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Boise State vs Washington: a preview of the season opener

The Broncos open their 2015 football season against the Washington Huskies at Albertsons Stadium Friday night

Aug 31, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies running back Bishop Sankey (25) carries the ball during the 1st half against the Boise State Broncos at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 31, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies running back Bishop Sankey (25) carries the ball during the 1st half against the Boise State Broncos at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

WEEK 1: Boise State Broncos vs. Washington Huskies

WHEN: Friday, September 4, 8:15 PM MST

WHERE: Albertsons Stadium, Boise, ID (37,000)

CONFERENCES: Mountain West Conference - Pacific-12 Conference

2014 SEASON: Boise State, 12-2; Washington, 8-6

COACHES: Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin (12-2, 19-7 all time); Washington head coach Chris Petersen, (8-6, 100-18 all time)



RADIO: Bronco Radio Network: KBOI (670 AM) and KKGL (96.9 FM) in the Boise area; Washington IMG Sports Network: KOMO Newsradio (1000 AM and 97.7 FM) in the Seattle area

SERIES RECORD: Washington leads, 2-1

WEB SITES: Boise State OfficialWashington official

For the first time in six years the #23 ranked Boise State Broncos will open their football season at home and against a Pac-12 team: the Washington Huskies, led by former BSU head coach Chris Petersen. It will be the 4th time that the two teams have met on the gridiron. In the last matchup two years ago the Broncos were on the receiving end of a humiliating 38-6 loss to the Huskies on Puget Sound.  This year they are out to return the favor.

What to expect when Washington has the ball: Washington head coach Chris Petersen is keeping his starting quarterback a secret until taking the field Friday night so it's hard to come up with a strategy. Petersen is looking for every edge he can get against his former team. So who could we see under center? Junior Jeff Lindquist, 6-3, 245 lbs, redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels, 6-2, 220 lbs, and true freshman Jake Browning, 6-2, 206 lbs, were all competing for the starting job. Lindquist seems to have the edge as the only one of the three with any college experience.  But in 12 games last year Lindquist was just 10 of 30 for 162 yards and a single TD in the passing department.  That is why Browning can’t be ruled out as the starter.  He has a lot of talent and came into the Husky camp carrying a book full of high profile high school records and stats.  In fact, according to Browning is rumored to be the Huskies "secret" starter.  If so, that would explain why Petersen would not just name the obvious candidate (Lindquist) and avoid all the drama.  Adding to the  confusion, Petersen is also not ruling out using two quarterbacks against Boise State.

That raises a lot of speculation about Washington's offensive plans. Last year the Huskies used a rushing attack in 2/3rds of their plays. In just over a thousand plays in 2014, they ran 607 rushing plays and averaged 188.57 yards on the ground per game.  In their 2014 opener at Hawaii the Huskies passed 26 times and ran 48 times.  Expect them to stick with that conservative play action if Lindquist starts.  But word from the field is that if Browning starts they will be tempted to air it out more behind a strong arm and an accurate passer.   

And that brings us up to the receiving end of the football.  RB Dwayne Washington, 6-2, 221 lbs, is listed as the starter at running back, with the other three competitors listed behind him with the "OR" designation.  He led the team with 697 rushing yards last season and averaged 5.3 yards a carry. He also pulled in 15 receptions averaging 6.1 yards a grab. With his ability to snag the ball for short yardage, he adds another dimension for the quarterback.  As for the passing situation, the Huskies had 400 pass attempts last year and averaged 7 yards a catch accounting for 200 yards per game. That comes from having a decent receiving crew with the likes of returning starter WR Jaydon Mickens, 5-11, 174 lbs, WR Dante Pettis, 6-0, 183 lbs, and WR Marvin Hall, 5-10, 187 lbs. Of the three, Mickens is the big Dawg in that pack with 60 receptions for 617 yards and an average of 10.7 yards a catch in 2014.

That Dawg offense will be up against a very solid Broncos defense.  Boise State sack-master DE Kamalei Correa, 6-3, 244 lbs, plans on making the Huskies' quarterback outright miserable.  Washington will probably double team him but that could leave them vulnerable elsewhere on their O-line. That is not a good thing for the Huskies when 8 of the18 returning Broncos starters are on the defense including the entire D-line. That line is augmented by a loaded corps of linebackers led by LB Ben Weaver, 6-0, 231 lbs, and Tanner Vallejo, 6-1, 228 lbs, who led the team in tackles last season. Further back in the secondary is the conference interception leader, S Darian Thompson, 6-2, 210 lbs, (7 interceptions and a TD) and CB Donte Deayon, 5-9, 150 lbs, (6 interceptions, two TDs).

If the Huskies don't come out firing on all cylinders and get a jump by scoring early, they could be in for a very long day against a fired up Boise State team playing in front of their home crowd.

What to expect when Boise State has the ball: Like the Huskies, the Broncos also have a new starting quarterback in the line up, in addition to a new starting tailback. In a pregame news conference Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin gave some of his final thoughts to the media in advance of the Washington game and confirmed that QB Ryan Finley, 6-4, 199 lbs, will be the starter:

What we know about Ryan Finley is based upon last years backup duties and this years reports from both spring and fall camps.  He also has a few stats he can brag about.  His high school biography reads like a page out of a whose-who in high school football.  All of it together was enough for Harsin to roll him out as the starter in what could be the most important games of the season.  The 2015 Mountain West Scholar-Athlete Award winner has a history of making things happen.  In last season's debacle against Air Force he replaced QB Grant Hedrick late in the third quarter and unleashed a passing attack that accounted for 161 yards and two TD's, helping the Broncos avoid their first shutout since 1997. With center Marcus Henry, 6-3, 296 lbs, anchoring a stout offensive line packed with returning starters, both Finley and starting RB Jeremy McNichols, 5-9, 198 lbs, should be able to move the ball against a team that was ranked 80th nationally in total defense last year.  When Finley passes he will have some good targets to throw to including WR Thomas Sperbeck, 6-0, 173 lbs, WR Shane Williams-Rhodes, 5-6, 158 lbs, and Chaz  Anderson, 5-10, 181 lbs.  Also look for him to use an expanded passing option this year with a heavier reliance on tight ends like Jake Roh, 6-3, 228 lbs.

But Boise State could be in for a tough night if the Huskies' defensive squad is on top of their game.  The Huskies will deploy a 3-4 defensive scheme leaving returning starter LB Travis Feeney, 6-4, 223 lbs, free to roam and do damage.  Washington finished last season ranked 22nd nationally in rushing defense, thanks to a load of talent up front consisting of players like nose tackle Elijah Qualls, 6-1, 304 lbs.  Combined, the defense chalked up 52 sacks in 2014.  Their Achilles heel was the poor pass defense, ranked 124th in the nation.  This year the secondary should be more improved with an experienced group of returning starters: safety Budda Baker, 5-10, 188 lbs, safety Kevin King, 6-3, 182 lbs, and cornerbacks Naijiel Hale , 5-10, 182 lbs, and Sidney Jones, 6-0, 177 lbs.

Boise State also needs to get on top and follow up by mounting a strong defense to keep the Huskies from getting a jump-up on the scoreboard.  Turnovers by the Broncos have been key in the past.

Special Teams: Washington should be rock solid this season with WR Dante Pettis, 6-1, 185 lbs, fielding punt returns and Mickens handling the kickoffs.   Last year Pettis returned an 87-yard punt for a TD.  Both kicker Cameron Van Winkle, 5-10, 181 lbs, and punter Korey Durkee, 6-4, 247 lbs, are returning starters.   While Boise State has returning punter Sean Wale, 62, 185 lbs, back, they are breaking in a new starting kicker: Tyler Rausa, 5-10, 195 lbs.  Rausa was a redshirt sophomore last season whose only kick for the Broncos was for an extra point at Wyoming last November. Williams-Rhodes and Deayon will handle punt returns. Williams-Rhodes was the 6th best punt returner in the MWC last season.

Overview: With the uncertainty in the Washington quarterback issue and with Boise State's home field advantage, the Broncos should have the edge.  The betting lines reported here have the Broncos as 12-point favorites.  The spread seems a little high but I'll take the side of a Boise State win on this one.