When it comes to Boise State, an offensive formation almost always starts one way before finishing another just prior to the snap.
Whether it’s sending a receiver in motion, shifting multiple tight ends from one side to another or even moving around an offensive lineman, the Broncos are back to relying heavily on the pre-snap movement that confused many defenses during the past decade.
Boise State had veered from the motion offense a year ago in Chris Petersen’s final season in charge but reintroduced it under first-year coach Bryan Harsin. It is the style that helped the Broncos win BCS bowls in 2006 and 2009, while Harsin served as offensive coordinator from 2006-10.
Fresno State’s ability to quickly identify what Boise State (4-2, 2-1 Mountain West) is doing offensively and to avoid confusion could determine whether the Bulldogs (3-4, 2-1) have a chance Friday on the Smurf Turf of Albertsons Stadium.
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“We just got to deal with that stuff well, adjust to it quickly and be ready,” Bulldogs nose guard Tyeler Davison said. “We’ve dealt with it before, playing them every year. They’re going to try to make us scramble to line up and mess with us that way. With Boise and their schemes, you never really know who they’re going to send in motion or shift over.”
Boise State is averaging 483.8 total yards and 31.2 points per game, which ranks second in the Mountain West.
Running back Jay Ajayi is the focal point, having rushed 142 times for 709 yards and eight touchdowns to go with 31 catches for 280 yards and two touchdowns.
Shane Rhodes-Williams leads the Broncos with 41 receptions and 302 yards. Quarterback Grant Hedrick has completed 145 of 201 passes (72.1%) for 1,641 yards and seven touchdowns with 10 interceptions.
“You see a lot of the same things they’ve done in the past — the shifts, the motions,” Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter said. “The bottom line is, it’s a lot of window dressing for running power football. And then they widen you with some of the fly (sweep) stuff, some of the trick plays and the misdirection stuff. It’s a very effective attack.”
The teams’ current head coaches last squared off when each was at other schools in 2011 — DeRuyter as defensive coordinator at Texas A&M and Harsin the Texas offensive coordinator. The Longhorns gained just 237 total yards on DeRuyter’s defense, which forced one interception and recovered a fumble. Texas did prevail 27-25 on a 40-yard field goal as time expired.
Harsin, after two seasons at Texas, went on to be Arkansas State’s head coach for one season, leading the Red Wolves to a first-place tie in the Sun Belt Conference last year before coming back to Boise.
Harsin said the motion offense has changed somewhat over the years.
“There’s just things in there that over time you like doing, but I wouldn’t compare us to what we’d been when I previously was here,” Harsin said. “It’s different. We’ve evolved. We’ve adapted. We’ve added some new things here and there, trying to stay on the cutting edge.
“At the same time, you still have the things that you believe in that are your foundation that you still want to use.”
Bulldogs linebacker Ejiro Ederaine believes Boise State’s shifting can give Fresno State clues on what the Broncos intend to do.
“When you get down to the core of the actual play, it’s not as complicated as it appears,” Ederaine said. “They’ll shift a guy here, then shift him back and move somebody else. The way they end up, though, kind of gives us some tales of what they’re going to run.
“The keys are just communication. If the defense communicates, we can even call a coverage wrong but if the whole defense plays it, we’ll be fine. Our focus is we’ve got to out-physical them, make them one dimensional. Take away the running game and make them pass. I think we can do some stuff in the blitz game to make the quarterback uneasy in the pocket. But Boise, that’s a talented team. We’ve got to have a nice, balanced game plan for them.”