Fall camp is in full swing as Boise State prepares to take to the field in just 19 days against #19 Ole Miss in Atlanta. New offensive coordinator Mike Sanford is starting to put the finishing touches on the Boise State offense. With the results of last season still looming like a huge cloud over blue field of Albertsons Stadium Broncos fans couldn't be more apprehensive about this year. The Broncos finished 2013 with an 8-5 season, their fewest wins since 2001 and their most losses since 1998. For whatever the reasons the results were the Broncos fell out of a top-25 finish for the first time since 2007. Many blame that meltdown on a dummied-down playbook and poor play calling by the former staff.
So just how bad was the Boise State offense last season? Actually, not bad at all. In fact, the Broncos’ scoring offense ranked #2 in the Mountain West and #19 nationally, averaged 37.5 points per game. The Broncos quarterback situation compounded the situation when starting QB Joe Southwick was sidelined halfway through the season with a broken ankle and backup QB Grant Hedrick took over under center. Together, their combined passing stats averaged 249.2 yards per game and a #27 national ranking. Total offense for the Broncos was a whopping 476 yards per game and good enough for a 20th place finish among all FBS teams.
The Broncos returned only five starters on offense this season but all five are key players---six, if you include senior quarterback Grant Hedrick who finished the season as Southwick’s replacement. Hedrick could be the most important element to keep the backbone in the Broncos offense. He completed 167 of 242 attempts for a 69 percent completion rating, which in total is good for fifth best in the country. That doesn’t change the fact that the Broncos still went 4-3 in 2013 with Hedrick at the helm. His 16 touchdowns were offset by 9 turnovers in seven games: five interceptions and four lost fumbles. Because of that the jury is still out on his decision making and his coolness under fire. QB Ryan Finley, 6-4, 192 lbs, will handle the backup duties. Finley was a redshirt freshman last year recovering from shoulder surgery. While he was highly touted as a recruit and has had a good performance during spring ball and fall practice he is still an unknown factor in Boise State football.
The quarterbacks should have a solid offensive line with two returning starters to anchor it down: center Marcus Henry, 6-3, 285 lbs, and tackle Rees Odhiambo, 6-4, 300 lbs, who has switched from RT to LT. Both are juniors. Just who will compose the O-line is still up in the air with a number of Broncos still in competition for a spot in the starting lineup. Sophomore RG Mario Yakoo, 6-4, 330 lbs, LG Travis Averill, 6-3, 304 lbs, and LT Steve Baggett, 6-3, 288 lbs, are considered to be the main behemoths that could be up front on game day.
Even without his passing abilities Hedrick is still a very talented quarterback. He finished last season as Boise State’s second leading rusher with 277 yards and six touchdowns. But the main running job this season will once again fall to returning starter junior tailback Jay Ajayi, 6-0, 216 lbs. Ajayi was third in the Mountain West Conference last season averaging 109.62 yards per game (1425 total yards) and responsible for punching in 18 TDs. His backup will be junior RB Jack Fields, 5-9, 197 lbs. Some of the dynamics in the backfield have changed with tailback Derrick Thomas being dismissed from the team two weeks ago. Thomas’ sudden departure leaves sophomores Devan Demas, 5-8, 174 lbs, and Charles Bertoli, 5-11, 200 lbs, as the only other two with any playing experience. That lack of depth could leave opportunities for the four freshmen running backs the Broncos added to the roster this season.
If the Broncos can’t run the ball then they will rely on Hedrick’s arm. As luck would have it, two other offensive starters returning to the lineup are wide receivers senior Matt Miller, 6-3, 220 lbs, and junior Shane Williams-Rhodes, 5-6, 160 lbs. Those two playmakers are nothing but money. Miller finished ranked as the fourth best receiver in the Mountain West conference last year with 88 catches for 1140 yards, with catches that averaged 12.95 yards per catch. He also accounted for 12 TD’s. Rising star receiver Williams-Rhodes is healthy again after being sidelined at the end of last season with an ankle injury.
So don’t look for a lot of changes in basic strategy in 2014 after last year’s offensive performance. Changes are coming, according to both head coach Bryan Harsin and OC Mike Sanford, but most of those changes take time to develop and a need for the right personnel in place to carry them out. Instead, look for a balanced, solid attack and much better play calling from the sidelines.
Here is a look at Boise State's projected starting offensive lineup:
QB Grant Hedrick
RB Jay Ajayi
RT Steven Baggett/Archie Lewis
LG Travis Averill/ Eli McCullough
C Marcus Henry
RG Mario Yakoo
LT Rees Odhiambo
TE Connor Peters/Jake Hoh
WR Matt Miller
WR Shane Williams-Rhodes
WR Tony Ware/Thomas Sperbeck
(Returning starters in bold print)