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September 27, 2013

Boise State Preview

When Southern Miss and Boise State last took the field, the results were not pretty. Bronco quarterback Joe Southwick threw for three touchdowns and five Golden Eagle turnovers helped Boise run away with a game that was never close in the first place. Things will be a lot different for both teams this time around when they take the field on the blue turf this Saturday in Idaho.

Offense

Boise State went into spring practice looking to revamp its touted offense after the unit dropped into the bottom half of the NCAA rankings for the first time in the Chris Petersen era. The Broncos aimed at simplifying the playbook and stressing reads and reactions in lieu of set plays and huddles in an attempt to better match up against bigger and more athletic teams. The results have been promising so far as the team has scored 37.8 points per game and rolled up almost 2,000 yards of total offense on the year.

Almost half of the new system's production can be attributed to senior quarterback Joe Southwick, who has passed for 986 yards and six touchdowns (three interceptions) through four games. Southwick is completing 71.6% of his throws and boasts a commendable QBR of 141.5. The Danville, Calif. native is even better at home, where he is completing a whopping 81.5% of his passes for nearly ten yards a play. Southwick has been the biggest beneficiary of the new up-tempo offense and his ability to read defenses has vastly improved as he has become more and more comfortable in the new system.

Perhaps the biggest reason for Southwick's success, however, can be measured in how well Boise State's run game has performed on the year. The Broncos are averaging 206.7 rushing yards a game behind an athletic offensive line that has cleared the way for a solid stable of backs that have all contributed to the team's offensive success. Sophomore Jay Ajayi has led the way with 352 yards and seven touchdowns but he's not the only guy who can handle the rock. Aaron Baltazar, Jack Fields, and even Southwick himself have all used their legs for big gains on the ground. Maybe the most surprising rushing stat for Boise State lies in its longest run of the year, credited to backup QB Grant Hedrick, who played three snaps in last week's loss to Fresno State after a shoulder injury to Southwick. Hedrick took a 50-yard run to the house on a designed quarterback keeper, showcasing both his legs and Boise State's versatility in a run game that is poised to average over 200 yards for only the third time in school history.

Defense

The Broncos defense has suffered in 2013 but a lot of that comes from just how good the offenses they have faced truly are. Boise State ranks 99th in total defense and has struggled mightily to stop the pass. Fresno State QB Derek Carr racked up 460 yards through the air against BSU last week and threw for as many passing touchdowns against the Broncos (4) as they allowed all of last season. While a lot of that can be attributed to just how good Carr's Fresno State team is, it's safe to say this Bronco D is nowhere near the level of talent it was a year ago without star corners Jerrell Gavins and Jamar Taylor.

Containing the run has also been a struggle for Boise State but, again, the defense has faced some stiff competition in that department. In a 38-6 season-opening loss to Washington, the Huskies' Heisman darkhorse Bishop Sankey ran for 161 yards on 25 carries - exploiting the Broncos' run defense in a way that will be hard to match for other teams. But BSU does defend the run slightly better than the pass, ranking 72nd in the FBS in total rushing defense. With what looks to be a resurgence of Southern Miss' run game in the past two weeks, this matchup will be key for the Golden Eagles to compete in the game.

Despite the unit's early struggles, Boise State does do one thing very well and that is its ability to create turnovers. The Broncos have caused six interceptions and recovered two fumbles in four games and rank a respectable 46th in turnover margin at +2. This looks to be bad news for Southern Miss, who is dead last in the NCAA with a turnover margin of -9. With BSU's ability to disguise blitzes and react quickly to set plays, not gifting Southwick's offense any possessions will be the most critical component to the Eagles' game plan Saturday night.

Did You Know?

Boise State did not receive a vote in the AP Top 25 poll this week for the first time since October 2005. That breaks a streak of 2,881 days the Broncos had at least one vote in the poll.


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