Sheraton Hawaii Bowl Primer: Boise State vs. Oregon State
By John Baker
It’s quite a trick to lose five straight games to end the season and end up on the warm beaches of Hawaii, but that’s exactly what Oregon State did after a 6-1 start. The Beavers once again struggled to run the ball this season, something that must really irritate coach Mike Riley.
For Boise State, its 12th straight bowl game appearance will look somewhat different. The Broncos are coming off a four-loss season for the first time in ages and will not have coach Chris Peterson on the sidelines for the first time since 2000. Bob Gregory, interim coach, will lead the Broncos in their eighth game against the Beavers. Oregon State leads the series 4-3.
Motivation: There’s no way the Beavers, and particularly Riley, have anything but contempt for the way they finished the season. The Beavers have always been a second half of the season team, but this year, injuries and the schedule conspired to sink them to .500. The Beavers want nothing more than to return to winning ways with a victory over a regional rival. Oregon State hasn’t won since Oct. 19. That’s a long dry spell, particularly for the seniors.
If You’ve Never Seen Them: The Beavers took Oregon to the wall before losing the Civil War, but did it using a pounding running game and effective passing game. That hasn’t been the calling card most of the year as quarterback Sean Mannion led the nation in passing yardage until the final weekend. He and record-setting receiver Brandon Cooks formed the bulk of the offense and are a dynamic pass-catch duo. Cooks had 120 catches and 15 touchdowns and isn’t afraid of double coverage, going over the middle or turning a five-yard out into a 60-yard score. He’ll get a lot of attention from Mannion and the Boise State defense.
Weakness: The running game? Well, until Oregon (213 yards against a suspect rush defense), it was strictly complimentary. The Beavers were 118th in the nation in rushing at 86.0 yards per game and are first and foremost a passing team. Running backs Storm Woods and Terron Ward offer bits and pieces, but take a back seat to Cooks. Oregon State’s defense is always undersized and coached up, but they struggled to stop the run this year and get a consistent pass rush on opponents. Against the Broncos, they need to take something away. Are they capable of that?
Motivation: You wouldn’t think the Broncos have much to prove, but this was a different season front to back. Chris Peterson’s team lost four games, a total kind of unheard of around Boise. Then, Peterson departed for Washington at season’s end. The poster child for mid-major success, the Broncos now have what they like most: A reason to show everyone that all’s well in Broncos land. They’ve played the underdog card superbly over the years and now, just as that perception has waned, up comes a season with multiple losses and a coach taking another job. Boise State suddenly should be deemed dangerous.
If You’ve Never Seen Them: Sophomore running back Jay Ajayi rushed for more than 1,300 yards and 17 scores and is adept at helping the passing game. He’s a talented back who benefits from the work done by the receiving tandem of Matt Miller and Shane Williams-Rhodes, both of whom caught 77 passes. The Broncos like to do a lot of things on offense and though they are a potent run-pass offense, tend to use the pass to set up the run. They’ll use a lot of formations and aren’t afraid to dip into the old trickeration bag. They’ve always been a fun offense to watch with a defense that just plays hard.
Weakness: Who is the best quarterback for this team? The battle between Joe Southwick and Grant Hedrick seemed to ebb and flow throughout the season. Southwick missed four games leading up to the finale against New Mexico, but lasted only one series — which produced a touchdown in less than a minute — before the team returned Hedrick under center. Hedrick threw for more than 1,000 yards and 11 scores in the four games Southwick missed due to injury, then tossed three touchdown passes against the Lobos. The debate doesn't matter any more, as the team sent Southwick home from Hawaii for a violation of team rules.
Las Vegas Hilton Line: Oregon State -3.
Related: Scouting The Hawaii Bowl