2010 Football Game Preview: #5 Boise State vs. #6 Virginia Tech

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  • Date: Monday, September 6, 2010
  • Time: 8PM
  • TV: ESPN

For weather information and a roster card link, see the Info Center to the

Once again Virginia Tech will take part in a huge opening weekend game. This
time the opponent is media darling Boise State, and the outcome of this game
could have National Championship implications.

Boise State is one of the winningest programs in the country over the last
decade. The Broncos made the move to 1-A football in 1996, and went to their
first bowl game in 1999. We all know they’ve won a lot of football games since
then, but when you actually look at it on paper it’s very impressive.

State Since 1999
Year W L Bowl
2009 14 0
2008 12 1
2007 10 3
2006 13 0
2005 9 4
MPC Computers
2004 11 1
2003 13 1
Fort Worth
2002 12 1
2001 8 4
2000 10 2
1999 10 3
Totals 122 20

122-20 is impressive, no matter how you slice it. Are the Big West and WAC
quality competition? No. But it doesn’t matter. The Broncos have done an
excellent job leveraging their record, their blue turf and their media hype into
getting better recruits. Boise is a much more talented football team right now
than they were from 2005 on back to 1999.

In fact, Boise State has had an undefeated regular season in three of the
last four seasons. They have won 26 of their last 27 football games, with their
one loss a one-point defeat at the hands of TCU in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl.

Boise State is a fun team to watch play, and they built their program in
similar ways to the way Frank Beamer built Virginia Tech. They started winning
with unheralded players, and have slowly improved their recruiting over a 10
year span. They win with toughness in the trenches, and the on-field mentality
of the Broncos and Hokies is pretty much the same.

In short, this is an excellent matchup for the opening weekend of the season.

The Boise State Offense

The numbers that Boise State generates on offense are very impressive.

State Offensive Stats
Category Stat Rank

42.21 ppg 1

186.07 ypg 26

264.14 ypg 29

450.21 ypg 10

Pass Eff.
159.53 5

Sacks Allowed
0.36 per game 1

TFL Allowed
4.43 per game 14

3 1

14 7

Third Downs
37.93% 73

Those stats are like video game numbers. Play NCAA Football 2011 on Varsity
settings, and you’ll be putting up the same numbers as the Boise State offense.

The only thing the Broncos struggled with last season was third down
conversion percentage. Boise State does an excellent job getting their skill
position players in space to make big plays, but they aren’t necessarily built
to sustain long, physical drives against the better defenses they face. For
example, in the Fiesta Bowl against TCU, Boise was just 6-of-18 on third downs.

The offense is run by the efficient Kellen Moore (6-0, 191, r-Jr.). Moore’s
career numbers are huge: 558 of 836 (66.7%) for 7,022 yards, with 64 touchdowns
and 13 interceptions. Keep in mind that he’s only played for two years, and has
two seasons left to go. By the time he’s finished, he’ll be one of the most
productive players in the history of college football.

Moore isn’t the prototypical pocket passer, but he has very good pocket
presence and he throws the ball well on the run. He also understands the need to
get the ball out of the pocket quickly, and his timing with his receivers is
top-notch. He’ll connect on some deep balls with his wideouts, but Boise State
is primarily a West Coast offense that features a lot of three step drops and
quick passes, including a variety of screens.

It will be interesting to see how hard the Tech defense chooses to rush
Moore. The ball is generally out of the pocket in a couple of seconds or less,
which doesn’t give the defense much of a chance to record a sack. That’s why
Moore was sacked just five times last season. Is rushing him the best idea, or
do you instruct your defensive ends to take a couple of steps, play contain, and
get their hands up? Moore is not a tall quarterback, while the Tech defensive
ends Steven Friday and Chris Drager are both 6-4. The possibility is there for
some tipped passes.

Moore has a couple of very good wide receivers with different skill sets.
Titus Young (5-11, 175, Sr.) is their big play guy, and Boise likes to get him
the ball in space as much as possible. He caught 79 passes for 1,049 yards in
2009, and he also ran for 159 yards. A top notch special teams performer, Young
also ran back two kickoffs for touchdown. He is Boise State’s version of Eddie
Royal, if you want to compare him to a former Virginia Tech player.

The other wide receiver is Austin Pettis (6-3, 203, Sr.), and he presents a
big target for Moore. Pettis has good hands, a good frame, and though he’s
considered a possession receiver, he’s still a good athlete. He’s not the player
in space that Young is, but Pettis can make plays. He caught 63 passes for 855
yards and 15 touchdowns last season.

Tyler Shoemaker (6-1, 215, r-Jr.) is a slot receiver specialist who caught 21
passes for 345 yards and two touchdowns last season. Kirby Moore (6-2, 202,
So.), brother of quarterback Kellen Moore, will also get plenty of time in the
slot. He also had 21 receptions as a true freshman a year ago.

Other receivers who could see action are Mitch Burroughs (5-9, 188, r-So.)
and Chris Potter (5-9, 160, r-So.), but there is a big dropoff after Boise’s top
four receivers.

Boise State has a couple of capable tight ends in Tommy Gallarda (6-5, 259,
r-Sr.) and Kyle Efaw (6-4, 232, r-Jr.). Gallarda is a blocking specialist who
has caught 18 career passes. Efaw is the receiving specialist at tight end. He
was third on the team last season with 31 catches for 444 yards. It was Efaw who
caught the big fake punt in the game-winning drive against TCU in the Fiesta

The Bronco offensive line has been somewhat of a question mark throughout the
preseason. Their starting lineup is still up in the air, depending on the health
of Joe Kellog (6-2, 299, r-So.).

Kellog can play the interior offensive line positions for Boise State, and if
he’s healthy for the game then the Boise State offensive line will probably look
like this …

With Joe Kellog
Pos. Name Ht. Wt. Yr.
Nate Potter
6-6 300 r-Jr.
Joe Kellog
6-2 299 r-So.
Thomas Byrd
5-11 281 r-Jr.
Will Lawrence
6-2 291 r-Sr.
Brenel Myers
6-2 272 r-So.

A healthy Kellog means that Nate Potter, Boise State’s top offensive tackle, can
play on the edge like he’s used to. Potter has been seeing a lot of practice
time at offensive guard just in case Kellog can’t go. If that’s the case, then
here’s what the starting lineup will look like.

Without Joe Kellog
Pos. Name Ht. Wt. Yr.
Matt Slater
6-4 267 r-Sr.
Nate Potter
6-6 300 r-Jr.
Thomas Byrd
5-11 281 r-Jr.
Will Lawrence
6-2 291 r-Sr.
Brenel Myers
6-2 272 r-So.

Boise State has been moving guys in and out of the starting lineup so far this
preseason, and it has offensive line coach Chris Strausser worried.

“It’s hard to take that next step as a group when you don’t know what
that group is,” Strausser said earlier this week.

Confusion up front is nothing new for the Broncos. They started 11 different
offensive line combinations in 2008, and six in 2009. You can bet that they’ll
have to do some more experimenting in 2010.

In a major BCS conference, you can’t get away with that kind of trouble on
the offensive line. In the WAC, you can. In 2009, Boise State faced one good
defense (Oregon) and one great defense (TCU). Every other defense they faced can
be categorized as below average to downright awful.

Throwing out TCU and Oregon, Boise State’s opponents averaged 93rd nationally
in total defense. The best defense they faced was Louisiana Tech, which ranked
60th in the country. The Broncos put up a lot of yards and a lot of points
against very bad competition defensively. Things weren’t as easy against TCU and

Against both of those opponents, Boise State could not get a running game
going, averaging less than three yards per carry in both contests. Here’s a list
of their scoring drives in games against the Ducks and Horned Frogs.

Drives vs. Oregon and TCU
Opp. Yards Time Result

50 5:05 TD

30 2:58 FG

64 4:21 TD

54 5:33 FG

78 4:59 TD

*A fake punt kept this drive alive

It was difficult for the Broncos to move the chains against the two defenses
they faced who could get off blocks and tackle. Of the 36 points they scored in
those two games combined, 9 were scored directly by the defense (a safety and an
interception return for a touchdown).

It’s okay to say that the Boise State offense is very good and very dangerous
while also stating that they racked up their yards against the little sisters of
the poor last year. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. If the Broncos’ line
can block Virginia Tech and get a running game going, they’ll probably win the
game. But if you look at what this line did against quality competition last
year, it’s tough to see Boise State running the football on the Hokies.

The Boise State Defense

Obviously Boise State did not win their biggest games of the season because
of their offense. Instead, they relied on an excellent defense that is very
physical in the trenches and mixes up their coverages effectively in the

Boise State Defense
Category Stat Rank

17.14 ppg 14

120.36 ypg 20

179.86 ypg 21

300.21 ypg 14

Pass Eff.
103.42 13

1.79 per game 72

7.07 per game 19

24 2

35 3

Third Downs
30.73% 11

The Broncos are an opportunistic defense, intercepting a lot of passes and
forcing a lot of turnovers. They play with a nickelback who is similar to
Virginia Tech’s whip. He can line up as an extra defensive back or an outside
linebacker, he can blitz, he can run with slot receivers in coverage, etc. Such
a versatile position allows for a wide variety of defensive calls, and sometimes
it can be very difficult for opposing quarterbacks to recognize coverages.

Before we get into Boise State’s personnel, let’s focus on three specific
games: Oregon, TCU and Fresno State. Two of those teams were completely shut
down by the Bronco defense, while another ran wild with a tailback who was
eventually selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.

The Oregon Ducks averaged 231.7 yards per game on the ground last year, and
ended up as the Pac-10 Champions and played in the Rose Bowl. Against Boise
State, they had 31 rushing yards, averaged 1.8 yards per carry and were just
1-of-10 on third downs.

TCU averaged 239.5 yards per game rushing for the season, but they were held
to just 36 rushing yards on 1.8 yards per carry against the Broncos. They were
eighth nationally in passing efficiency, but quarterback Andy Dalton tossed up
three picks to the Broncos. Finally, TCU was just 1-of-12 on third downs.

Boise State easily shut down the running game of two outstanding rushing
teams, for various reasons. I’d argue that both teams abandoned the run much too
early in those games. Oregon tailbacks LeGarrette Blount and LaMichael James
combined for just nine carries. TCU’s three-head monster of Joseph Turner,
Matthew Tucker and Ed Wesley, each of whom ran for over 600 yards on the year,
combined to have only 10 carries in the Fiesta Bowl.

It’s not like those two games were blowouts either. The TCU game was tied at
10 in the fourth quarter. It’s almost like the opposing coaches were so afraid
that they were going to have to outscore Boise State’s offense that they just
decided from the get-go to start airing it out.

That’s 21 carries from five quality running backs, over the course of 120
minutes of football against Boise State. I don’t think Virginia Tech will fall
into that same trap. Ryan Williams, Darren Evans and David Wilson could combine
to run the ball that many times in the first half.

The Fresno State game was a different story. Boise State won that one 51-34,
despite the fact that first round NFL Draft pick Ryan Matthews had 19 carries
for 234 yards and three touchdowns against the Broncos.

How did Matthews pick up so many yards? He obviously had first round talent,
and when he got into the open field, Boise State had trouble bringing him down.
He had touchdown runs of 69, 68 and 60 yards. On his other 16 carries, he
averaged right around three yards per carry.

Once Matthews got through the defensive line, he was making big plays. That’s
because Boise State’s inside linebackers are the weakness of the defense, and
they depend on great play from the defensive line. Boise State’s defensive line
got beat on three plays, and Matthews ran wild. On the other 16, they held their
gaps and Matthews was shut down.

The key for the Hokies will be to get their tailbacks into the open field and
have them do work against the Boise State linebackers and defensive backs. The
Broncos have a very tough, very physical defensive line, so that will be easier
said than done.

Boise’s defense starts up front, and their best player on the defensive line
is defensive end Ryan Winterswyk (6-4, 270, r-Sr.). Winterswyk had nine sacks
and 17 tackles for loss, and was very difficult to move from his end position.
Strong at the point of attack, Winterswyk can also flatten out and pursue. Right
now, Winterswyk is projected as one of the top natural defensive ends in the
country, and he could be selected on the first day of the 2011 draft.

The other defensive end is Shea McClellin (6-3, 254, Jr.), who looks like
he’s improved a lot since spring ball. In one scrimmage this August he
registered four sacks, though you have to remember that the Boise State
offensive line has been struggling mightily in the preseason.

On the inside, Billy Winn (6-4, 288, r-Jr.) had 12.5 tackles for loss and six
sacks last season, outstanding numbers for a defensive tackle. He is a very
early projection as a second or third round pick for the 2012 draft, though
obviously it’s still very early in the process. Chase Baker (6-1, 295, Jr.) is
entering his third year in the program, and should be ready to play his best

Boise State has a big defensive line, particularly for a non-BCS conference
school. Their linebackers are also big. Derrell Acrey (6-1, 238, r-Sr.) has been
in the playing rotation since his sophomore season, and he started four games
for the Broncos last year. He had 34 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss.

Acrey is listed as a co-starter at the mike position with Byron Hout (6-0,
223, Jr.). Hout played defensive end in his first two years, amassing 12.5
tackles for loss and six sacks. He is in his first season playing linebacker,
and he dropped some weight to make sure he has the foot speed. If his name
sounds familiar, it should. He’s the Boise State player who got slugged on
national television by Oregon tailback LeGarrette Blount last season.

Aaron Tevis (6-3, 232, r-Jr.) will probably get the start at the will
linebacker spot. He started the final eight games of last season and came up
with 6.5 tackles for loss and three interceptions. He is Boise State’s best
playmaking linebacker. J.C. Percy (6-0, 217, r-So.) could also start at will,
and should see action on Monday night. Despite only starting three games last
year, he was second on the team with 64 tackles.

Daron Mackey (5-11, 233, r-Sr.) was a starter at linebacker for eight games
last season. However he was suspended for a portion of camp in August, and is
not listed on the depth chart for this game. Fortunately for the Broncos, they
played a lot of linebackers last season so they’ve got some experienced depth.

Despite playing so many linebackers last season, there aren’t any standouts
at this position for Boise State. They aren’t bad players, by any stretch.
However, they don’t approach the quality of Boise State’s defensive line or

The Broncos intercepted 24 passes last year, and cornerback Kyle Wilson
became a first round draft pick of the New York Jets. Other than Wilson, the
rest of the secondary returns intact.

A player to keep an eye on is nickelback Winston Venable (5-11, 220, Sr.).
Venable can line up as a safety or an outside linebacker. He’s the biggest
hitter of the Boise State defense, and he likes to play behind the line of
scrimmage, recording eight tackles for loss last season. If he’s isolated
against a wide receiver in coverage however, he can struggle at times.

The top cornerback is Brandyn Thompson (5-10, 177, Sr.), who was the MVP of
the Fiesta Bowl. He returned an interception for a touchdown that was the
difference in that game, and finished the year with a team-high six picks. He
has 10 career interceptions, and Thompson is one of the top playmakers on the
Boise State defense. Thompson is somewhat small, so he could potentially miss
tackles against some of Tech’s bigger players, such as Jarrett Boykin.

The other cornerback is Jamar Taylor (5-11, 191, r-So.). Taylor has the
distinction of replacing Kyle Wilson. He played as a true freshman two years ago
and recorded an interception while playing in all 13 games. He took a redshirt
year in 2009, and didn’t seem to have too much trouble winning a starting job
for this season. He is the least experienced player in the Boise State

The Broncos have an All-American type safety in Jeron Johnson (5-11, 198, r-Sr.),
who has been in the starting lineup since he was a r-freshman. He has led the
team in tackles the last two seasons, with 98 in 2008 and 91 in 2009. Johnson
breaks on the ball well and has broken up 19 passes in his distinguished career.
He’s a good natural football player, and the last line of defense for Boise

George Iloka (6-3, 209, Jr.) has seen a lot of playing time since he was a
true freshman in 2008. He made 64 tackles and four interceptions that year, and
started all 14 games as a sophomore last year. He’s a prototypical strong

Even with Kyle Wilson going to the NFL, Boise State has one of the most
experienced secondaries in the country. These guys have seen a lot in their
careers. Like Virginia Tech, Boise State likes to shut down the running game,
make the opposition play from behind, and then use their multiple coverage
defense to force mistakes from the quarterback. It worked to the tune of 24
interceptions last year.

The Boise State defense is very good. They are better than the Boise State
offense, in my opinion, even though some of the numbers might not support that.
It’s the Boise State defense that won the Broncos their two biggest games last
year, while the offense lagged behind.

To get a good look at how physical the Boise State defense is, and see how
well they pursue the football, watch their defensive highlights from the Fiesta
. Just make sure your speakers are turned down if you’re at

Special Teams

I’m not so much worried about trick plays from the Boise State offense as I
am from their special teams. The Broncos use a variety of formations on their
field goal and punt teams, and sometimes it’s difficult to figure out which
players are eligible for a pass and which are not. I’d look for something tricky
out of Boise State on special teams against Virginia Tech.

The Broncos have a rugby style punter, Kyle Brotzman (5-10, 196, r-Sr.). He
also doubles as the team’s placekicker. He’s 51-of-69 on his field goal attempts
in his career. He’s got a strong leg, though he hasn’t been as accurate the last
two years as he was as a freshman in 2007.

As a punter, Brotzman has a career average of 44.7 yards per punt with 38
downed inside the 20 yard line. His longest punt of 2007 was 71 yards, with a 75
yarder in 2008 and a 72 yarder last season. You get the point by now. Brotzman
has a big leg. He’s also capable of throwing the ball on fake punts, as he
proved in the Fiesta Bowl.

Boise State’s kickoff returners are wide receiver Titus Young and tailback
Doug Martin, both of whom are starters on offense. Young averaged 26.9 yards per
return in 2009, including two touchdowns. This will be Martin’s first year
returning kicks.

Returning punts will be either Young or wide receiver Mitch Burroughs.
Neither player has game experience returning punts, so the Tech gunners could
possibly pressure these guys into mistakes.

So who will be Virginia Tech’s gunners? Rover Antone Exum will probably be
one, but will Alonzo Tweedy, Zach Luckett or someone else be the other gunner?
Both Tweedy and Luckett are banged up right now. It will be important for
Virginia Tech to tackle well and kick well on special teams. Boise State doesn’t
need any help in this game.

I’ll probably be watching Tech’s punt team more than any other unit in this
game. Starting punter Brian Saunders had three punts blocked during August
scrimmages, and it could have been more had the punt block team been going live
in the first scrimmage. The Hokies don’t need to hand Boise State any free
touchdowns in this one.

Final Thoughts

This is a great opener, and it’s finally one that the Hokies have a good
chance to win. Tech has opened the season against USC and Alabama, and played
LSU in the second game of the season since 2004. All of those teams beat the
Hokies and went on to win the National Championship. I suppose if you’re a Boise
State fan, that’s a good omen for the Broncos, should they win the game.

However, Boise State isn’t layered with NFL talent like those three teams.
The Broncos are very, very good, but if Virginia Tech loses this game it will be
because they were out-executed, not bludgeoned with superior talent. This is a
game that the Hokies have a good chance to win, if they bring their A-game.
They’ll need their A-game though, because I guarantee you that Boise State will
show up ready to play. When is the last time those guys didn’t show up for a big

As much as I like the Boise State defense (and I like them a lot: remember,
they are like Virginia Tech’s defense), I like the talent of Tech’s skill
position players, the experience of the offense line, and senior quarterback
Tyrod Taylor a little bit better. Tech will move the football against the
Broncos, I think. They aren’t going to run smack over them, but they’ll get
their yards and points.

I think the Tech defense has a good chance to stop the Boise State running
game and make the Broncos one-dimensional. From what we’ve seen during the
better part of the last two decades, one-dimensional teams do not have success
against Virginia Tech’s defense.

What does concern me is how well the Tech defense will tackle in this game.
If you remember the 2008 season opener, the last time the Hokies broke in a
number of new starters on defense, their tackling was horrendous. Well, Boise
State is a lot better than that 2008 ECU team.

When I look at the Boise State offense, it reminds me of two teams: Clemson
and Cincinnati. The Broncos rely on a quick passing game. They like to get the
ball out of the pocket quickly, and they’ll run plenty of screens. What do the
Hokies always do against offenses like that? They shut them down, and
it’s not uncommon to see wide receivers helped off the field. Right, Jacoby

I’ll be watching Jeron Gouveia-Winslow closely in this game. He’s a brand new
starter, at an important position on the wide side of the field. Boise likes to
attack the wide side, so you can bet they’ll go right after Gouveia-Winslow.

I see this one as a very good, hard hitting football game with Virginia Tech
winning in the second half.

Chris Coleman’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Boise State 20

Will Stewart’s Final Thoughts: An entire offseason of researching Boise
State’s numbers and reviewing their box scores has left Chris Coleman very
confident about Virginia Tech’s ability to beat the Broncos. I’m probably less
confident, though I will say one thing: The Virginia Tech coaching staff seems
to be very confident in this edition of the Hokies, and we get to find out right
off the bat if that confidence is well-placed.

You can analyze things all you want, but college football games — season
openers in particular — are hard to predict. I do expect Boise State to be
poised and to play well. They have made their living off of stepping up in big
games (of which they don’t have many). They will give the Hokies their best
shot, and Boise State’s best shot is formidable artillery, indeed.

The task before the Hokies is to play well and return that best shot. If
Virginia Tech does this, I think the Hokies will win. What worries me most about
BSU is not their talent level or the number of games they have won, it’s their
experience level and how well-coached they are. If the Hokies respond with very
few mistakes, and if the Tech coaching staff has the proper game plan, then the
athleticism up and down the roster will take over for VT.

The list of items that can derail the Hokies is, in my opinion: 1.) Blocked
punts. VT’s punt protection has been bad this fall; 2.) Getting young defensive
players caught out of position; 3.) Boise’s stout DL manhandling Tech’s
notoriously slow-starting offensive line; and 4.) Bryan Stinespring abandoning
the running game (no offense to Tyrod and the receivers).

Offensively, the coaches have been raving about Tyrod Taylor’s control of the
offense, and in this game, we get to see if Tyrod is truly ready for primetime.
Whereas Kellen Moore is more of a game manager, decision-maker, and
move-the-chains kind of guy, Tyrod has the extra capability to make huge plays
with his arm or his feet. If Tyrod is ready — and this is no disrespect
intended to Kellen Moore, whose numbers speak for themselves — then he’ll be
the quarterback everyone’s talking about after this game, not Moore.

Defensively, one thing I do like about this matchup is the feeling that Boise
State utilizes the short passing game a lot, and Bud Foster’s defenses usually
eat up teams like that. We know that Bud and every other defensive coordinator
in America schemes to stop the running game first. It will be interesting to see
if Bud, once he has forced Boise into passing, plays containment defense, keeps
Kellen Moore in the pocket, and keeps the short passing game in front of the

There’s another level to this game that I discussed in my Monday column Fired
Up for FedEx

Beyond wanting to see Virginia Tech succeed, there’s another reason I
want the Hokies to win. There’s an undercurrent here that causes me tension,
and it might be causing you tension, too.

Specifically, I have no desire to be a milestone in the building of Boise
State’s program. None.

I do not want Virginia Tech to be the BCS program upon which Boise State
takes that next step. If the Broncos beat Tech and methodically make their
way to the BCS Championship game, it will be Virginia Tech that provided
that boost, that first leg up. I do not want to be that team. I don’t
want to be on ESPN Classic over and over, for the wrong reasons. I’ve had
enough of that.

BCS and non-BCS fans and media everywhere will be watching this one
closely. One program is going to take a step up, and one’s going to step
back. The media already hates the BCS, and they’re salivating for a chance
to pimp a non-BCS team like Boise for the national championship, to blow the
whole thing out of the water and hasten the arrival of a playoff system.

Virginia Tech can do what Oklahoma and Oregon failed to do: slap Boise
State back to Idaho.

I don’t have anything against Boise’s players, coaches, or fans. I just
don’t want to be part of what they’re building. I’d rather see Virginia Tech
build something.

This game is a tough one to call, but in the end, I’m going to go with the
thought that Tyrod Taylor will be the difference. This one will be hard-fought,
but Taylor will make the plays the Hokies need to win.

Will Stewart’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Boise State 24