The Broncos open the 2018 season by travelling all the way to Alabama to take on the Troy Trojans. Many experts believe that this will be one of the most difficult games for the Broncos. Here are some things you need to watch for:
Boise State @ Troy (Veterans Memorial Stadium) 4:00 pm MT ESPNNews
The Quarterback Battle:
Brandon SIlvers is the most prolific passer in Troy history and will not be easy to replace. The Trojans went through the majority of fall camp without naming their starter. The battle between Sophmore Sawyer Smith and Junior Kaleb Barker is coming down to the wire. On Monday, Neal Brown announced that Kaleb Barker will be the starter at quarterback against Boise State. The sample size on Barker is small, he has only thrown 17 passes for his career, completing 12 for 152 yards. Brown did say that Sawyer Smith will play. Even after last year, I am a big believer that playing two quarterbacks is not a good idea. It will be interesting to see how Brown utilizes Smith on Saturday.
Brett Rypien isn’t necessarily battling the quarterback from Troy, he is battling himself. Rypien has been a great quarterback for the majority of his Boise State career. However, last year he struggled with consistency and did not spread the ball around enough. If Rypien is poised in the pocket, he should be able to take advantage of a Troy defense that is replacing the majority of its starters.
Who controls the game in the trenches and on the ground?
Not only did Troy lose their most prolific passer in Silvers, they also lost a phenomenal talent at tailback in Jordan Chunn. Considering the struggles that Chunn had against the Bronco defensive line, which returns everyone from the previous season, I feel the Broncos have a good chance to shut down the Trojan run game.
With that being said, the Trojans are going to have one of the better defensive lines in the Sun Belt despite replacing the majority of their production. The Bronco offensive line will need to perform better than they did against Troy last season. The Broncos will also need to put more pressure on the Trojan defensive line by being efficient in the passing game. The Broncos had one of their worst games through the air against the Trojans last season.
Can the Broncos defense pick up where they left off?
The Broncos started the season 2-2, but an improved offense and stout defense propelled them to a 9-1 finish. Can the Broncos build on the momentum that they had at the end of the season? Or will they suffer from another slow start?
How will teams defend the Bronco offense?
If I was Troy, I would stack the box and focus on stopping the run game. They need to rattle Rypien early and often. Rypien struggled to recover when he was getting hit. Last year, the Trojans were successful in getting to Rypien early and often and he never recovered. I expect the Trojans to blitz early and often.
This game will answer a question that has been lingering in the mind of Bronco fans all summer, is the Bronco offensive line ready for prime time? Last season, the Broncos had to replace long time offensive line coach Scott Huff and there was a bit of a transition period under new coach Brad Bedell. The offensive line improved significantly after the loss to Virginia, but there was still plenty of room for growth.
Does the weather/travel impact the Broncos?
I think it is silly to even talk about this. However, weather is always a narrative in football. Rajun Cajun fans thought the weather would be in their favor when the Broncos traveled to Louisiana to open up the 2016 season and the Broncos won that game with ease. It is on the mind of the Broncos coaches as they have been turning up the heat in the indoor complex and watering the turf in an attempt to replicate the humidity. The average temperature in Troy on September 1st is 89, yes that is warm, but it is not going to impact the game unless a thunderstorm rolls through. In that case, both teams already rely on the run to set up the pass.
Who steps up at wide receiver and tight end for the Broncos?
The biggest question on this Broncos roster is simple, who will emerge as Rypien’s primary target? The Broncos struggled to establish a passing attack against the Trojans in 2017 and Rypien was sent to the bench in favor of Montell Cozart. Rypien showed flashes of his old self the second half of the season, but he no longer has Cedrick Wilson and Jake Roh to shoulder the load. The coaches have made it clear that they believe John Bates has the potential to be the next great Broncos tight end, but Bates is only a Sophomore and has not seen a lot of action.
The replacement at wide receiver is not so clear. On paper, most people would expect Sean Modster and AJ Richardson to shoulder the load. Both receivers had over 30 receptions last season and have shown the ability to make big catches. However, Octavius Evans has the skill set and potential to be the primary target. 2018 was probably the best wide receiver class that the Broncos have landed. JC transfer John Hightower looks prepared to contribute with his unique combination of size and speed. True Freshman Stefan Cobbs has received a lot of attention in camp and it looks like he will be part of the rotation.
What the Trojans need to do to win:
Force turnovers, lots of them. If this game is even in the turnover column, the Trojans have little to no chance. The Trojans will also need to take care of the ball. The Trojans will have to be stout on the offensive line and find a way to keep Frazier, Weaver, and Moa contained. The strongest unit on the Broncos will likely be their defensive line, Frazier and Weaver were a lethal one-two punch last year. The Trojans will also need to have some tricks up their sleeve, losing Chunn and Silvers will be almost impossible to replace. If the Trojans hope to be the next Boise State, they have to reload not rebuild.
What the Broncos need to do to win:
Control the ball and don’t let the elements get the best of you. Almost every Broncos loss in the Harsin era can be attributed to sloppy play and a lopsided turnover battle. The Broncos need to take care of the ball and establish the passing game. If Rypien throws for 250 yards, I expect it to be a good day for Boise State. The Broncos are a veteran team, they have more experience and more skill than the Trojans. With that being said, the Broncos have lost games in recent years where this was the case.
What Vegas thinks:
Boise State -10.5
The Broncos have more depth and more returning starters than the Trojans. The weather should not be much of a problem for the Broncos as Fall Camp has been a scorcher. I expect Brett Rypien and Alexander Mattison to make a statement and the Broncos to win this one fairly easily. Boise State 31-Troy 10.