Boise will be breaking in a lot of new faces across their offense, much like UW. Unlike UW however, they return a whopping 91 starts across their offensive line making it the clear strength (at least heading into week 1) of the offense. Even with the experience up front, they do have to replace a good amount of yardage and production from last year. Crucial to their success last year was running back Jay Ajayi who was lost early to the NFL. He accounted for a grand total of 32 (28 on the ground, 4 in the air) touchdowns and 1800 yards on the ground, and another 535 receiving. That is a lot of production not easily made up for by even two new faces. They also lost quarterback Grant Hedrick, who had laser accuracy, completing just over 70% of his passes.
Losing a do it all star running back and your Fiesta Bowl winning QB is never easy, but this offense can still be effective and pretty good this year. New quarterback Ryan Finley has some limited experience from last season and will be aided by an offensive line, which by all accounts, should be very good. It will be his first career start but at home I wouldn’t expect him to be too rattled by the environment. Still, I suspect this offense to rely on the run while they break in a new signal caller.
Key Players for Boise State
QB Ryan Finley
2014: 12-27 for 161 yards. 2 TD, 1 INT; 7 carries, 31 yards
Okay, this one is easy. The QB is the key to any offense, and a new one especially has a lot to manage in his first start. Finley doesn’t have a lot of experience but he did play against Air Force last season and threw 2 TDs while the team was behind. His 44% completion is pretty bad, but Finley has a live arm and will throw it downfield. He’s a redshirt sophomore who emerged on top of a 4 man quarterback battle (beating out Spokane’s Bretty Rypien) after only 2 weeks of fall camp. Not a huge sample size so it makes it difficult to project Finley’s 2015 season, but I expect him to be another in the long line of very good Boise State quarterbacks.
WR Shane Williams-Rhodes
2014: 68 receptions, 585 yards 7 TD; 15 carries, 179 yards (long of 49), 0 TD
Williams-Rhodes is Boise’s do it all receiver and playmaker. He primarily plays out of the slot but will receive out of the backfield, take end-arounds, fly sweeps, and more. He also returns punts and kicks, showing off his athleticism and football IQ. He’s a very small target, using his shiftiness and hiding behind blockers to be effective. He led the team in receptions in 2014 and is poised for another strong all around year as a focal point to this Boise State offense.
RB Jeremy McNichols
2014: 17 carries, 159 yards, 1 TD; 15 receptions, 155 yards, 1 TD
Replaying Jay Ajayi will be very difficult, but McNichols is a multi-talented back who can ease the transition and support the offense. He didn’t have a lot of chances last year behind Ajayi, but with only 32 total touches of the ball, he amassed 314 yards. For those keeping score at home that’s 9.8 yards per touch, which is quite good. He also showed off some explosion with a 41 yard reception, using his 200+ pound frame to maraud downfield. Overall McNichols is a very well rounded running back, and with the large amount of carries up for grabs, no reason to think he can’t be a 1000+ yard, 10+ TD type of running back. Expect Boise to try and get him into a rhythm early with some power running.
Losing as much as Boise State did, and not seeing a single game so far this year makes it very hard to project the Bronco’s offense on Friday night. What I can be sure of is that replacing skill players is a lot easier when you’ve got a talented and experienced offensive line blocking for you, which Boise State has. Shane Williams-Rhodes doesn’t seem like an "every down" type of player, but his 170 touches in the past 2 years really shows how reliable and versatile he is. Couple him with an emerging play maker like Jeremy McNichols and I think Boise will have a very effective and strong offense. We also can’t forget to mention their head coach Bryan Harsin, is an excellent offensive mind. Under current Husky Head Coach Chris Peterson’s tutelage, he called some fantastic offenses at Boise and the team went 61-5 with him calling the plays. He was born and raised in Boise, Idaho, played QB for the Broncos, and now is the head coach. He’s got the passion, experience, and smarts to mold this offensive into an explosive and high scoring unit.