A guest post by Yoshito Tsuji, co-written by Susan Shan
The last game in the opening week of the 2010 college football season is the first game to have national title implications. The Boise State Broncos (No. 3 AP, No. 5 USA Today) will take on the Virginia Tech Hokies (No. 10 AP, No. 6 USA Today) at FedEx Field tonight.
Boise State enters 2010 with a 14-game winning streak and is coming off another BCS-busting 2009 season in which they defeated TCU 17-10 in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Broncos won’t have the comfortable confines of the smurf turf of Bronco Stadium (63-2 at home since 2000), but they do have junior QB Kellen Moore. Moore had a phenomenal 2009 season – he compiled 3,536 yards and 39 TDs with only three INTs.
Moore isn’t alone in helping to make Boise State a top five team entering this season. He has his entire receiving corps back, including seniors Titus Young (1,041 yards, 10 TDs) and Austin Pettis (855 yards, 14 TDs).
The return of senior RB Jeremy Avery (1,151 yards, 6 TDs) and junior RB Doug Martin (765 yards, 15 TDs) creates another dimension to the Broncos’ attack, which features 10 returning offensive starters.
On defense, head coach Chris Petersen has an equally experienced squad returning with 10 starters from a 2009 unit that played phenomenal football in last year’s opening 19-8 victory over Oregon.
A few of the standout performers are senior DE Ryan Winterswyk, junior DT Billy Winn, senior CB Brandyn Thompson, and senior SS and leading tackler in 2009, Jeron Johnson.
Boise State hopes that tonight’s game will be the key win in their bid for a national title game appearance. If Boise should have another undefeated season, their preseason ranking will almost automatically place them in the hunt.
Standing in the Broncos’ way are the Virginia Tech Hokies. The Hokies are anything but pushovers as they have compiled a 99-32 overall record over the past 10 years under head coach Frank Beamer (24th season, 187-92-2 overall).
VT is led by dynamic senior QB Tyrod Taylor (2,311 passing yards, 13 TDs, 5 INTs; 370 rushing yards, 5 TDs), who has a solid running game behind him with sophomore Ryan Williams (1,655 yards, 21 TDs in 2009) and junior Darren Evans (1,265 yards, 11 TDs in 2008).
The biggest question mark for the Hokies will be on defense. With only four returning starters, defensive coordinator Bud Foster will surely be working extra hard during tonight’s contest to find the best playmakers he can for a defense that has traditionally been one of the best in the country.
Keys for Boise State
Protect Kellen Moore. Kellen Moore was only sacked five times in 2009 and 13 times in 2008. Bud Foster will likely try to pressure Moore and disrupt his timing. The Broncos’ ability to handle the pass rush of Virginia Tech (36 sacks in 2009) will be crucial. If Moore does not have time in the pocket, the Broncos will not be able to hit some of their big pass plays.
Run effectively. The Broncos will probably have some difficulty running the ball against Virginia Tech, but they will need to be able to pick up first downs in short yardage situations throughout the game to keep the chains moving. If Avery, Martin, and D.J. Harper are not able to get going on the ground, Boise will struggle. In their last loss to TCU in 2008, they ran 20 times for 28 yards, creating a blueprint Foster is sure to pick up on.
Stop the run. Virginia Tech features two 1,000-yard rushers and a dual-threat playmaking quarterback in Taylor. Boise State will need to be able to stop VT’s run game and limit Taylor’s scrambling to win. In the 2008 loss to TCU, Boise State’s run defense gave up 275 yards on 51 carries.
Keys for Virginia Tech
Convert third downs. VT must find ways to move the chains against Boise State’s defense. In last year’s opener against Oregon, Boise held Oregon to 1/10 on third down efficiency. In their Fiesta Bowl win over TCU, the Broncos held the Horned Frogs to 1/12 on third downs. However, Boise’s last loss came when TCU was able to convert 9 times out of 18 on third downs in 2008.
Stop the run. VT will need to find a way to stop Boise State’s running game. An effective running game opens up Boise’s play action passing game and allows the Broncos to utilize tricky gadget plays. If Virginia Tech can stop Boise from converting on the ground, they will have a much easier time on defense tonight.
Stay disciplined on defense. The Hokies have a very disciplined defensive unit. However, against a team like Boise State, they will need to remain even more vigilant on their gap responsibilities. Boise State uses many different types of misdirection and trickeration to get defenses off balance (just ask Oklahoma about the 2007 Fiesta Bowl). Boise State also isn’t afraid to fake a punt or field goal to get a first down. The Broncos routinely practice trick plays and use one almost every game. Therefore, Foster’s defense must be ready for anything and remain alert even if it’s fourth and 10.
Tonight’s game will be one of the best in the college football season and will likely feature an atmosphere in Landover like that of a big bowl game.
The crowd should be dominated by Virginia Tech fans since it’s an easy drive from Virginia, but there is word that Boise State fans are everywhere in our nation’s capital. If the ratio of Virginia Tech to Boise State fans is 60-40 rather than 70-30 or 80-20, the crowd will play less of a factor in the game.
A loss will end either team’s chances for a national title game appearance, so the magnitude of the outcome cannot be understated. The contest should be tense and close with the Hokies coming out on top 20-17.
Follow Yoshito Tsuji on Twitter @YoshitoTsuji.