We've taken a look at the Boise State offense and defense, and discussed what we have in this year's group of Huskies - now it's time to take all that info, mix it in a blender, add a healthy dose of tequila (we'll expense it to Sark's account) and come up with our predictions for the game...
I'm already on-record as calling for an upset here, and rather than try to walk that back I'll stick with that prediction. I wouldn't want to put a lot of money on it happening, and I recognize most will view this as homerism, but screw-it - this is at core a fan blog, and this is still the time of year for purple-tinted gazing. Harsh reality can wait.
Look, on paper I can understand why the Broncos are 12 point favorites. Boise State is a (mostly) experienced team coming off a 12-2 campaign, and they have been nearly perfect on their home turf over the last decade-plus and are riding a 14-game win streak in Albertsons Stadium. This will be their third time hosting a Pac-12 team (they beat both Oregon and Oregon State on the Smurf Turf). Not only is there the constant motivation as a mid-major underdog to knock off a Power-5 conference foe, there's the added juice of facing off against their old coach and his assistants, something BSU players are not shying away from admitting this week.
But as I noted in that previous article, sometimes teams can get too jacked-up and play sloppy as a result. While Boise State as a program has been excellent in the past about getting up for these early-season marquee matchups, that was under Petersen - did Bryan Harsin absorb enough of his mentor's ways to have the Broncos focused and in-control in this one?
And while there are certainly areas that point to match-up problems for Washington in this one (Husky OL vs. Bronco DL being a big one), Boise State is also breaking in a (mostly) new starting QB in Ryan Finley, and he'll be facing what I expect is an under-rated Husky defense, one that could make his life rather difficult.
So here's how I see the upset happening - Washington wins the turnover battle, gets a couple of big special teams returns, the defense keeps the Boise State offense from going wild and
Jake Browning the Husky QB overcomes a mistake or two of his own with a couple of big plays (Darrell Daniels and Jaydon Mickens, come on down) and the Husky running attack finds enough success to sustain drives.
It won't be easy and it will be close, but Washington stuns the home crowd in Petersen's return: Washington 27, Boise State 24
I have a feeling this game is going to be similar to Washington's last game (Cactus Bowl). They come out slow on the road with a ton of new personnel in a hostile environment and dig a hole, but not too big of one. Dwayne Washington busts a run or two to get it back within striking distance, but Boise State is able to hold a two-score cushion for most of the game. Boise State 27 Washington 13
Washington will keep the game closer than expected in the first half, and possibly even find themselves in a tie game entering the locker room. In the second half the Huskies youth, especially on their new look defense, will begin to show and Boise State pulls away a bit in the fourth quarter for a 30-16 victory.
The natural amount of first game jitters, coupled with a highly-charged, emotional atmosphere for both teams leads to a sloppy, low-scoring first half. Penalties, turnovers, and missed opportunities are the story both coaches tell in those ever-insightful and all-so-important interviews while heading toward the locker room with the Broncos clinging to a two-point lead at 9-7. A back-and-forth second half concludes with Husky QB Jaff Lownquisting cementing his place in Husky lore by finding Brayden Lenius in the front corner of the end zone on the final play of the game for a 31-30 Husky win. Afterward, Chris Petersen is handed a microphone to address the stunned Boiseans, none of whom have left the stadium, in a moment eerily familiar to the final scene of Rocky IV.
Petersen (addressing the crowd, and then translated into the official language of the state of Boise): "During this game, I seen a lot of changin'. In the way yous feel about me, and the way I's feel about yous."
"On this field it was 22 guys tryin' to kill each other, but I guess that's better than twenty million. Because that would be a penalty for illegal participation."
"I guess what I'm sayin', is that if I's can change.."
(a smattering of applause)
"...and yous can change...."
"....We alls can change!"
(a standing ovation from the assembled masses - fade out)
Let's talk about what we know here: the Boise State Broncos return a ton of pieces from last year's 21st ranked team according to F/+. Among them are included all of their offensive linemen, all of their tight ends, all but one defensive lineman, their starting linebackers, their three top receivers and their starting corners. That's a lot.
In fact, you might be asking yourself how a team that showed so strongly and beat Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl could be positioned to return so many key contributors and starters this season. The answer to that? They entered last season as a young team. In fact, they entered as a very young team who happened to be breaking in a new coach.
UW is in the same position as Boise was a year ago, except their coaching staff has one more year of a head start. Nobody knew what to expect from Brian Harsin's young team and, as such, expectations were low. Yet production came from unexpected places - such as from a young pass rush and a young offensive line - and the Broncos ended up exceeding those modest expectations.
The problem for me, and for anybody trying to prognosticate this game, is that by definition the unexpected is, well, unexpected. So, I am forced to conclude that UW will not defeat Boise State in Boise on Friday. That way, when they do, it will be unexpected. Boise State 24, UW 16
The Huskies overcome a tough start, which is marked by two early sacks and a pair of first quarter three and outs, and start to assert themselves after settling in.
The Huskies are led by Lavon Coleman, who shows an improved ability to shake of tacklers and use his size to bang for consistent three and four yard gains, and Dwayne Washington providing an electrifying 40 yard touchdown run. Buddha Baker also provides a spark, returning a kickoff for a touchdown, and providing the Huskies with solid field position all night. Jake Browning provides the Huskies with their third touchdown, and is able to keep the Boise State's veteran front seven honest by making quick reads and finding the Huskies tight ends for 10 yard gains consistently.
Boise State fans leave disappointed, frustrated they weren't able to defeat their old and beloved coach and watch their dreams of returning to the Fiesta Bowl die in week one . However they also walk all way impressed and nostalgic, admitting that the Huskies remind them of young Boise State teams of old. They also remember how Travis Feeney, Buddha Baker, Sidney Jones and the Huskies defense thwarted their offense and handed the Broncos their first loss on a Friday night in program history. UW 21- BSU 17
Boise State 24-16. Despite the Broncos being favored by double digits, I remain optimistic about this team. The Dawgs still have a solid defense that could keep this game within striking distance. If the offensive line can open holes for the running game, they can be right there at the end. This game is extra special for obvious reasons and one has to think Petersen has got the young Dawgs prepared for the blue turf. Realistically, Boise State should win going away but I think the Huskies find a way to keep it close until the very end. If somehow Jake Browning (yes, I assume he's the starter) can lead the Dawgs to an upset victory, Husky fans will be talking about a new "Montlake Jake."
The last few months slowly instilled in me the optimism that comes naturally to every football fan during the long sportsless months of summer. Writing the preview of Boise State's defense grounded me. Even with Boise State also breaking in a new starting QB, it's hard to make an objective case for favoring Washington.
The Broncos QB will start out behind an offensive line returning all five starters. He will be playing in front of a supportive home crowd. Browning or Lindquist will be in hostile territory, behind an inexperienced offensive line, and the defense amassed in front of them will be made up of several All-MWC stand outs and plenty of veteran depth. I hold out hope for a highly competitive game once the teams settle in a bit, but still think the result will be something close to Boise State 24, UW 17.
Boise State is a good football team, and they have experience where it matters most: in the trenches. While they have some turnover on the offensive skill positions, their superiority on the offensive and defensive lines will be a major factor. I think the Husky Defense, especially the secondary, plays pretty welll against a new quarterback for the Broncos and the D line shows they can still rush the passer even after all the departures from last year. Still, Washington's offense will struggle against the Boise State pass rush and it will be difficult to maintain drives. Dwayne Washington does his thing with a 25+ yard TD run, and one of the QBs throws a TD to Josh Perkins. A field goal off a stalled drives gives the Dawgs 17, but it will not be enough. Call it Boise State 23, Washington 17.
On Friday, Washington will take a mystery starting quarterback and just 11 returning starters from the team's 2014 campaign into a stadium where the home team is 86-4 since 2001. Suffice to say, that is not a recipe for success.
Boise State's strengths are well known: A depth chart populated by mostly third-, fourth- and fifth-year upperclassmen, one of the Mountain West's most productive returning receivers in the form of Thomas Sperbeck, and a sack master going by the name of Kamalei Correa. Their team is one without any glaring weaknesses, which means that the Huskies will be hard-pressed to play clean football and hang tough in the fourth quarter.
Ultimately, I expect the pressure of going on the road against a top-25 opponent to be too much for this young and inexperienced Husky squad, and while I don't expect them to come away with a win, I do expect them to come away with valuable lessons learned that will serve them well in the future. Boise State 34, Washington 20.