Predicting the Season: Boise State Broncos

We are 3 days away from the Ducks storming onto the blue turf. This roundtable preview/prediction of the Oregon's upcoming game at Boise State originally posted in late July. However, our feelings haven't changed. We love the matchups in this game. As this post is being featured at CBSSports.com, we're re-opening it for comments.

dvieira:
I will get this party started. I like me some roundtables...

I think the Boise State game is important for a number of reasons outside of just our win-loss record. This game is a defining moment in the history of the program. For the first time in 14 years, we have a new CEO of Oregon Ducks Football. As much as I would like to think that everything will be "business as usual", people will look to this game and immediately decide if Chip Kelly is a failure as a head coach. The pressure on Chip is huge. He has to come out and make a statement in his first game as "the man". I can't think of a worse place to try and make that statement than the blue field of Boise State.

jtlight:
I think it's overstating it quite a bit to say it's a defining moment. It could end up being very important, but it's too early in the season to say that. Furthermore, while there may be some crackpots like Canzano that make judgements on Kelly based on the win/loss, I think that most real football fans realize that alone is not how to judge a coach. While fans may be wanting Chip to come out and beat down BSU, and I'm sure Chip wants that as well, I don't think he will let this fan pressure get to him. Plus, I like the attitude of the team. They're saying the right things, and working their butts off.

And while the team wants to win, what I think is important about this game is that even if Oregon falls, the team will have multiple opportunities to prove itself during the season. BSU is not afforded that opportunity. Just as in the OSU game, the real pressure was on the other team. OSU had to win to go to the Rose Bowl. BSU must win to do better than the Humanitarian Bowl.

dvieira:
I don't think I'm overstating it at all. This is a new era in Oregon Ducks Football. Mike Bellotti, the most successful coach in the history of the program, has stepped away from patrolling the sidelines. When Rich Brooks stepped down, Oregon Football was forever changed and this transition to Chip Kelly is no different. He's been given the keys to the kingdom and comes in with high expectations of success. The Boise State game is a trap. His first game is on the road against a very good team. There is no time to get used to the job, have a warm up game to work out the kinks. If Oregon loses this game, you will start to hear things like "Maybe Chip won't make a great head coach" or "Perhaps we gave him too much benefit of the doubt". The entire nation will be watching and for all the crap we give Oregon State about failing in September and losing out on national recognition, we have a LOT to lose and very little to gain.

No question that the failure ramifications are more for Boise State but the 2009 season is a defining one for Oregon in the court of national perception. We are on the edge of becoming a consistent power in the eyes of the nation. Taking a step back this season will damage a decade of work to get there and losing out to Boise State in front of a national audience hurts that tremendously.

PaulSF:
I agree with Dom on this one. Two decades ago, the Oregon program was a perennial pushover. But in 1994, the Rich Brooks-led Ducks’ miracle Rose Bowl season ignited a decade-long rise to national prominence. When Brooks bolted for the NFL in the summer of 1995, Bellotti took the helm of a program that was coming off its most storied season in half a century, a program that had appeared in only four bowls in the previous 42 years. What did he do? He set the tone for his entire tenure as Oregon’s head coach, winning his first three games right out of the gate, including a 38-31 win in Pasadena. Oregon finished 9-3 that season, including a trip to the Cotton Bowl. How different would his coaching career had been if he hadn’t come out with a strong first season?

The point is when you change coaches once every decade or two, you have to set the tone right away. I’m not saying Chip’s career as head coach of the Ducks is doomed if we lose to the Broncos, I’m just saying you’re going to hear a lot of negative talk about him and it will make his job a lot harder.



jtlight:
Well, I think you're right about what we'll be hearing if we lose the game. But I just really don't think that matters, and I will ignore anything of the crappy articles that come out, just as if we win, I'll ignore the articles where people write, "CHIP KELLY IS THE BEST EVAR!" In my mind, its not even worth giving these reactionaries the time of day.

As far as national perception goes, I don't agree about 2009 being defining, at least compared to any other season. Oregon has been successful enough over a long enough period of time that it will still be in the national conversation after a down year. I mean, 2006 was a disaster, yet look at what happened in 2007. In the long run, did that season hurt us? Not at all. And as far as the OSU comparison, they can talk when they keep a big non-conference game within 3 touchdowns. I have no doubt that at the very least this will be a close game.

JConant:
I think the only thing this game will define regarding Chip Kelly is whether his head coach tenure started with a bang or a thud. Whatever the case, BSU has much more to lose in this game. They're the big guy in a little guy conference. This will be their latest beacon of proof to the BCS that they belong. If they lose many of their team goals are out the window. The pressure is on them, much like the 2008 Civil War for Oregon State.

PaulSF:
I definitely disagree with you, Jeremy. A non-BCS conference team hardly ever has more to lose. If the Ducks weren’t predicted to contend for the Pac-10 title, I might buy it. But a loss to Boise State is a loss to a non-BCS conference team any way you look at it.

On a side note, and let me first say I’m not really the conspiracy-theory type, but the comparisons between Bellotti’s first season and what Kelly is facing are actually pretty eerie. Bellotti started his tenure in Salt Lake City against a decent Utah team, a team the Ducks had lost to at Autzen the previous year under Brooks despite a banner season. Fast-forward to 2009, and the Ducks face a tough non-BCS conference foe on the road with a new coach, a team they lost to at home last year.

But if history is any indication, we’ll be in good shape with a win. In ’95, the Ducks gutted out a win, squeaking by the Utes, 27-20. Bellotti went out to become the third-winningest Pac-10 coach of all time. Let’s hope Kelly’s tenure starts similarly.

jtlight:
We really could continue this for a while, so let's move on. Dom, you did bring up a good point regarding this being a tough first game for Chip. As with any first game, there is a large amount of uncertainty. I wouldn't call it a trap, because we're obviously not looking past the game at all, but its dangerous, and in many ways tough to predict, just because there will be a large amount of unknowns for both teams.

Oregon obviously has offensive line questions, but Boise State has issues with their front 7. How do you think that will play out?

dvieira:
The main differences between the lines has to do with experience. People are making too much out of Oregon's offensive line "inexperience" because of who left and injuries during the spring game. All of the projected starters have experience and have been working in the system for awhile. There will be a small dropoff to start the year but the line will grow with more experience. Let's not forget the Steve Greatwood factor. As far as the BSU front seven goes, I think Chris Peterson will limit any problems with inexperience by running more 4-2-5 sets to take advantage of the strength in the secondary. I don't think they will be much better than last year while our overall offense is much improved since our last meeting. I expect us to win the battle on offense more often than not.

jtlight:
I do agree about our offensive line, and think they will be just fine. What I think works very well in Oregon's favor is that the offense we use will render much of the Boise State defensive ends useless. They will have to force the play in another direction, and won't be making a lot of plays directly. This is great, considering that the BSU DE's are the best players in their front 7. Even if Oregon has an average offensive line, BSU is not deep in the middle, especially now with their biggest D-linemen most likely out for the game. I just don't see the Oregon offensive line, no matter how inexperienced, getting dominated by this BSU front 4 (like they were last year against USC), and because of that, Blount, Masoli, and (hopefully) James will be able to have their way for the most part when running the ball. Let's not forget, BSU didn't see Oregon run the spread option at all last season, as that was not used effectively until the UCLA game.

JConant:
This entire game is in the hands of Oregon's receivers. The offensive line will be fine - if the BSU d-line plays gap assignments, we'll simply run outside of them. If they cheat toward the edges we'll simply block them using their own momentum and cutback for big gains. IF the receivers make and sustain blocks, Oregon's going to run for a lot of yards. IF the receivers collectively can get open against a good secondary AND catch the balls they should catch, then Oregon's offensive will look a whole lot more like late-season 2008 Oregon and nothing like what Boise faced early in Eugene last year. I have no worries about QB play, RB play or the offensive line. Oregon's receivers will make this game. Oregon will score 45+

jtlight:
This is a great point. The success of the Oregon offense will rest on the passing game. As much as Oregon ran the ball well last year, the passing game opened everything. Against Oregon State, Oregon came out throwing, and going deep. This seems to be the Chip Kelly way. BSU's secondary is the strongest part of their team. And he's going to go after them in the very beginning, and not give them a chance to get control of the game. Even if the passes aren't all that successful, he will make them be ready for anything. Oregon will show early on that they are no afraid to go right at BSU's strength. Furthermore, I believe that Dickson will get involved very early, because I don't think there's anyone on BSU that can stick with him. If Oregon threatens even a competent passing game, they will roll all day long, just as they did against OSU, who had a top 10 passing defense last year.

PaulSF:
I think I’ve made it clear I’m a big Masoli fan. I think there’s a lot riding on him this fall, and if he can come out and connect early and often with a group of relatively inexperienced receivers, Oregon runs away with it, at least offensively. I’m also eager to see where Ed Dickson fits into the mix. I think he needs to carry the entire receiving corps, because he’s got the most experience of anyone out there catching passes. If he can lead that group with a big game on the Smurf Turf, I have high hopes for our offense. Obviously none of this happens if the Ducks don’t control the line of scrimmage, which they were unable to do last year against the Broncos.

jtlight:
What about the opposite side of the ball?

JConant:
Boise State will be good, if not great on both sides of the ball. So will Oregon. But I'm not sure some BSU fans really understand how vastly different Oregon's proficiency will be compared to what they faced last year. I don't think they realize - or are willing to admit - that Oregon's defense will be better, despite personnel losses, because improved linebacker play means the defensive backs can think first about their coverage responsibilities and because the Ducks are plugging in a new group of disruptive studs on the d-line and Jerry Azzinaro will have them playing with a bad attitude.

jtlight:
I think our D-line and linebackers will be great, and will shut down the Boise State run game. They weren't great last year, and they won't be great this year. They may get a few big runs, but they will not be able to get a consistent run game going. And I think that the speed of the linebacking corp will be important to stop tight ends and running backs. But, what about that secondary? If Kellen Moore has an opening, he'll kill you. Our secondary made plays last year, and gave up a lot. I just don't think the unit can really shut down Moore and the passing game.

But really, is that necessary. I think that Oregon will have advantages in the running game, and will definitely be moving the ball better than last year's game. And if that's the case, the pressure will be on Moore, and he will have to produce almost every time on the field. That's what the Ducks pushed upon Moevao in the Civil War, and they made the plays in the end to win. But Kellen Moore just won't make those mistakes.

JConant:
It's not necessary to shut down Moore. It might not even be possible short of a massive weather impact. If I'm right, and Oregon's offense is clicking, that also means Moore is going to get a lot of possessions. He's going to manage some drives and put points on the Oregon defense. The Ducks will need to get a couple turnovers. Maybe a fumble recovery on special teams and one pick. Azzinaro's mantra for this game has to be "get to Moore in passing situations and make this a physical game." If Oregon is to win this game, Moore should look a lot like Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson after the Holiday Bowl.

PaulSF:
Something tells me Moore doesn’t bounce back from the same T.J. Ward hit Robinson took in Holiday Bowl. That his was vicious!

dvieira:
Look, Blue Jesus had a great season last year but I don't buy a repeat, at least as far as Oregon goes. One of our chief weaknesses at the beginning of the year last year was our linebacker play. Give Aliotti credit...after the USC game, the coaching staff completely changed their approach to that aspect of the defense and we saw a dramatic improvement. I would be very surprised to see so many breakdowns involving tight ends running down the seam. We've improved our talent level at each position and should provide a better test for Kellen Moore and his cronies in the passing game. The Boise State coaching staff deserves a lot of credit. They found a weakness in the Oregon defense and exploited it to perfection. I fully expect to see the Oregon coaching staff learn from mistakes of yesteryear and limit his opportunities.


I know Moore's stats were out of sight last year but look who he played against. His real competition was TCU in their bowl game and he came back down to earth in that game. The key to Kellen's success may very well be how Masoli does in the game. If he can score points and open up opportunities for his teammates, you may see the youth in Kellen come out a bit. Between the two going neck and neck, special teams just might be the deciding factor in the contest


JConant:
Let's also consider some secondary aspects that might tip a game between two solid teams. One team will execute a huge special teams play. The other will give it up. Oregon needs to win that battle. No missing field goals inside 40 yards. No fumbled punts. No fumbled kick-offs. Oregon has to win turnovers. If Jeremiah Masoli has to leave his feet to grab every other snap from center Oregon will lose this game by 20. Conditioning and hydration are also vital. The Ducks will be in amazing shape. But every year early-season games are impacted when key players aren't on the field in the fourth quarter due to cramps. It's a night game - everyone catches a break there - but it could still be plenty warm in Boise on September 3rd.

jtlight:
JConant brings up a good point regarding the random parts of the game that can make a big difference. First, to clarify, I don't think that special teams are a random event, so let's talk about that a bit. Unfortunately, on the whole, Boise State will have an advantage. In the punting game, Oregon is at a serious disadvantage. The punting game was especially bad during the spring, and Kyle Wilson is one of the top punt returners in the nation. If Oregon can average a 30 yard net, I will consider that a success. On top of this, Kyle Brotzman is a very good punter and Oregon is pretty much assured of losing the field position game. However, I think that kickoff returns will be even, with the Ducks fielding a lot of young fast players on the return cover team, and Walter Thurmond III in the backfield. The best thing the Ducks can do is simply not make mistakes. The kickoff return fumbles against Stanford and Arizona were almost disastrous, and the punt return fumble against Cal sealed the loss. Oregon doesn't need big plays in that aspect to win the game. With the youth at various positions, they simply need to make no mistakes and not give the game away, and convert any field goals under 40 (which Flint should be able to do).

However, back to the original point, the random events of a game that can determine it. First of all, I view turnovers as a fairly random event, with luck being a key factor, especially for fumbles. In terms of interceptions, I think Oregon will have an advantage. One, they won't be throwing as much as BSU if the game goes as we expect. But also, Masoli had an INT rate of 2.1% while Moore had a rate of 2.5% last year. Not a huge difference, and both QBs were very good, but I think that leans a tiny bit toward Oregon. Some teams limit theirs through a good QB or an RB that rarely fumbles, but for the most part, it's fairly constant.

I think that Oregon can overcome a turnover or two. But it cannot lose the turnover margin by more than 2, especially if scores result. Now, I don't think that will happen. Masoli has an INT rate of 2.1% (compared to Moore's 2.5%), and with BSU likely to throw more than Oregon, that fares well in Oregon's favor. Will fumbles happen? I hope not, but they are just as likely as either team. But that's not to say that it won't happen. Last year, Oregon had 4 turnovers to BSU's 2. The Ducks also missed 2 field goals (BSU missed one) and failed to convert 2 PATs.

And as far as other events such as weather, conditioning, etc. I think that Oregon is as well off as it can be in these areas, and will fair at least as well as BSU does. The one exception, hiking the ball. This was a problem at times during the spring and must be consistent. It's really that simple. If it's not, Oregon will not win the game. I don't think that will happen, but it's something to keep in mind.

So what's this mean? Well, it's impossible to predict football games because of these random events. But Oregon should have a number of key advantages in this game if the normal random factors don't swing entirely in BSU's favor. But barring an injury or turnover meltdown, this team is in great shape to grab a victory on the blue turf.

However, one last intangible that I think will break very strongly for the Ducks is the revenge factor. Whatever Bronco fans opinions of the hits last year, it's fairly obvious that the players weren't big fans of them. They were "embarrassed" to lose in Autzen last year (in a game where they left many points on the field). Both Masoli and Costa have expressed the frustration from last year and the desire that has instilled. I think the players feel that they should not have lost that game, likely because they didn't play with fire last year that they should have. While some BSU fans are assuming that this means the Oregon players think BSU will roll over and die, I think it means the opposite. Last year's game installed a bit of respect, and also dislike, for Boise State. The Oregon players obviously want payback, and they want to beat return the favor to BSU, and they know that will take 60 minutes of physical play.

I think this is going to mean that Oregon is gonna come out, and they are going to play a very physical game, and are going to want to beat the crap out of Boise State. You can say that BSU was physical last year, but it took illegal hits to achieve that physicality. Oregon won't need that. They will play an extremely physical game, and I don't think that BSU will be able to handle that. There will be no letting up by Oregon this year. If last year taught them anything, it's that they can't let up at all against a well-coached and talented BSU team.

Onto the predictions!

JConant:
The Ducks are drilling hard this summer. Linemen are involved in the workouts for the first time ever. Masoli is looking and sounding like a solid team leader. I'm telling you, the intangibles are going to fall into place, barring injury or behavioral setbacks before the first game. The dedication among Oregon players is visible in every interview, in every video clip. This is going to be a good season for Oregon, starting with a close win in Bronco Stadium.

After this game... Everyone will remember that Jeff Maehl is pretty damn good. One particular BSU commenter will understand why all the hype for Jeremiah Masoli (though he won't admit it cause he's basically a hate monger). Folks around the conference will be saying "oh crap, now Oregon has a defense too." Maybe, just maybe, I'll be putting a hold on my one-man campaign to bring Justin Wilcox back to Eugene. Chip Kelly will have to remind everyone, it's just one game and there's lot of work yet to be done.

[edit...] Got all excited making predicitons, and forgot the score: Oregon 45, Boise State 31

Dominic:
I'll go a little more specific, 42-31 Ducks.

PaulSF:
Oregon 35, Boise State 28

jtlight:
While it's tough to predict football games for many reasons, I think that the matchups favor Oregon in this game. I don't think that the BSU defense will be able to handle the offense, especially with a competent passing attack. I think that Oregon wins this game 70% of the time.
Oregon 41, Boise State 30

What about the you readers? How do you think the game will go? Leave your thoughts below! GO DUCKS!

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