allowed the most sacks of quarterbacks Joe Southwick and Grant Hedrick of any year in recent memory (ranking #60 in sacks allowed).  Have the new coaches corrected the problems of a year ago? 

Last season, when he first became a starter, Hedrick turned in a couple of gorgeous runs in the Nevada game, then it seemed as if he was hesitant to run after that.  Was that his decision, or was he told by the old coaches not to head upfield?   

Demarcus Lawrence’s decision to go professional after his junior year may have been a great move by him, but what bearing does that decision have on the remaining defensive linemen?  With the Bronco secondary being one of the strengths of this Boise State team, there should be ample opportunities for sacks.  Can the Broncos turn up the pressure this year on the opposing quarterback, and if so, who will be the new leader on the line? 

Speaking of the secondary, they certainly have the talent to be one of the top units in the country this year, and, in defensive coordinator Marcel Yates, have a coach with plenty of experience to know what he wants them to do, having played the position himself.  But just how good is this unit?  In Mississippi, they’ll be facing a talented corps of SEC receivers.  Can they stay with them, or are the defensive backs overrated? 

Last year, every time Boise State needed a key stop, be it trying to gain control against Washington, or in a tight conference game, they had trouble.  The 2013 Broncos ranked 86th in third-down defense.  If a defense is on the field for most of the game, they’re going to get tired, the tackling won’t be as crisp, and they’re more likely to get pushed around by the opposing team.  This is what happened in games such as Washington, BYU, and others.  Has Yates instilled the fire in his unit to come up with those key stops, or will we see more of the same? 

And then it comes back to coaching.  On paper, the Bronco coaching staff seems as able as any the team has had in the past decade.  They have a great combination of young excitement and ideas and savvy veterans.  Harsin helped Arkansas State win the Sun Belt last season, but he’s never faced an opponent the caliber of Mississippi as a head coach.  How will he fare?  Harsin hopes he and his staff have prepared the team to play well enough to make it close.  If it is, then it comes down to coaching.  We know Harsin was an excellent offensive coordinator—how good of a head coach is he? 

We should find out the answer to that question and many of the ones posed above soon.  In fact, we are one week away from the opener in Atlanta, Georgia.  One doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to better themselves or their position in life.  The game with Ole Miss is one of those opportunities for Boise State.  Which leads us to yet another question? 

Will the Broncos show that they are underrated as huge ten point underdogs, or will the Bronco players be crying “96 Tears”?   

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