While Boise State is not favored to win the WAC, Hawaii, an opponent Washington plays to end the season is, they are still rated among the top twenty five teams in the country. The odds makers have Boise as a three point favorite as of Wednesday after the initial line was released at four.
The euphoria surrounding Boise State comes from their highly entertaining win in the Fiesta Bowl over Oklahoma to wrap up the 2006 season. The win left the Bronco's as the nations lone undefeated team, and gave them at least a legit claim of being national champions. Despite that win, Boise has only won four games against BCS opponents since 1996, two coming last year against Oregon State, and Oklahoma.
Washington is a huge game for Boise State. A win over a Pac Ten school on the road would only add to the aura surrounding "America's Latest Cinderella". A win over Washington would also help them further establish a more vigorous recruiting base in the fertile Pacific Northwest.
Boise State of course wants to move up, and while the new WAC has proven to be a great conference, the next step up would be to the more prestigous Mountain West Conference. Beating teams like Washington is a great way to get that invitation.
Washington of course is not the program it once was. The Huskies have been in steady decline since the mid 90's, and recently bottomed out over the past three years only posting eight wins, with five coming last season. UW does however have a lot of momentum going into this season after throttling Syracuse last week on the road to open the season in impressive fashion.
For Washington this game is a must win in a schedule that most pundits call the most difficult in the country in 2007. No knock on Boise State, but it only increases in difficulty with consecutive games against Ohio State, UCLA, and USC, who are all currently rated much higher than Boise State in the national rankings. The Pac Ten may be the nations toughest conference this season, so a win here will be very helpful if UW wants to go bowling over the holidays.
What we have in this game are two teams who are struggling for basically the same thing, and that is recognition. For Washington that recognition is a sign that they are returning to the power status they have held for decades. For Boise State it is the recognition that they belong with the big boys of the Pac Ten. It is a pivotal game for both schools, and it should prove to be a great contest on Saturday.
When Boise State has the ball
Boise State didn't become the darlings of the college football by being boring. The Bronco's are going to pull out all the stops against UW because if they beat Washington, and Hawaii they are a good bet to go to another BCS bowl, and move up to the next level as far as national recognition goes. Tharp is a solid QB who had a nice debut against Weber State last week. He has a solid arm, and while a bit of a falloff from Zambrasky in talent, he has the ability to keep his team moving.
Ian Johnson is a RB who will play in the NFL. UW is going to have it's hands full stopping him. Syracuse didn't have a rushing game last week, Boise State does, and the UW defensive line will be challenged by the Bronco's quick offensive line. It is definitely a step up in competition for the Huskies.
The Bronco's have a nice stable of wide receivers, and tight ends. Count on slotback Tanyon Bissell to throw a trick pass against Washington on Saturday. Boise will perform more than one trick play this weekend so Washington needs to be prepared by staying home, and not over pursuing.
The multiple offensive schemes of the Broncos are highly creative, leaving opponents off-balance. Junior tailback Ian Johnson is an offense-and-a half, helping to make the Broncos' scoring game second (39.7 PPG) in the nation and the rushing game sixth (214.2 YPG) in 2006.
Boise has added some new schemes this year that supposedly will open up the field, and stretch opposing defenses. The key for Washington is slowing the running game, and putting lots of pressure on Tharp so he isn't able to pick UW apart in the secondary. Even though Syracuse didn't test the UW DB's much last week, choosing to throw underneath, don't expect Boise to do the same thing. They are going to test Washington deep to open up things for Johnson, and the BSU running game.
Boise has the unfair reputation of being a team that survives on trickery, but what they really are is a team the runs the ball up the middle, and dares you to stop them. They are a team that can give you a different look each snap so the element of surprise is always going on with these guys. How does surprise help you? It makes a defense think, rather than react, which slows them down, and leads to frustration.
When Washington has the ball
As Jake Locker goes so will the Washington Huskies. Boise State may stack things up early to contain Lockers running ability, and force him to throw the ball to beat them against their talented defensive backs. Expect Tim Lappano to anticipate this, and bring out a much different game plan early than we saw against Syracuse. Washington ran for 300 yards last week, and Boise is going to try to shut that phase of the game down the best they can.
One thing we haven't seen from Jake yet is the long ball, and he throws a beauty. Expect the long ball to be part of the game plan this weekend as UW tries to stretch the field to loosen things up for the running game. UW does have the ability to break things deep on the Bronco's, and Marcel Reese isolated against their smallish safeties could be fun to watch.
Boise State likes to play a lot of man coverage in the secondary, which will put a lot of emphasis on the receivers to win battles, get off the line of scrimmage and get open. "We have to step up and defeat man coverage,'' Tim Lappano said on Monday, adding that's something the Huskies have struggled to do at times the past few years. UW's receivers have been blocking well down field, and have been more physical than in recent years, so Saturday will be another test for them to see how much they have progressed. Boise's man coverage will also be more of a challenge for Jake Locker who will be forced to make more difficult throws than he did last week. Expect the Bronco DB's to be very active with their hands, and try to jam our receivers at the line of scrimmage.
The large Husky offensive line should have the edge against the smaller Bronco DL. Louis Rankin needs to keep the power running game going this week for Washington to have success, and continue to take the pressure off Locker. UW only used around 10% of it's offense against Syracuse last week, so they shouldn't have a problem showing Boise some stuff they haven't seen yet. Once Washington gets it's skill players isolated against Boise's smaller, and inexperienced LB's, UW should be able to move the ball with little problem just like last week.
Boise State has no problem opening up it's bag of tricks, especially against a big name opponent like Washington. Expect the Bronco's to strike early, and often with trick plays to keep Washington off balance.
The Washington kicking game is much stronger than advertised. Ballman was terrific punting the ball last weekend showing great hang time, distance, and touch. He also has the ability to kick it out of the end zone on kickoffs with the wind behind his back. Perkins didn't get the chance to kick a field goal, but he looked strong, and accurate doing the PAT's. Perkins thinks he can hit from 55, and in. Last week the game was played in a dome which is a kickers friend, this week they have the unpredictable breezes of Lake Washington to deal with.
The 13th player needs to show up at Husky Stadium. Noise really helps to disrupt an opposing offense. Husky Stadium should be very loud on Saturday, and we have seen what it can do to very good visiting football teams. Who can forget the beating they put on Miami's Ken Dorsey? UW, and it's fans needs to do the same thing to Taylor Tharp on Saturday.
The weather won't be a huge factor in this one as the temperature should be around 80 degrees at kickoff with no rain in the current forecast.
UW coach Ken Baer told the Seattle Times, Bob Condotta that the coaches did a three-game film breakdown of Boise State and that the Broncos showed 35 different formations. Baer said BSU shows all those formations to put defenses in a bad position and create big plays. There's just a lot of stuff to prepare for.'' Baer said discipline will be a key this week in defending all of different looks, though he said that's always a key. "If you worry about it too much, you play slow, and non-aggressive."
CB Byron Davenport is back this week and will play. This gives UW a lot more depth, and certainly more experience in nickle, and dime packages.
What Boise does best is cause confusion with it's multiple sets. All the different looks make defense think, rather than react, and it can negate advantages in size, and speed.
Why Washington Will Win
Washington simply has better, faster, and bigger athletes, plus the extremely noisy home field advantage. Husky Stadium is a tough place for anyone to play, and the Bronco's are going to be in for a surprise early when the noise picks up when they are on offense, it can get deafening out there.
Jake Locker is going to be one of the best QB's in the country by the end of the year, and he just might be one of the better one's right now. His debut performance on the road was truly a thing of beauty, and long time observers of Husky football have to go back all the way to Chris Chandler to find something that closely equals it. Lockers debut just may have been the best all time of any Husky QB including Sonny Sixkiller.
One more thing on Locker, he doesn't make a lot of mistakes, but he is going to have more of a challenge throwing against Boise's man coverage. The throws will be at lower percentage of completion than they were last week on paper.
Washington has the ability this year to put together long time consuming drives, and also score in the red zone which is a part of their game that has been lacking since Tuiasosopo left. Scoring efficiency inside the twenty is a huge improvement this year. UW was very effective in picking up first downs in short yardage situations last week.
The Washington defensive line is good, mucn better than even people thought. Imagine what they will be able to do with some help with more aggressive schemes. The Huskies dominated, keeping it vanilla last week. Look for them to show more against the Broncos.
Caesar Rayford simply can't be blocked, it is a shame that Gilbertson wasted his redshirt year for little reason, of course it is a shame that Gilby was ever named head coach in the first place. Seven sacks against anyone without stunts is impressive. Rayford when teamed with Teo Nesheim, Gunheim, and Stevens gives UW it's best pass rush in a decade. Simply put, these guys can move.
UW only picked up only one turnover last weekend, and then they promptly drove it in for a score, we need more of that this week. Boise will try to stretch the field more which will mean the QB will spend more time in the pocket, and UW will have more of an opportunity to make some defensive grabs with the pressure the UW defensive line will provide. the longer the ball is in the air, the better the chance it can be picked off.
If you stop Ian Johnson, you pretty much stop Boise State. To me they resemble Oregon State with Yvenson Bernard, with a better quarterback. Defensively though their front seven is where the weakness is, and it is an area UW needs to exploit to win.
Why Boise State Will Win
Boise State will win the game if they can keep UW off balance, and get their power running game going. If they are able to keep UW guessing all day by using a blend of trick plays, and a strong running game, it will open up the passing lanes for the Bronco's who like to stretch the field. Boise has a very good offensive line, and one legit All American left tackle. The Broncos are smallish by Pac Ten standards, but they have great execution, and quickness. If they are able to hold the UW defensive line out of their backfield they have a good chance to win the game.
Washington once again needs to watch out for trick plays. Boise is very good at trick plays, and if you spot them an early TD, or two, you can end up in trouble quickly, just ask Bob Stoops. Staying home and not being sucked in is the best way to protect against them.
Syracuse really didn't test UW's young DB's last Friday. Don't expect Boise State not to do that. They are too well coached to pass up the opportunity. The UW CB's, especially McDowell, and Davenport are going to get a workout on Saturday.
On defense the Bronco's have their hands full with Locker, and company. They will try to negate the advantage Locker brings to the game early by bringing as many as eight men up to the line of scrimmage to stop him. If they stop him running that means they have to stop him throwing the ball. As we saw last weekend he doesn't have a lot of weakness throwing the ball, and he is only going to get better week to week. The key for Boise is to force the young QB into making mistakes.
If you stop Locker, you can stop Washington, but can they stop him in every facet of the game?
We find out on Saturday afternoon.
What Do I Think?
I think Washington is going to win this one by two touchdowns. I don't think Boise State will be able to stop Jake Locker. If you line eight up front to stop him, he is going to burn you deep, and often. When you try to stop that, he will run on you all day.
Louis Rankin is an excellent sidekick, and he will continue his strong start against the Bronco's. Look for UW to show a lot more schemes on both sides of the ball this week. UW just might have a trick or two of it's own up there sleaves to keep Boise State honest.
The UW crowd is going to get into this game early, and they are as hungry as the players are. It should be a full house in Montlake this weekend, and it is going to prove very distracting for the Bronco's. Once again this isn't 2006, it is 2007, and Boise State while good, isn't as strong a team as they were last season.
Washington by two touchdowns!