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Georgia Bulldogs 2011 Season Preview: The Boise State Game

It had been my intention today to inaugurate a new feature called "Slow News Day Tuesday," but, after yesterday, I didn’t want to tempt fate. Fortunately, I had an alternate topic about which to write; viz., since I recently promised to begin previewing the 2011 college football season, it’s high time I got down to business, even though a comprehensive preview is available through Maple Street Press, whose Georgia Bulldogs annual should be on newsstands now! Nevertheless, I am duty-bound to bring you all the data and insights at my disposal in both printed and digital form, so we now turn to the Classic City Canines’ opening opponent, the Boise St. Broncos.

What would you like to know about Boise State? Well, for one thing, the Broncos’ fans really, really, really want to win this game!

In a way, of course, I understand that; after all, this game probably is more important for Georgia than it is for Boise State, which Bulldog Nation recognized from the moment the game was scheduled. However, if I put up a poll question here asking fans to rank the games on the Red and Black’s 2011 slate in order of importance, there’s no doubt in my mind that fans would rather beat a seven-win Florida Gators outfit than a twelve-win Boise State club. Heck, as badly as I want to win the opener in the Dome, beating the South Carolina Gamecocks is significantly more important for the course of the season.

I mention that not to minimize the significance of the September 3 showdown, which likely will set the tone for the entire autumn for both contestants, but to put it in context, and, thus, in perspective. Viewed in that light, I have a tough time seeing why the Bronco faithful are so fixated on this game. All right, I know, we beat BSU like a yard dog in 2005, but, since then, Boise State has done the following:

At this point, a Boise State fan attaching outsized significance to a win over Georgia to avenge a 2005 loss is akin to a Georgia fan attaching outsized significance to a win over the USC Trojans to avenge the Bulldogs’ setbacks in Los Angeles in the 1930s. It’s ancient history; we respect the Broncos; let’s not treat this game like it’s a bigger deal than it is, because it’s plenty big enough as it stands.

Certainly, the boys in Bristol are hyping heavily the marquee matchup of the season’s first Saturday night, but, when I was asked to identify the most underreported angle on the game, I replied:

Clearly, the most under-discussed aspect of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic is the fact that Georgia actually intends to field a team in this game. I understand that Boise State will be, and by all rights should be, favored in this game, but, to hear ESPN tell it, the most compelling storyline of this contest is whether the Broncos will squeak by with a mere 30-point victory or whether they really will put a whipping on the Bulldogs. If I didn't know any better, I'd think the Worldwide Leader was predicting the outcome of an outing between the Denver Broncos and the Yale Bulldogs.

That’s not to say the commentators are unjustified in favoring Boise State to win; it was reasonable to forecast a BSU victory even before the Bulldogs’ depth at tailback became as thin as, well, the Athenians’ depth on the offensive line and in the defensive secondary. Chris Petersen, while enjoying his success in a highly specific context, nevertheless has lost fewer times in his head coaching career than Mark Richt lost in the 2010 regular season. Coach Petersen has guided the Broncos from the sideline in 32 home games, and he has never walked off of the blue turf after a Boise State loss. "Coach Pete" is 3-0 against top ten teams and 6-1 against squads from automatically-qualifying BCS leagues. He hasn’t lost a game at an even nominally neutral site or against an out-of-conference opponent since suffering a one-point setback to eleventh-ranked Texas Christian in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl.

Fortunately, even the Broncos are not without their flaws, and SB Nation’s Boise State weblog has provided a helpful overview of BSU’s question marks heading into the 2011 campaign. These are they:

  • Replacing Austin Pettis and Titus Young at wide receiver
  • Complete lack of experience in the kicking game
  • Losing Bryan Harsin
  • A void at strong safety
  • Starting two newbies on the right side of the O-line
  • Playing in a brand new conference against brand new teams

That last one, obviously, benefits the Bulldogs not at all, but a few of those potential holes offer some intriguing opportunities for the Red and Black. We all know that the battle between Georgia’s experienced yet thin offensive line and Boise State’s undersized yet underrated defensive line represents one of the key matchups of this game, but we in Bulldog Nation may not have been paying adequate attention to the war in the trenches when the Broncos have the ball.

Despite returning the lion’s share of the starters on offense, Boise State will be fielding sophomores Jake Broyles and Spencer Gerke at right guard, alongside sophomore Charles Leno and redshirt freshman Greg Dohmen at right tackle. Here is where having Justin Houston back would have come in damned handy, but junior Abry Jones, who sits atop the depth chart at left end, will get the chance to make his mark against the underclassmen on the right side of the Bronco line. Jones, you may recall, capped off the 2010 regular season with 16 tackles and a forced fumble in a game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets that earned him SEC co-defensive lineman of the week honors.

As has been noted here frequently in the comments, the improved play by the front seven anticipated by us all could serve to shore up a suspect secondary, and the Bulldog defensive backfield could use all the help it can get, though the Red and Black D brought in 16 interceptions to finish in the top half of the conference in airborne takeaways in 2010. The Georgia secondary will not have to contend with Austin Pettis and Titus Young, who departed for the NFL after together tallying 2,166 receiving yards, 142 catches, and 19 touchdown receptions last autumn.

Based on what the Broncos showed in their spring game, Tyler Shoemaker likely will line up at wideout, with Geraldo Hiwat in the slot, though Boise State began its spring scrimmage by lining up in a two-tight end formation, so who knows which way the Broncos will go. At this point, Hiwat appears more likely to serve as a game-breaking threat, as he turned in a spring game performance in which he notched 97 receiving yards, including a 22-yard gain over the middle and a 49-yard pickup on a long bomb. It isn’t as simple as silencing Hiwat---not with Kellen Moore lining up at quarterback---but holding Hiwat in check is critical, and that objective, if not fully attainable, at least ought to be more doable than containing both Pettis and Young would have been.

That brings us to the special teams, about which One Bronco Nation Under God’s Kevan Lee had this to say: "The biggest question mark for me is the kicking game. Do you realize that we will go into the Georgia game with a placekicker whose first college kick will be in the Georgia game?" That is good news for the ‘Dawgs, because, if there is any area in which the Red and Black realistically may expect excellence straight out of the gate, it is on special teams.

Given Boise State’s inexperience at kicker, the Georgia return game could have a chance to shine, and, given the way the 2005 meeting between these two teams began, the importance of starting the game with a big play is obvious. For that reason, in this outing, more than in most, the Bulldogs should elect to receive if they win the toss.

Those are my initial thoughts on the Boise State game with just over 45 days remaining until kickoff. What are your impressions of the keys to the contest?

Go ‘Dawgs!