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Opponent Offense Preview: Boise State Broncos

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Boise State runs every Washington fans favorite “multiple” offense.

NCAA Football: Boise State at Utah State Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Key Stats

Points per game: 36.8

Yards per play: 5.9 (#43)

Points per play: .478 (#21)

Red zone scoring percentage: 86%

Offensive Philosophy

Boise State is as multiple as multiple gets. It should look very familiar to Husky fans because Washington has been operating under the same offensive principle since Chris Petersen’s arrival. Although they have lost OC Zak Hill to the same role at Arizona State (won’t be coaching in the bowl game) Head Coach Brian Harsin will take over play calling for the time being. The other change this season has been at QB, where true freshman Hank Bachmeier won the starting job. He got hurt late in the season and senior Jaylon Henderson has lead the team and continued to improve over the course of his four starts, including the Mountain West Championship game, a 31-10 victory over Hawaii.

NCAA Football: Boise State at Colorado State
Senior Jaylon Henderson has kept the Bronco offense humming in his past four starts.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

A typical series might look like this: more or less traditional zone read plays, then all of sudden the quarterback is under center and running play action to a bootleg TE screen. Tight ends get carries on end arounds, and wide receivers throw passes. They’ll mix in trick plays and even dusted off the old statue of liberty early in the year. There’s plenty of long developing plays as part of this offense too and usually of the high risk, high reward type. There are even more shifts, motions, and fancy formations than Washington - they will do anything in the name of finding mismatches. But most importantly, they put their QB in a position to succeed. It’s hard to quantify, but they put him in good spots.

Boise averages about 74 plays per game, and they operate at a decently quick pace, going into full on hurry up from time to time. They find themselves in more 3rd down situations than they would probably like, about 14 per game, but they convert them at a top-10 rate. They start games particularly strong, averaging 9 first quarter points per game, 15th in the country. In the same vein, they are second nationally in yards gained on their opening drive, a whopping 62. They are a well drilled team who comes into games ready to play from the get go.

Key Players

RB George Holani: 181 rushes, 979 yards, 7 TD, 5.4 YPC

The true freshman Holani has been a bright spot for the Bronco offense this year. He’s got just three 100-yard games under his belt this year but he’s averaged over 4.5 yards per rush in nine of this thirteen games. He is plenty versatile and will usually get multiple catches per game. Stylistically, he reminds me a little bit of Myles Gaskin - you may remember him - in that he’s not the biggest running back at 5-11 190, but has great vision and balance. He sets up his blocks well and knows how to run so defenders can’t get a square hit on him. As good as he’s been, the run game overall has sputtered at times for the Broncos.

QB Jaylon Henderson: 1,032 yards, 63% completion, 11 TD, 2 INT, 7.8 yards per attempt

He began the season as third string but due to injury has elevated to become the starter. He’s improved in each of his games and is a big reason Boise State has kept winning late in the year. The 6-1, 210 pound senior and JC transfer has shown a versatile skill set this year. In his first start against New Mexico (admittedly a horrible team), he threw for nearly 300 yards and 3 TDs. The following week against Utah, he tossed another 3 TDs, but also showed off his legs with 7 rushes for 45 yards. He showed improved decision making and didn’t turn the ball over either. He took it up another notch against Colorado State, with a super efficient game going 26-36 for 253 yards and 2 TDs. He also rushed for a TD and made multiple clutch throws in a close game that came down to the wire. He was great yet again the MW Championship Game, throwing 2 more touchdowns on 69% completion. He’s taken more sacks than coaches would probably like, however: six in his past four games.

WR Khalil Shakir: 60 catches, 834 yards, 6 TDs, 13.9 yards per catch

Shakir is the go-to option in the pass game and a nice all around weapon. He plays receiver mainly but as a freshman would get traditional running back carries out of the backfield. He has a nose for space and can get up field, as he shows on his jet/fly sweep touches. He has been very consistent all year with just one game with less than two catches, the strange loss to BYU in October. Not only does he get his touches on sweeps, he gets lots of tunnel screen passes and can get up over DBs in the end zone, as he did for his spectacular catch against Florida State.

John Hightower: 48 receptions, 923 yards, 8 TDs, 19.2 yards per catch

Hightower doesn’t get the looks or usage of Shakir, but is the most explosive weapon outside for Boise State. At 6-2 he is the proverbial mismatch of the wide receivers and gets a lot of varied touches in creative ways like Shakir. However, they look to him deep in one-on-one situations more than shorter routes, though he will get his share of jet sweeps. He’s also the primary kick returner and shows some big play potential there. The senior should be on NFL boards this spring due to his explosiveness and playmaking.

X-Factor

Henderson’s legs and general play making ability. Boise State insiders will tell you that the team has seemed to play a bit harder, with more of an edge since Henderson became the starter. The big plays seemingly come at the right time and Henderson isn’t taking the hits Bachmeier or Chase Cord were taking earlier in the season. Dynamic QBs are always tough to defend against and the makeup of Washington’s front seven this year have made that particularly difficult. Joe Tryon and company will need to cause havoc and not allow Jaylon Henderson into a rhythm where he can start spreading the ball around. Boise State is too multiple and can hurt teams in too many ways if they aren’t disrupted.

Conclusion

Bowl games are tough to predict because the motivation varies. Boise State is usually up for these types of games, but after a 12-1 season who knows if they will be fired up to play in another Las Vegas bowl and not on New Years Day. The Huskies meanwhile might want to do everything they can to win in Coach Petersen’s last game, but they could just as easily sleep walk through a mostly meaningless bowl game after a disappointing season...so who knows what will happen.

But, I imagine Boise State will try to establish the run early against Washington’s relative defensive weakness in the linebacking corps. Beyond that, Washington will need to stay disciplined in the face of what can be a tricky and unpredictable Boise State attack. Ideally some of the young DL keep coming along during bowl practices to help disrupt the long developing plays Boise State likes so much, requiring linemen to hold blocks for a long time. Whoever is starting at safety will need to ensure John Hightower doesn’t get behind him either. Perhaps most importantly, Washington has to come into this game ready to play fast and physical from the opening whistle. Boise State offensively will jump all over a lethargic UW defense.