All posts by zkline

Rebuilding or Reloading? Boise State Broncos Edition

Three games are in the books for the 2014 Boise State Broncos’ season. With a record of 2-1 the Broncos have offered a mixed bag of successes and failures. A poor showing against the 18th ranked Ole Miss Rebels in the first game of the season has acted as an umbrella overshadowing the positives from the two most recent Broncos games, versus Colorado State and at Connecticut. If it weren’t for a complete meltdown against the Rebels on national television, the mood surrounding the Broncos may be a bit more favorable. So where do the Broncos really stack up this season and what should we expect moving forward? Let’s dive a bit more deeply into the three games already played.
Broncos versus Ole Miss Runnin’ Rebels
The Broncos lost their season opener to Ole Miss 36-13. It was a chance for Boise State to make a splash on the national stage in the first game of its 2014 college football season. With a new coach and new offensive and defensive game plans, early struggles were expected. The offense experienced the brunt of these struggles, particularly in the first half of the game. While credit is partially due to a tough defense in Ole Miss, the signal caller of the Broncos didn’t do much to help matters. Making poor decisions throughout including three first half interceptions, many questions were raised to test whether Grant Hedrick is the best candidate for the Broncos under center in 2014. The bright spot of the offense was their bona fide running back Jay Ajayi. Powerful, explosive, and versatile, Ajayi was the star for the Broncos against Ole Miss. He looked very good running inside, outside, and catching passes out of the backfield. He was the lone bright spot in an otherwise poor showing. Grade – D.
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As for the Boise State defense, it was solid for much of the game. The Broncos stuffed the Rebels’ running game and forced the Ole Miss passing game to try and move the ball. This worked well early on as the Broncos intercepted quarterback Bo Wallace three times in the first half. It was clear by the fourth quarter that the Broncos were gassed against the talented SEC team, and Wallace and standout wide receiver Laquon Treadwell were able to finally get it going, contributing to four 4th quarter touchdowns. Grade – B-.
 Broncos versus Colorado State Rams
The Broncos won their 2014 home opener against the Colorado State Rams 37-24. It was a much better showing for Boise State on the whole, but there were still some glaring negatives fans took from the game. While Hedrick’s stats looked good in the box score, he still made poor fundamental choices. His lone interception was a ball thrown into double coverage and in the red zone, taking away possible points from the Broncos at the time. He continued to throw the ball without his feet set and on the run. Each time he left the pocket and let the ball go without set feet, a collective cloud of anxiety could be felt throughout Albertson’s Stadium. The star on offense yet again was Jay Ajayi, who ran for over 200 yards, receiving for over 60, and scoring three touchdowns. However, it was concerning for fans to see first year head coach Bryan Harsin ride Ajayi like a Clydesdale among ponies especially when the Broncos roster other quality running backs like Jack Fields and Devan Dumas, who each had only 2 carries during the game. Even throughout the latter stages of the game when the Broncos had all but won, Ajayi was still fed the ball and took a few unnecessary hits to the lower body. Ever seen the movie “Friday Night Lights” when James “Boobie” Miles is given additional carries when a game is essentially over? You don’t give your best offensive player garbage time carries, it can only ends poorly with little (if anything) to gain. Grade – B-.
The run defense was extremely solid against Colorado State, limiting the Rams to 28 total rushing yards. The Broncos fortified the iron curtain erected during the game at Ole Miss, forcing the Rams to pass the ball on early downs. This played right into the Rams’ hands however, and allowed CSU quarterback Garrett Grayson to throw for over 400 yards and three touchdowns. Needless to say, the Broncos’ passing defense took a sharp step backwards in the home opener and nearly fell down the stairs in doing so. Leaving receivers wide open and the quarterback ample time to throw is not a recipe for success as a pass defense, and the Broncos continued to be exposed when it came to defending the pass. Grade – C.
Broncos versus Connecticut Huskies
Making the trip across the country to play the UConn Huskies, the Broncos defense stole the show in this one and was just what Broncos’ fans ordered. Returning a fumble recovery and interception for touchdowns in the game the Broncos offense didn’t have to worry much about scoring points. In addition, the defense held the Huskies under 300 yards of total offense and looked much-improved overall. The Boise State run defense was bullish (48 total yards) and played as fans were accustomed to seeing in the first two games of the season. A good showing was desperately needed for the Bronco pass defense and the call was more than answered in this one. Regularly pressuring UConn quarterback Chandler Whitmer and collecting eight sacks on the day, the Broncos limited the Huskies to a pedestrian 242 passing yards.  Grade – A.
Boise State UConn interception
Seeing Grant Hedrick with a “0” in the interceptions column of the stat sheet is rare and a sight for sore eyes for Boise State fans. Hedrick started off the game slowly and the Broncos were forced to punt on their first four possessions of the game. The running game could not get much going either and Jay Ajayi was contained well by the UConn defense (39 yards on 18 carries). Coach Harsin continued to lean on Ajayi without adhering to UConn basing their defensive strategy around stopping him, and gave all other Boise State running backs a total of one carry in the game. It was a passable showing for the offense with still much left to be desired. Grade – B-.
Miscellaneous thoughts from an unsettled fan
I talked to one of the Broncos’ diehard fans and he had some great critiques of the Broncos so far. Carl Swantek has paid close attention to the Boise State Broncos for decades. He’s got major concerns about Coach Harsin’s decision-making, both personnel-wise and in play-calling. Here are his thoughts, unfiltered and with a fine-toothed comb.

  1. I am not sure how Charles Bertoli plays in practice, but during games in the past he has played outstanding – a powerful runner that would be a great complement to Ajayi’s abilities.  Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford and Coach Harsin need to go back and look at game tapes when he played.
  2. Bryan Harsin is on the path to mediocrity, calling plays just like every other team and how the Broncos did it the last two years (which went downhill for the Broncos).  Where is the creativity?  By creativity I don’t mean trick plays, I mean being creative and unpredictable on every play possible.  Where is the ball distribution?  Not only does Hedrick not spread the ball out, the offensive plays always give the ball to Ajayi to run.  Sure makes it easy on the defense.  I love Ajayi, but he would be a lot more productive and be kept healthier if he only got the ball half the time and other running backs had a chance. 
  3. Quarterback – there is no doubt that for both college and NFL teams the teams tend to go the way of their quarterback.  BSU has had a lot of very good quarterbacks, most notably Kellen Moore.  However, there was Zabransky, Dinwiddie, Hendricks, and others before him.  When you look at these other quarterbacks they did vary a bit in raw talent, but what they all had was the “it factor”!   Hedrick does NOT have the “it factor”.  Fans appreciate his effort, his work ethic, and his desire to succeed, but he doesn’t have it when he gets to the red zone or when the game is on the line.  Harsin had a chance to go with one of the younger quarterbacks that have potential and may well have the “it” factor, but we won’t know because we don’t get to see and of them. 
  4. One last question, why isn’t 4-star recruit Dylan Sumner-Gardner playing more?  Seems like he should have been red-shirted if he wasn’t going to start this year.  What message is this sending to potential four and five star recruit candidates?  If he is not as good as he was ranked, then we can understand, but we don’t know because he’s had a lack of playing time from day one.   

Where do we go from here?
Through 25% of the season, the Broncos are clearly behind the pace in terms of fans’ expectations for the 2014 season. Inconsistent play on both sides of the ball are inherent with teams that have undergone as much change as the Broncos have seen over the past year, and we are all hoping for those wrinkles to be ironed out before the Broncos take on Air Force come September 27th. We expect to see a flawless game against Louisiana Lafayette this upcoming Saturday, giving the team and its fans confidence heading into a definitive four-game stretch (at Air Force, at Nevada, home against Fresno State, home against BYU) that will go a long way in deciding how the Broncos will be remembered in 2014. Three things to look for in the short term are how Hedrick progresses and develops as a winner and not just as a passer, if the pass defense can settle down and become more consistent, and if Coach Harsin’s game plan continues to be ultra-conservative or if he starts calling plays like he did as Boise State offensive coordinator from 2006-2010. While there remain questions for the Broncos on both sides of the ball and in certain coaching moves, there are many reasons to be optimistic as a Boise State fan. Buckle up, it should be one heck of a ride. Go Broncos!
Boise State Broncos cheer

How the College Football Playoff will Affect Boise State Football, Mountain West Conference

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The beginning of college football is less than 7 weeks away. Since the end of the 2014 National Championship game culminating in the Florida State Seminoles raising the crystal trophy, college football has changed (and will change) significantly in 2014-2015. For one, there will no longer be a crystal football awarded to the champion of college football. This will be replaced by a new trophy awarded at the end of the College Football Playoff (CFP). This is the first year of its implementation as well, and four teams will compete for the college football crown. Finally, you’ll see more conference realignment. Maryland and Rutgers will join the Big Ten and Louisville will join the ACC, to name a few of the big ones. With some of these major changes set for the 2014-2015 season, where does that leave “mid-major” conferences like the Mountain West Conference (MWC)?
The new shakeup begs certain questions to be answered for the mid-major conferences. Will this new format give teams like Boise State and Nevada a better shot at competing with the big dogs of college football at the end of the season? Will the new CFP committee help or hurt in ranking the Cinderella stories of college football? On the whole it should help them. While it may not be perfect, the CFP is at least a starting point and as everything else, will develop and expand to (hopefully) include 8 or even 16 teams over the course of the next few years. As for right now, the new system should benefit the MWC.
One aspect that seems a bit fishy to me is regarding the selection committee. For a full list of the CFP selection members, USA Today does a great job of providing a profile and some of the accomplishments of each. Take a minute to read up on each member. Now imagine you support a team like the Boise State Broncos or Northern Illinois Huskies. Did you notice anything? Not a ton of mid-major representation in this list, huh? This is concerning, because what will stop an alma-mater of Nebraska voting for an 11-1 Cornhuskers squad over an unbeaten Boise State? Nothing seems to be in place to provide a sort of checks-and-balances system to ensure no favorites are played. Hopefully we never experience such a thing, but it is a possibility.
Thankfully for the MWC, instead of competing for the top two spots in the nation, the number of teams given the chance to win the College Football Championship will double. This will lessen the likelihood that, for example, a 12-0 Utah Utes team will land #3 and a 12-1 Florida and Oklahoma will land ahead of them (as happened in the BCS). In theory, Utah would still get a chance to win the championship as they would certainly be ranked in the top four teams. While there will always be teams on the bubble that will not make it into the CFP, allowing four teams with a shot to win it all will go quite far to giving the smaller dogs a legitimate shot to win it all.
This is an exciting time for conferences like the MWC. Remember when Boise State pulled off the miracle in overtime against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl of 2007, or (then MWC) champion Texas Christian University’s 21-19 Rose Bowl triumph against perennial Big Ten powerhouse Wisconsin in 2011? While the MWC is constantly ranked below the fold when it comes to top-ranked college football conferences it contains a handful of teams that can hold their own against some of college football’s “best.” The new playoff format should give the MWC a better shot at claiming the College Football Championship, and while there are still some clear flaws within the system itself, it will surely be an improvement over that God-awful system known as the BCS.

Former Boise State DE to become Impact Player at OLB for Chicago

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To say the Chicago Bears reached on Shea McClellin in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft is an understatement. The Bears took McClellin with the 19th overall pick, while draft experts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper believed the former Boise State defensive standout should have been selected at the tail-end of the first round if not early second round. With two years under his belt, McClellin has underperformed but it is not entirely his fault. In 28 games with Chicago, McClellin has racked up a total of 6.5 sacks, 23 assists, and 21 total tackles. However the front office in Chicago set him up to fail from day one. He was never fit to play defensive end in the Bears’ 4-3 defense and would have had a much better chance playing as an outside linebacker on a 3-4. He’s also been plagued by the injury bug and never performed consistently during his first two years. Will this former Boise State Bronco be able to revitalize himself and the Bears’ lackluster defense in 2014?
During the 2014 NFL Combine, Chicago General Manager Phil Emery announced the team would switch McClellin from defensive end to outside linebacker and possibly give him some looks at middle linebacker. McClellin played outside linebacker at Boise State from 2008 to 2011 and excelled at the position, compiling 130 tackles, 20.5 sacks, and a handful of interceptions (4). It was a strange development when the Bears shifted McClellin from his natural position, as he weighed around 260 pounds, quite undersized to play on the defensive line in the NFL. The Bears aren’t known for making many intelligent internal decisions however, and lo and behold received two dreadful years from McClellin. Hardcore fans will still contend that sacking Aaron Rodgers and breaking his collarbone during a 2013 regular season game was worth the price of admission.
Sorry to say many could have advised against McClellin being used exclusively at defensive end in the first place, and there are a couple glaring reasons why. As aforementioned, the guy weighs between 250-260 pounds. In other words, his size doesn’t really fit battling it out in the trenches down after down. The goal was to have McClellin as the heir apparent to former Bears’ superstar Julius Peppers, who went on to sign with the rival Green Bay Packers during the offseason. Obviously the plan did not pan out. So the Bears will finally attempt to utilize their former first-rounder in ways that better utilize his skill set. He ran a 4.63 at the Combine in 2012, along with a vertical jump of 31.5, broad jump of 9 feet, 10 inches, and 3-cone drill of 7.07. Compare this to Jadaveon Clowney, first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans, and you see some comparable lines to note. Which position will the Texans line Clowney up in 2014? He’s projected to play where McClellin should have stayed all along, at outside linebacker.
Reports from Chicago seem to be mainly positive for McClellin so far into offseason workouts. He’s slimmed down considerably and his body looks great. He is said to look much better as outside linebacker than he did at defensive end, in addition to McClellin stating the position change feels more “natural” to him (source). To his benefit, McClellin will continue to line up alongside Bears’ great Lance Briggs, a very promising up-and-coming stud in Jon Bostic, and a wily veteran in DJ Williams.
This leaves McClellin with a fresh start, a clean slate, and a chance at redemption. The project at defensive end is over and there is no longer a question about McClellin’s “right” position. He is an outside linebacker in the NFL. His size, speed, and overall skill-set will be better used at outside linebacker. “I think it’s what I should be doing… My first two years weren’t the greatest, but I think linebacker is a natural fit for me.” While McClellin is opening up a new chapter in his career after an unsuccessful start, the Boise State product has the potential to become a real impact player for Chicago in 2014.

Homeless Football Player Finds Home at Boise State

At 6’3’’ and 280 pounds, previously-homeless Boise State defensive tackle Antoine Turner will be a substantial addition to a historically hard-nosed Bronco defense in 2014. If you watch any of his game tape from Fullerton College you’ll be able to see that he has all the physical attributes to be a staunch run stopper and dogged pass rusher. He’s got quick feet and a knack for knifing through offensive lines and disrupting backfields of opposing offenses. You can see he’s got a motor that will not quit – you’ll see him making plays downfield, never giving up when a play seems dead, and generally wrecking absolute havoc in his wake. He’s scrappy and possesses a never-give-up attitude, even when his back is pressed up against a wall.

Turner_Fullteron

But not long ago, Turner found himself at the precipice of losing those fumes that kept him going – his dream to play college football and then in the NFL. At one point, he was flunking out of college. He lost his job at the local Laundromat. His family was broken and he lost his mother to cancer 17 years prior. Then, he was kicked off the Fullerton College football team. He spent his nights sleeping on a steel picnic table at a park in Anaheim, CA where he lost 70 pounds because of malnutrition and contemplated ending his own life right then and there. But it only took a small spark to rekindle his inner flame.

He met a fellow Fullerton student named R’Mya, who allowed for Turner to house with her and her family for the time being. That student is now Turner’s girlfriend and plans to attend college with him at Boise State this fall. Turner was also, somewhat surprisingly, given a rare second shot to play for Fullerton by head coach Tim Byrnes.

This time, he wouldn’t let the opportunity slip away.

Turner tore up the line of scrimmage last season at Fullerton with 34 tackles, 6 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, and an interception. He has used his second chance as a way to revitalize his entire life with a hard reset. Now he’s a promising young defensive tackle for one of the top college teams in the Northwest, complete with a full-ride athletic scholarship.

Turner_streets

While he has yet to find a home and continues to sleep in motels, hotels, and any facility that puts a roof over his head, Turner knows the odds are increasingly pointing in his favor.

“I’m not a victim. I’m a survivor,” is how Turner sees it, “I want to inspire people. Perseverance is a big word for me. You control whatever you want to do in life.”

Turner still has a lot to prove, much more to himself than to anyone else. “Even if I get the food and I get the place to sleep I still have this planet on my shoulder that I have to get off. It’s not a chip, it’s a planet.” This is a man that realizes only he has the power to control his future and understands it can all be undone in an instant. He was only 12 years old when he saw this first-hand, as Hurricane Katrina ripped through his family’s home in New Orleans.

Antoine Turner is a rare type of player. He acknowledges the repercussions of failure, accepts that life is often unfair, and once came dangerously close to falling into the abyss of irrelevance. He has since turned his life completely around and will use his unique resolve and determination for the orange and blue this fall.

That’s not a good sign for opposing offensive lineman. Turner and the Broncos open the season in the Georgia Dome against Ole Miss on August 28th  (on ESPN at 8 p.m. EST).