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2011 Non-Conference Preview: Boise State Vs. Nevada

The Boise State Broncos play the Nevada Wolf Pack on the Blue in Boise on October 1, 2011, and it will be televised on ESPN. That will be the fourth game of the 2011 season for Boise State after hosting the Tulsa Hurricane the week before.  This time the Broncos will be taking on their former Western Athletic Conference rivals who finished tied for the WAC championship after handing Boise State their only loss on the 2010 season. The Wolf Pack denied the Broncos a shot at the National Title game or a trip to the Rose Bowl.

Last season the Pack finished a phenomenal season with wins over Boise State (34-31), CAL (52-31), and BYU (27-13).  They also gave several MWC teams a lesson in humility: Colorado State took a 51-6 beatdown and UNLV a 44-26 pounding at home.  Fresno State came close to a win, but lost a thriller at home 35-34.  Hawaii handed the Wolf Pack their only loss in Honolulu, 21-27.  Nevada closed out their season ranked #11 in the AP Top 25 and  #13 in the USA Today Poll after going to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Franciso and handing #8 Boston College of the ACC a 21-13 butt-kicking. 

That was last year.  Now its 2011, and post-Kaepernick.  Many think this years game will be a good test for an experienced program who have the return of a lot of excellent players.  But their return will be without their record-setting QB who has left for a career in the Pros, and they will also be without star runningback Via Taua. 

That is not to say Boise State didn't lose a few stars of their own.  The offense has been retooling itself around quarterback Kellen Moore after the loss of 17 seniors this past year. Two of those who need to be replaced are record-setting receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Young.  Nevada's Hall of Fame head coach Chris Ault and his assistant coaches will be looking for ways to take advantage of that. 

So just what can Boise State expect to see from the Nevada Wolf Pack this season?

You'll see plenty of action, for one thing.  Coach Ault knows that the Broncos will have a score to settle and something to prove---not only to the fans, but to those players who were slapped around by a very good Wolf Pack team last year down in Reno and who might still be feeling the effects.  But Ault is old school; he figures that the best defense is putting up a good offense. His offensive line will be achored by senior Jeff Meads, 6' 3" 290 lbs, at center, and juniors Jeff Nady, 6' 7" 290 lbs, at  LT and Chis Barker, 6' 4" 305 lbs, at LG.  Others that look to start are RG Steve Haley, 6' 5" 305 lbs,  RT Joel Bitonio, 6' 4" 290 lbs, and Stephen Jeffers,  at TE.  That offense is going to be using the Pistol offense behind a new QB.  After a half-dozen years of running one of the best offensive schemes in the country, the Pistol has become synonymous with Nevada football.   The quarterback to guide the Pistol for the Wolf Pack will probably be senior Tyler Lantrip, 6' 4" 220 lbs, who will be backed up by sophmore Cody Fajardo, 6' 2" 190 lbs, and sophmore Mason Magleby, 6' 2" 195 lbs.  All three played behind Kaepernick last season, and even though they had limited playing time, they know how to work with the offense.  Another QB is Jake Hall, 6' 5" 200 lbs, a Kaepernick clone from Orange County, California.  Hall will probably redshirt, but if he plays he has great arm strength and threw for over 1,300 yards and 15 TDs last season in HS.

Even though Nevada lost 3 wide receivers last year, the Pack is still fat in that position.  They have a lot of good targets to pitch to, like WRs Rishard Matthew, 6' 2" 215 lbs, Tray Session, 6' 3" 175 lbs, and Brandon Wimberly, 6' 3" 205 lbs.  In 2010, Matthew had 56 catches for 879 yards and 5 TDs.  Wimberly played in all of Nevada's games last year and accounted 482 yards averging 11.8 yards per catch.  Session is no slouch, either.  He is a deep threat, and averaged 18.4 yards a catch with a long of 57 yards last season. 

If there is large chink in the offense it will be in the backfield.  With Taua gone, RBs Mike Ball, 5' 10" 215 lbs, and Mark Lampford, 6' 1" 200 lbs, are the two favorites to get the carries.  The problem is they both have had problems with their knees.  Who knows if they can hold up for the season?  Lampford had 55 carries last season, averaging 7.5 yards each and Ball had 38 for 6.8 yards a carry.  It will be interesting to see who will be running out on the Blue behind the offensive line to help with the running duties. 

That offensive line will be staring into a Bronco defense that looks like a huge, giant fist.  The Bronco defense is stubborn and tough, and was ranked in the top seven defenses in the nation last season.  The D-line was unquestionably one of the best in college ball anchored by All-Americans DT Billy Winn, 6' 4" 288 lbs,and DE Shea McClellin. They both have have two excellent backups in Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, 6' 3" 282 lbs,and Michael Atkinson, 6' 332 lbs. Other Bronco players seeking to deny the Pack the yards they gained last year against the Broncos are starters DT Chase Baker, 6' 1" 298 lbs, DE Tyrone Crawford, 6' 4" 275 lbs; LBs Byron Hout, 6' 241 lbs, and Aaron Tevis, 6' 3" 228 lbs. Two cornerbacks will be downfield to cover a Nevada deep threat: Jamor Taylor, 5' 11" 193 lbs, and Jerrell Gavins, 5' 9" 170 lbs. All-American safety George Iloka, 6' 3" 207 lbs, will be backed up by Cedric Febis, 6' 3" 197 lbs, and Hunter White, 5' 11" 224 lbs, will be in at nickel.

Unfortunately for the Wolf Pack, freshman safety Jeremy Ioane, 5' 11'' 195 lbs, will be about the only defensive starter out there who didn't play in Reno last year---and perhaps the only who won't have an ax to grind.    

When the Nevada defense takes to the field, they will have one of the rising stars of college coaching calling the shots for them: defensive coordinator Andy Buh, who came from Stanford to take over Ault's defense last year.   He was also calling the shots when they took Boise State down last year.  He will be without some key players from last years Pack, but his defensive team still has a good string of starters to work with.  Besides players, coach Buh knows he will be needing a good defensive strategy if his team wants to stop the Broncos.  But he is just the guy who can deliver one.

The loss of 17 starters will not stop the Boise State's offense, however, who is headed up by All-American and Heisman candidate Kellen Moore, 6' 190 lbs.  He will be throwing a few of those balls to WR Tyler Shoemaker, 6' 1" 207 lbs, WR Gerald Hiwat, 6' 4" 189 lbs, and TE Kyle Efaw, 6' 4" 229 lbs.  And LG Joe Kellogg, 6' 2" 305 lbs, will up front to give Moore plenty of time to pass.  Two more All-Americans will be helping Kellogg push around the Nevada defense: offensive tackle Nate Potter, 6' 6" 293 lbs, and center Thomas Byrd, 5' 11" 284 lbs.  Carrying the pigskin out of the backfield will be RB Doug Martin, 5' 9" 201 lbs, and D.J. Harper, 5' 11" 198 lbs.  Martin was the leading rusher last season on the Bronco squad, and carried 201 times for 1260 yards.  He also had 28 receptions for 338 yards that averaged 12 yards a catch. 

Another bad omen for the Nevada Wolf Pack is that the Boise State offense doesn't disappoint in front of the hometown fan base.  Since 1999, the Broncos are 59–2 at home.

There will be a great deal of emphasis on the Broncos special teams.  When the Bronco kicker takes to the field for the first time, everyone will be holding their breath.  Fortunately for the Broncos, its not Reno.  Whoever will be kicking will be a fresh face out on the gridiron and won't have the "wide right-wide left" curse to deal with.   Just who that starting kicker is going to be is still to be decided.

If the Wolf Pack could hold on and get a win over the Broncos it would be a great accomplishment and one of their best wins of their 2011 season.  It could also be a momemtum-builder that could propell them to another WAC Championship and pave their way into the MWC next year carrying Boise State's scalp.  But if Moore and Co. have anything to say about it, it won't happen.  Not this year, anyway.  Bronco Nation will be there in a soldout stadium to cheer on their team and make sure it doesn't.  But after last year's debacle there is a major lesson to remember: 

Anything can happen.