Bronco Beat: Petersen's duties pull him away from being more hands-on with offense

September 19, 2013 

Coach Chris Petersen is very much the architect of the Boise State football team, but obligations sometimes deny him from being as hands-on with the game plan as he would like to be.


Boise State football coach Chris Petersen sat at a conference table in the Allen Noble Hall of Fame on Monday answering questions from reporters.

About 200 yards away, at a conference table in the Bleymaier Football Complex that Petersen helped decorate because of his desire to keep every portion of the Broncos program on message, the Boise State offensive coaches met to discuss the game plan for Friday’s game at Fresno State (7:01 p.m., ESPN).

There was no doubt where Petersen wanted to be.

“I’d prefer it, to be in there,” he said.

Petersen surrendered his play-calling duties when he was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach in 2006.

He has remained involved in the offense since — but that role has contracted slightly as the program has expanded.

At one time, he had a set role in game-planning as a third-down specialist. Now, his role is undefined.

“I’m just kind of a fly, a mosquito, in their ear,” he said. “I’m in there as much as I can be. But I don’t necessarily have an assignment. … I’m in there probably as much as I have been, but I get pulled out.”

Petersen still watches enough video of the opponent “to know what’s going on” and knows exactly what’s in the game plan each week but his other responsibilities — recruiting, administration, booster relations, media obligations — prevent him from working with the offense full time.

“There are some other parts of the program I have to take care of and hire those guys to do their job,” Petersen said. “… The game plan is being done right now.”

Offensive coordinator Robert Prince said Petersen, who was the coordinator from 2001 to 2005, remains a valuable adviser to the staff.

“Pete’s still very much involved with the offense,” Prince said. “Don’t let him fool you. Pete is a great offensive mind and we’d be crazy not to listen to him. He watches a lot of tape and, as we’re grinding, he’ll come in and pop in and say, ‘Hey, I think this will work.’

“And then we’ll look at it and kind of say, ‘All right, let’s get this in.’ ”

• • •

Boise State sophomore tailback Jay Ajayi will try to slam the brakes on the pickle juice craze he started Friday night, when ESPN cameras spotted him drinking out of a large jar on the sideline.

Ajayi drank the juice, borrowed from teammate Ebo Makinde, for the first time against Air Force to deal with cramps.

“I might have pickle juice, but I don’t know if I’ll have the jar just to keep the attention away,” Ajayi said. “It’s definitely going to be in a Powerade bottle. … It did work, so I’ll probably keep doing it.”

• • • 

Fresno State’s offense enters this game ranked 110th in the nation (out of 123 teams) in third-down offense, converting just 27.3 percent.

But the Bulldogs might have the edge on those downs against the Broncos, who are ranked 120th in third-down defense at 57.1 percent.

The problem starts on first down, Petersen and defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said. About 60 percent of opponents’ third downs have come with 6 or fewer yards to gain.

“When it’s third-and-5-or-less, they can still run (quick passes), they can throw downfield,” Kwiatkowski said. “To really shut them down, you’ve got to play a lot of man (coverage) and you don’t always want to do that because then they’re going to start taking advantage of you from that standpoint. The longer the yardage situation, the better chance of getting a good pass rush.”

• • • 

Boise State senior quarterback Joe Southwick has not been precise in the vertical passing game this season, but he also has not gotten help from the receivers.

Coaches spoke often during the offseason about “50/50 balls” — passes thrown into one-on-one coverage where the receiver and defensive back each have a shot to make the catch.

“You’d like to think if you give a guy a chance, half the time the receiver will come up and make a play,” Petersen said. “We haven’t been able to do that too consistently.”

Petersen said Southwick’s throw that was intercepted last week on a 50/50 ball was a mistake by the quarterback but some of the other deep balls thrown this year should have been caught.

Fans often complain about deep balls being underthrown, but Petersen is bothered more by overthrows like the one to a wide-open Aaron Burks in the season opener.

“Do you want to throw that pinpoint strike to the outside arm? Yes. So how many guys do that?” Petersen said. “Let’s give (the receiver) a chance. And he’s given our guys chances. They haven’t come up with enough plays.”

The Broncos have a tall collection of receivers but Petersen and Prince, the wide receivers coach, said natural ball skills are more important than size.

An aggressive attitude is key, too.

“When the ball is in the air, they’ve got to feel like it’s their ball and they’ve got to go get it,” Prince said. “Whether the ball is thrown perfect or not, it’s their ball and they need to go get it.”

• • • 

Southwick threw a bunch of quick hitches to the sideline against Air Force. Those are called running plays that Southwick decides won’t work because of the defense’s alignment or a blitz he spots. He has the option to throw the hitch instead.

“If we get 4 or 5 yards, that’s a win for the offense,” said junior wide receiver Matt Miller, who was targeted on many of those plays.

• • •

Fresno State is making a strong push to sell out 41,031-seat Bulldog Stadium for Friday’s game.

It’s already a rowdy place and with a big crowd the atmosphere could rival the one at Husky Stadium for the opener against Washington.

The young Broncos admittedly didn’t handle that environment well, particularly on defense.

“It’s a very tough environment,” senior wide receiver Kirby Moore said. “Hopefully we knocked the cobwebs off a little bit with the game at Washington and more people are ready to go for this game.”

• • •

Ajayi didn’t miss any carries after fumbling twice on one drive in the third quarter against Air Force. Petersen made it clear after the game that it won’t go that way next time.

Running backs coach Keith Bhonapha said he probably should have made Ajayi sit for a while but he got caught up in the flow of the game.

Ajayi responded after the fumbles with three of his four touchdown runs.

“Coach Pete made a good point of it that that’s not the norm,” Bhonapha said, “that when guys have those kinds of mistakes in the game, we need to let somebody else get in there and see what they can do.”

Chadd Cripe is in his 12th year as the Idaho Statesman beat writer for Boise State football. He also is a voter for The Associated Press Top 25. You can contact him at, follow him on Twitter at @IDS_BroncoBeat and read his blog at

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