Players to watch
DE Demarcus Lawrence, DT Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, S Jeremy Ioane
S Chanceller James (ACL), DE Tutulupeatau Mataele (academics)
Husky fans can be forgiven for not realizing that in 2012, the Boise State rushing defense (146.2 yards per game) ranked in the top 50 nationally, and was second in the Mountain West Conference. Washington tailback Bishop Sankey certainly seemed to have missed that memo, as he scampered his way to 205 yards and one score on 30 touches, along with the Las Vegas Bowl's MVP honors. However, Husky fans who assume that Sankey will have another such performance in store on Saturday need to be reminded that the Broncos played in the bowl game without Demarcus Lawrence, a dominant defensive end who recorded conference-best totals in tackles for loss (13.5) and sacks (8.5), despite playing in just 11 games last season. Lawrence was named a first-team all-conference player in 2012, and is widely expected earn that recognition again in 2013. He'll be an early test for Washington's revamped offensive line in general, and Ben Riva and Micah Hatchie in particular
as they acclimate to their new positions on the line. [Since I wrote this, Riva and Hatchie have been moved back to their original positions.]
Aside from Lawrence, Boise State returns Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe (whose moniker took over as my personal favorite name in college football once Barkevious Mingo opted to declare for the NFL draft) at the nose tackle position. Tjong-A-Tjoe is your prototypical space-eating defensive tackle, measuring in at a mammoth 6-3, 303 lbs. Lawrence's absence in the Las Vegas Bowl meant that UW's offensive line could focus their efforts on containing Tjong-A-Joe, but they'll lack that advantage in 2013. However, Washington will have one ace up their collective sleeve that could neutralize his play: UW's much-discussed switch to an up-tempo offense is designed to tax defenses as heavily and relentlessly as possible by denying the Broncos time between plays to properly substitute players like Tjong-A-Joe, and the number of snaps and series he takes part in on Saturday, especially in the third and fourth quarters, will be a revealing barometer for how effectively Washington debuts its high-speed scheme.
Boise State must also figure out how to replace three of its four top tacklers from the previous season, including both of the defense's starting linebackers. The leading candidates amongst the Broncos' LBs are Tyler Gray at the WILL position, Blake Renaud at MIKE and Jonathan Brown as the SAM linebacker. Gray and Renaud saw action in all 13 of the Bronco's contests in 2012, while Brown participated in eight games; none, however, accumulated any particularly notable statistics, and they are burdened with the responsibility of replacing first-team all-conference linebacker J.C. Percy. They'll have to grow up quickly in what is likely to be the most hostile environment any of them have ever played in at Husky Stadium.
Luckily for the Broncos, there is much more experience in the backfield than there is in the linebacking corps. Washington fans in particular will have less-than-fond memories of Boise State safety Jeremy Ioane, who was responsible for ending UW's comeback hopes when he picked off Keith Price's pass in the waning minutes of the Las Vegas Bowl's fourth quarter. Ioane thrived last year under Petersen's tutelage, earning three picks, forcing a fumble and being involved in 70 tackles during the course of the season on the way to second-team all-conference recognition. There is no reason to think that he won't continue to play at a high level; conversely, there's every reason to think that Keith Price will think twice before slinging the rock into his vicinity. On the other hand, Boise State will likely start a pair of 5-9 cornerbacks in Donte Deayon and Bryan Douglas; assuming Austin Seferian-Jenkins plays (which is by no means a sure thing at the time of this writing), that gives Washington three targets in ASJ, Kasen Williams and Damore'ea Stringfellow who could tower nine inches, five inches and six inches, respectively, above their matchups on the Broncos. If Washington's offensive line can afford Keith Price time to throw the ball, he could potentially spend Saturday playing a game of 500 with his tall targets and their diminutive defenders.
A quick note: You may have noticed that I've changed the format of these previews from that of last year to focus less on individual position groups, and make it more of a free-flowing conversation about the team's strengths and weaknesses. Love it? Hate it? Let me know in the comments and on Twitter!
As always, thanks to College Football Statistics, ESPN and USA Today's College Football Injury Report for the relevant data that went into this article. You can follow me on Twitter by clicking below.
<a href="https://twitter.com/ryanpriest" class="twitter-follow-button" data-show-count="false">Follow @ryanpriest</a>