It’s time for a special bowl game edition of “Five Questions, Five Answers” with an opposing beat writer.
As always, my questions and his answers:
Question 1: This is the third straight year Boise State is in the Las Vegas Bowl, so I guess an obvious thought from the outside would be that they might not be all that excited to be there. What is the sense there — is there any disappointment that this is where they are again or will the Broncos once again embrace it?
Answer 1: I don’t sense any disappointment inside the program. Unlike the past two years, this feels like the right spot for this team. The last two years, there was a sense that they should have been somewhere bigger — and even then the team showed up with the right attitude. Las Vegas is a good spot to be, teams always like to be done by Christmas, and Boise State only gets one shot a year at Pac-12 teams — so there’s no reason to be unhappy. … There are some fans who don’t like this game — because it’s three straight years and because of the matchup with Washington. I’ve heard some fans aren’t going to make the trip because they’re already planning to attend the 2013 game and don’t want to pay twice to see the same matchup.
Q2: How did the offense adjust this year to the loss of guys like quarterback Kellen Moore (now with the Lions) and running back Doug Martin (now with Tampa Bay)?
A2: Slowly. And you have to throw offensive coordinator Brent Pease (now at Florida) in there as well. So it took a while to get the chemistry. One of the wide receivers mentioned this month that last year the players not only knew the play call, but also how the play might change on the fly because they had spent so much time together. This year they had to rebuild all that. And the offense never has gotten to where it looks like a typical Boise State offense. There’s still a lack of playmaking in the pass game and a strange string of second-half lulls.
Q3: Can you tell us more specifically about the season quarterback Joe Southwick (pictured in an AP photo) had?
A3: Ugly at the start – Boise State didn’t score an offensive TD in two of the first three games. Inconsistent through the middle. And really good at the end. His rating for the last three games was over 170. He has taken a lot of heat from fans who got used to the silly production and consistency of Kellen Moore. And he made some costly mistakes, particularly against Michigan State. I also don’t think he got as much help from the receivers as coaches would have liked. Matt Miller is fantastic but the rest of the group hasn’t made many “wow” plays.
Q4: The stats show Boise State’s strength this year to be its defense. What have been some keys to the defense?
A4: The secondary is outstanding. The corners, Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins, have to be one of the best duos in the country. They don’t make major mistakes. The first-team defense only allowed a couple touchdowns longer than 8 yards this season. Opposing QBs have two touchdowns (the third was by a running back) and 16 interceptions. The front seven has taken some injury hits, most notably nose tackle Mike Atkinson going out with a torn ACL, but is solid. The ends are dynamic — sophomore Demarcus Lawrence led the Mountain West in sacks and freshman Sam Ukwuachu causes a lot of problems.
Q5: Finally, this is the seventh straight season Boise State has won 10 or more games, the longest active streak in the nation. What are a couple of the biggest reasons BSU has been able to be that consistent?
A5: Great coaching. Chris Petersen does a nice job getting his team ready to play no matter the opponent or situation and he has a knack for hiring talented assistants. If (current WSU assistant) Jeff Choate gets the DC job at UTEP, that will be seven of Petersen’s nine original assistants who are now head coaches (Sean Kugler, UTEP) or coordinators (including Justin Wilcox at UW). And then they’ve had terrific quarterback play, until this season, and since 2008 the defense has been a force. If your strengths are coaching, QB play and defense, you’re not going to lose very often.