At the midpoint of the 2011 season, Boise State is 6-0 (1-0) and ranked 5th in the first BCS poll of the season. The Broncos served notice that they were a team to be reckoned with this year when they went to Atlanta and beat Georgia in the season opener.
Another road trip to Toledo was successful followed by the home opener against Tulsa. A rematch with Nevada saw the Bronco defense start to dominate again before the offense started clicking in back-to-back 50-point wins over Fresno State and Colorado State.
The goal for Coach Chris Petersen and the Broncos is always to win the conference and they have a great chance to do that this year. Bigger prizes may await this veteran group of Broncos, however, as the Broncos are in a very good position to simply let the teams in front of them lose, and a minimum of two of them assuredly will.
Six Mountain West Conference games remain starting with tomorrow’s home test against Air Force. That game is followed by a trip to UNLV to face the Rebels before returning home in a highly-anticipated matchup with TCU on November 12th. The final road trip of the season takes the team to San Diego to face the Aztecs before returning home against Wyoming and New Mexico to close the year.
The Broncos have been as dominant to this point in the season as any team in the country, sitting in the top eight in the nation in both scoring offense and scoring defense. After a slow start, the running game has improved to give some balance to the offense while the defense has been outstanding throughout the year.
Here are the grades for the key players midway through the season:
Kellen Moore: A
Joe Southwick: B
Grant Hedrick: B+
Moore has been his typically efficient self with the Nevada game a notable exception. In that game he finished with only 142 yards passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions, his worst statistical performance of his career. Overall he has been outstanding, currently 4th in the country in quarterback rating, 2nd in completion % and tied for 2nd with 21 touchdown passes. With a 2nd half similar to his first, Moore will find himself back in New York as a Heisman finalist in December.
Southwick has been solid in limited duty, completing 12-16 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. He had an interception that was returned for touchdown wiped out by a penalty against Nevada but has otherwise been error-free. Hedrick has been featured mostly in wildcat or option packages as he has attempted just two passes. He is 4th on the team in rushing with 67 yards on six carries and a 23-yard touchdown scamper last week at Colorado State. Neither have been pressed into any serious duty but both have flashed potential.
Doug Martin: A-
D.J. Harper: B+
Drew Wright: B
Martin started slow with 75 yards or less rushing in each of the first three games before finally getting it going in the last three games, averaging 140 yards per game. He had a career-high 200 yards and three touchdowns against Colorado State. He has 622 yards and eight touchdowns and figures to be well on his way to another 1,000 yard season.
Harper avoided tearing his ACL in the 3rd game of the season for the 3rd consecutive season and has been healthy and held up well in spot duty for Martin. Getting fewer than 10 carries per game, Harper has totaled 238 yards and five touchdowns. Wright got his most extensive action of the season in the 4th quarter against the Rams, finishing with 79 yards on 16 carries. He has 122 yards and scored a touchdown against Toledo.
Raphiel Lambert got three carries in the Fresno State game and is the only other running back on the roster to get a carry this season. Malcolm Johnson tore his ACL the week before the Georgia game and Harper’s health has allowed the team to redshirt Jay Ajayi. Fullback Dan Paul has missed the first half of the year with an injury to his hip and is expected to redshirt. The Broncos have moved several players around including tight ends, linebacker Tommy Smith and defensive end Tyrone Crawford to cover the lack of depth at fullback in Paul’s absence.
Tyler Shoemaker: A-
Mitch Burroughs: B
Matt Miller: A
Kirby Moore: B
Chris Potter: B-
Geraldo Boldewijn: Inc.
Burroughs leads the team with 30 catches, two more than redshirt freshman Miller. Shoemaker has the most yards with 401 and has notched eight touchdowns. After recording six touchdowns in the first three games, Shoemaker was silent for much of the Nevada and Fresno State contests before exploding again against Colorado State for 180 yards and two scores.
Miller has been the consistent threat with at least three catches in each game. He had a big touchdown catch in the 1st quarter of his first game against Georgia. Burroughs has been equally consistent although he had a pair of crucial drops in the Nevada game and fumbled this past week against Colorado State. Ball security is a surprising problem for the normally sure-handed receiver and punt returner.
Boldewijn missed the first four games of the season before returning with two touchdowns against Fresno State. His suspension put the passing game in some peril but Moore and the other receivers responded. He dropped a sure touchdown early in the Fresno State game before redeeming himself later. He needs to find the chemistry with Moore that has already been developed with the three leading receivers.
Kirby Moore has 12 catches and a touchdown but has yet to have a breakout performance. Chris Potter has been injured and missed the past three games and had only five catches in the first three games for 49 yards. Tyler Jackson and Aaron Burks have received scant playing time while true freshman Dallas Burroughs has found some time in certain packages with four catches and four rushes so far.
Kyle Efaw: A-
Gabe Linehan: B+
Kyle Sosnowski: B
Chandler Koch: B-
Efaw has been a steady target but not the same big-play threat he had been at times in the past two years. The senior from Capital High does have three touchdowns, tied for 2nd on the team. Linehan has been more of a downfield threat but he has run some questionable routes as he continues to learn a relatively new position. Sosnowski has given the Broncos some depth while Chandler Koch missed several games with an injury. The unit is back to relatively full strength and will hopefully emerge as more of a receiving threat in the 2nd half of the year.
Nate Potter: A
Joe Kellogg: B
Thomas Byrd: B
Chuck Hayes: B+
Charles Leno: A-
Potter and Leno have been rocks on the outside while the interior of the line has been in constant flux since the first game. Kellogg left the Georgia game with an injury and Spencer Gerke played well in his place. Byrd’s chronic knee problems have given him trouble over the past couple games and Matt Paradis and Cory Yriarte have played well in his place.
Jake Broyles was settling nicely in at right guard before an injury put him out for the season and Chuck Hayes has done an admirable job filling in with Brenel Myers getting time there as well. Potter has been receiving the accolades due him and Leno has also developed well at the right tackle spot for a line that has allowed just three sacks in six games.
Shea McClellin: A-
Billy Winn: A
Chase Baker: B
Tyrone Crawford: A
Jarrell Root: B
Mike Atkinson: B+
Tyler Horn: B+
Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe: Inc.
Not surprisingly, the defensive line has been outstanding for the Broncos, even in the absence of Tjong-A-Tjoe. He will return for the Air Force game and give the unit some much-needed depth. Chase Baker has battled injuries in the middle all season and Mike Atkinson has done a tremendous job filling in for more snaps than he likely would have received had Baker and Tjong-A-Tjoe been healthy and on the field. Winn has been as steady as usual.
McClellin has made several big plays this year but Crawford has been the breakout player on the line. He is currently 2nd on the team in tackles and leads the group in both sacks and tackles for loss. Root has done a nice job filling in for McClellin in certain packages and true freshman Tyler Horn has made an impact in multiple games as he has 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in his young career.
Greg Grimes and Darren Koontz have also given the time some good minutes at defensive tackle with the injury to Baker and the suspension of Tjong-A-Tjoe. Surprisingly, Kharyee Marshall and Nick Alexander have been unable to play their way onto the field but with three senior ends in front of them, the hope is that they can get some time in the 2nd half of the year to develop towards next season.
Byron Hout: B
Aaron Tevis: B+
Tommy Smith: B
J.C. Percy: A-
Percy is tied for 3rd on the team with 22 tackles and Tevis has been tremendous in pass coverage, tied for the team lead in pass breakups. Hout and Smith have done a nice job with the run defense in the middle but neither have played as many snaps as expected with other exotic packages being instituted getting either an extra defensive lineman or extra cornerback on the field at times. The linebackers have not had many playmaking opportunities but have been solid nonetheless. True freshman Blake Renaud has mostly seen time on special teams but looks like a future star.
George Iloka: A
Cedric Febis: A-
Travis Stanaway: B
Hunter White: B-
Jonathan Brown: B
Dextrell Simmons: B-
Jeremy Ioane: B-
Iloka is playing like a 1st-team All-Conference safety and after serving a one-game suspension, Febis has been outstanding as well. Both have had to play man-to-man coverage at times due to the injuries at cornerback and both have held up well. Stanaway has been solid as a 3rd safety, pushing freshman Jeremy Ioane back to mostly mop-up duty.
The nickelbacks have had a harder time getting on the field with the varying defensive looks, limiting the opportunities of White, Brown and Simmons. All three have had time in certain packages, each playing in all six games while also being featured on special teams coverage units. There has not yet been an Ellis Powers or Winston Venable-like breakout from any of the three.
Jamar Taylor: A-
Jerrell Gavins: A
Quaylon Ewing-Burton: B+
Ebo Makinde: B
The Broncos began the season with an outstanding tandem of corners as Taylor had proven to be the leading man a year ago and Gavins had increased his productivity with three interceptions in the first three games. Unfortunately, Gavins went down with a knee injury and will miss the remainder of the year.
Ewing-Burton stepped into his place and has played extremely well although fellow sophomore Makinde has returned from an injury and is now listed as the starter. Bryan Douglas has given the team some valuable minutes as well but the Broncos have leaned on their safeties to help in coverage more often this year than in the past due to questions about the depth at cornerback.
Brad Elkin: A
Dan Goodale: C
Trevor Harman: B+
Chris Roberson: B+
Coverage Units: A+
Return Teams: A-
Boise State’s kicking woes have been well-publicized and deservedly criticized through the first half of the season. Goodale was impressive in the spring and fall and clearly has an outstanding leg but has been extremely inconsistent, missing four extra points and a short field goal. He was replaced briefly by Frisina who also missed an extra point attempt. The Broncos did not even try a field goal until the 4th game of the season in part due to the problems with extra points.
Roberson has done a fine job snapping as that does not seem to be the primary issue with the missed kicks. Hunter White has moved back to the holder spot. Harman has been outstanding on his kickoffs, featuring high, deep kicks that have allowed the coverage teams to be among the best in the nation.
After an uneven career through his first three seasons, Elkin redshirted last year and has come back this year in impressive fashion. He has placed an outstanding 40% of his punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. He has done well with the rugby-style punt but has also boomed a few of the more traditional variety.
The kick return game has yet to break a big one as Martin has been the primary returner and is averaging a solid 26.8 yards per return. Boise State has only 11 kickoff returns through six games. The punt returners, on the other hand, have been outstanding. Burroughs is averaging nearly 17 yards per return and Potter was doing nearly as well before his injury.
Chris Petersen and his staff have managed to overcome some tough injuries, suspensions and a tough early-season travel schedule to position the team for a run at a BCS appearance. New offensive coordinator Brent Pease has done a solid job giving Kellen Moore some great opportunities. 2nd year defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski has also done well to adjust his schemes to the opponents and shut down several different types of offenses through six games.
The Broncos hope to finish stronger than they started and if they do, they should be able to punch a ticket to their 3rd BCS game during Petersen’s tenure.