The fourth game between the Beavers and Broncos since 2003 is once again an important contest for both clubs as BSU is out to prove they can win without Dan Hawkins and OSU is looking for revenge for their embarrassing loss in Bronco Stadium two years ago. The Broncos feel that if they can win Thursday’s game they have a good shot at going undefeated while the Beavers feel that if they win Thursday it will give them momentum heading into conference play.
“It’s in a tough place to play, Boise State will have a great atmosphere there, and they’ll obviously be very fired up for this game in particular,” head coach Mike Riley said. “This has turned into a good rivalry game; two of the last three years have been very, very close. So we’re going to have to improve and play better; we like our start, but just like everything, week to week if you expect to win, you’re going to have to get better."
And one thing the Beavers will have to get better at is containing Bronco quarterback Jared Zabransky, who is 21-5 as a starter and killed the Beavers with his arm and feet in 2004. In two games against OSU “Z” has completed 39 of 70 (55.7%) for 458 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. He opened the 2006 season completing 11 of 20 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
“He does present the dual threat problem of being able to pass well and run effectively. You just can’t let him make any big plays running the football,” Riley said of the senior gunslinger. “It really hurt us two years ago, everybody remembers that. I think you have to make him stay in the pocket and throw the ball on time, then be able to cover. Those are the key issues, but his versatility is a factor."
OSU defensive ends Joe Lemma and Jeff Van Orsow each recorded a sack last week, but will need to not over pursue on the edges or Zabransky will get loose. Linebackers Derrick Doggett, Alan Darlin and Joey LaRocque all will figure heavily into keeping Zabransky in check.
“Against Boise State, you’ve got to play a well-rounded defensive game,” Riley said. “They use a lot of shifting and motion that you have to be ready to adjust to. You have to match that versatility with your own soundness."
Both teams kept their playbooks pretty basic in their home openers, but both are expected to crack open the playbook in front of a national audience.
“Chris Peterson (Boise State’s head coach) has been running that offense for a while, so I think structurally on offense they’re the same but they’ll always add some stuff and be creative,” Riley said. On the Oregon State side Riley says he will “have some different things for this ballgame.”
Other BSU weapons on offense include running back Ian Johnson, who carried 13 times for 89 yards and two touchdowns last week and senior wide receiver Drisan James, who caught four passes for a career best 125 yards last Thursday.
Defensively the Beavers must keep their eye on linebacker Korey Hall, who was named the WAC’s preseason defensive player of the year. Hall, who needs just 11 more tackles to reach 300 in his career, changed the game in 2004 after he picked off a Derek Anderson pass and returned the ball 46 yards for a touchdown. The Broncos then proceeded to rattle off 24 unanswered points.
Also, keep an eye on ball hawking safety Marty Tadman, who intercepted the seventh pass of his career a week ago, and senior linebacker Colt Brooks, a former walk-on who leads the team with eight tackles and an interception.
Besides the individual skilled players the Boise State defensive scheme to tough to play against as they constantly change from four and three man fronts while disguising coverages and blitzes.
"It’s tough to play against; they give you problems and you have to be able to handle all the blitzes and coverages,” said Riley who is 2-1 against BSU. “They’ve done a nice job, historically, and I know Coach Wilcox will tweak what they’ve been doing so that provides a little mystery for us which is sometimes hard to deal with."
But quarterback Matt Moore knows he can pass on the Bronco defense. He completed 27 of 38 passes for 279 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions last year. The offensive line is also better than last year’s which helped running back Yvenson Bernard average 7.1 per carry against BSU.
The game’s outcome could hinge on special team’s play where the Beavers have historically struggled and the Broncos have historically excelled. Quinton Jones was named a preseason All-American as a punt returner after taking three kicks back for touchdowns a season ago. He returned four punts last week for 63 yards. Punter Kyle Stringer averaged a massive 50.2 yards per kick pinning Sacramento State insider their own 20 three times.
The Beavers did a decent job on punt returns against Eastern Washington as Sammie Stroughter had two big returns, including one for six points. The concern lies with freshman punter Kyle Loomis who had a long of 43, a short of 10 and a 41 yard boot where he out kicked his coverage and resulted in a touchdown.
"We’ve got to do a better job of coverage, we’ve got to do a better job of punting the ball,” Riley said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do in that area, and that’s going to be a big factor. A return by either team – and we had a couple good returns – could swing this thing."
- CB Brandon Hughes will miss the game with a knee injury
but he is expected to be back against Idaho. DT Naymon Frank
will be available after sitting out the homer opener.
- Riley on LB Colt Brooks - "He looks like a focal
point for their defense. He’s a versatile player and I like the enthusiasm
with which he plays. He plays with a great intensity and appears to be a real
- On playing on in Bronco Stadium - "We can’t
simulate that; that’s a tough one. But we talked about the noise, and
probably in Tuesday’s practice we’ll add some noise to practice
to get into that a little bit. It’s a factor there, particularly at
one end of the field. And the atmosphere is great, it’s a lot like our
place for a home game. It’s going to be fun that way."
- On building momentum heading into a bye week - "You’re
at the point now where you’d like to build that momentum. I thought
our team played, hard, played fast, and did some good things in the first
game and we won. It’s just important to do whatever you can to build
that confidence and build that momentum."