Nevada-Boise: Surprise element will play a role | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada-Boise: Surprise element will play a role

JOE SANTORO
For the Nevada Appeal

RENO – A look at the Nevada Wolf Pack-Boise State Broncos Western Athletic Conference football showdown tonight (7:21 p.m.) at Mackay Stadium position-by-position …

QUARTERBACK

This is a matter of taste. Do you want a quarterback who can beat you with both his arm and his legs (Colin Kaepernick) or a quarterback that can pick you apart in the pocket (Kellen Moore) and rarely makes a mistake? The Pack’s Kaepernick has rushed for 984 yards and 16 touchdowns and passed for 2,412 yards and 19 touchdowns. Boise’s Moore has thrown for 2,921 yards and 28 touchdowns but would prefer not to run (minus-23 yards rushing on the year). This is a match-up between two of the top 10 (maybe Top 5) quarterbacks in the country. Both run their offenses almost to perfection.

RUNNING BACK

Nevada’s Vai Taua has run for 1,241 yards and 16 touchdowns. His backups (Lampford Mark, Mike Ball and Courtney Randall) have rushed for a combined 835 yards and nine touchdowns. Boise State, which lost D.J. Harper to a knee injury earlier this year, splits its important carries between Jeremy Avery (365 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Doug Martin (938 yards, 9 touchdowns). Jarvis Hodge (257 yards, three touchdowns) has also contributed. Boise’s running game is one of the most underrated in the nation and gets overshadowed at times by Moore’s numbers through the air.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Boise State (tackles Nate Potter and Matt Slater, guards Faraji Wright and Will Lawrence and center Thomas Byrd) is slightly better at pass protection. The Broncos are very comfortable running to the right side behind seniors Lawrence and Slater. Those two also protect the left-handed Moore’s blind side. The Broncos have allowed just five sacks in 10 games over 317 pass attempts (one sack for every 63 pass attempts). The Pack (tackles Steve Haley, Jeff Nady and Jose Acuna, center Jeff Meads and guards John Bender and Chris Barker) has allowed eight sacks over 290 attempts (one for every 36 attempts). The Pack runs the ball as well as anyone in the country, averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Boise averages 5.3 a carry. The Pack offensive line benefits from Kaepernick’s ability to get away from trouble but both fronts do their jobs extremely well.

RECEIVERS

Boise State’s Austin Pettis and Titus Young will likely be playing in the NFL next year. Young is the deep threat (55 catches, 988 yards) and Young has 50 catches for 688 yards. Both have eight touchdown catches. Injuries to tight ends Tommy Gallarda and Kirby Moore have left the Broncos a little thinner here than normal. Kyle Efaw (18 catches) has filled in nicely. The Broncos also still have tight end/ fullback Dan Paul (just two catches this year) on the roster. It was Paul who came out of nowhere last year to catch three touchdown passes against the Pack. The Wolf Pack uses its receivers to move the chains. Rishard Mathews (38 catches), Brandon Wimberly (35), Malcolm Shepherd (27) and Tray Session (17) are all interchangeable parts. Tight end Virgil Green (27 catches), though, could play a major role in this game.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Two of the top defensive lines in the nation will be on the field at Mackay. Boise has a veteran group, led by tackle Ryan Winterswyk and tackle Billy Winn. Winterswyk, a 6-4, 270-pound senior, has 31 tackles and six tackles for a loss. Winn, a Las Vegas High graduate, has seven tackles for a loss. Tackle Chase Baker (6-1, 295) has six tackles for a loss and end Shea McClellin has 7.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss. The best defensive lineman on the field, though, will be Nevada’s Dontay Moch. Moch, the reigning WAC Defensive Player of the Year, has 19.5 tackles for a loss. The Pack’s Ryan Coulson (seven tackles for a loss) and Brett Roy (seven sacks) might be the two most underrated defensive linemen in the country. Nevada’s Zack Madonick has quietly does a solid job every week (26 tackles).

LINEBACKER

The Wolf Pack’s James-Michael Johnson (74 tackles), Brandon Marshall (48 tackles, six for a loss) and Kevin Grimes (64 tackles) do a nice job of staying at home and making plays, freeing up linemen Moch and Roy to zero in on the quarterback in passing situations. The Pack, though, has been shredded by quality running backs this year. Boise’s linebackers (Aaron Tevis, J.C. Percey, Derrell Acrey and Byron Hout before he got hurt) are outstanding in run support. The Broncos allow opponents to average a mere 2.2 yards a rush. The Broncos also use hybrid linebackers/ defensive linemen Tyrone Crawford and Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe frequently.

SECONDARY

Boise, as usual, has a veteran, talented secondary. The Broncos are led by safety Jeron Johnson (50 tackles) and fellow seniors Winston Venable (35 tackles) and Brandyn Thompson (three interceptions). Boise likes to play most of the game with five defensive backs. Safety George Iloka plays like a linebacker (48 tackles). Hunter White (36 tackles) and Jamar Taylor (25 tackles) also see extensive playing time. The Pack secondary has had an inconsistent year. But all of them (namely Doyle Miller, Duke Williams, Marlon Johnson, Isaiah Frey, Khalid Wooten) have come up with huge plays from time to time. Keeping Young and Pettis in front of them will be a key in this game.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Nobody has to remind the Wolf Pack that Titus Young returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown against them last year on a rainy night in Boise. Young is still bringing back kicks at a rate of 25.3 yards a return but he only has done it 15 times since the Broncos rarely allow opponents to kick off. The Broncos also have a dangerous punt returner in Chris Potter. The 5-9, 160 Potter averages 15.2 yards a return and has a touchdown to his credit this year. Kyle Brotzman is consistent as the Broncos’ punter (41.2) and kicker (86 points). Boise also holds opponents to just 21.2 yards per kickoff return. The Broncos, though, have allowed a punt return for a score this year. The Pack’s Mike Ball has been consistent on kick returns (25.9 average) as has Mathews on punt returns (8.9 average). The Pack kick coverage teams have had an inconsistent year, making Young and Potter very dangerous on Friday. The Pack’s Brad Langley averages 42.6 a punt and Anthony Martinez has missed just three field goals and one extra point this year.

COACHING

This game will feature two of the most innovative offensive minds in the country. Boise’s Chris Petersen simply doesn’t lose. And he certainly doesn’t lose WAC games. Petersen’s career record is remarkable — 59-4 overall and 37-1 in the WAC. His lone WAC loss came at Hawaii in 2007 when Hawaii was ranked No. 13 in the nation. The Broncos haven’t lost any game since losing to TCU in a bowl game after the 2008 season (the streak is 24 in a row). Petersen’s offense will test rookie Pack defensive coordinator Andy Buh. Boise also has a rookie defensive coordinator in Pete Kwiatkowski, though Kwiatkowski has been on Boise’s staff for 13 years. Nevada’s Chris Ault has guided his team to 11 consecutive home victories. The Pack has also won seven WAC home games in a row. Boise was the last WAC team to beat them at Mackay late in the 2008 season. Both teams and both coaches know each other extremely well. The one who comes up with the most surprises will likely win it.