Boise State vs. Southern Miss: Game breakdown

ccripe@idahostatesman.comSeptember 28, 2013 

Southern Miss’ passing offense is in the nation’s top half (54th), but Allan Bridgford and the Eagles are near the bottom of the FBS in pass efficiency, scoring and several other categories.

BRONCOS WITH THE BALL

An ugly trend: The Broncos have four turnovers in scoring territory in the past six quarters — two Jay Ajayi fumbles and two Joe Southwick interceptions. The two against Air Force delayed the Broncos’ inevitable romp. The two against Fresno State likely cost them a win. The Broncos have averaged 522 yards and 48.3 points in the past three games. “If we cut out those turnovers, I feel like we’d be sitting pretty,” senior left tackle Charles Leno Jr. said.

Expanded rotation: Coach Chris Petersen indicated this week he’d like to see reserve tailbacks Jack Fields (15 carries) and Derrick Thomas (zero) play more. “We’ve got more than Aaron (Baltazar) and Jay back there, we do,” Petersen said. “We’re trying to find ways to get those guys all on the field.”

GOLDEN EAGLES WITH THE BALL

Seen this before: For the fourth time in five games, you can expect a heavy dose of quick passes to the perimeter. Washington and Fresno State each had tremendous success with that approach against Boise State. Southern Miss throws on 60 percent of its plays. “They’re really going to try to spread us out and use that passing game,” junior linebacker Corey Bell said.

Two extremes: Southern Miss has committed 12 turnovers in three games this season. Boise State has forced two total turnovers against three Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. “If you cut those in half, (the Golden Eagles’) whole season is probably different,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. The Broncos did not force a turnover last week at Fresno State.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Goodale’s versatility: Boise State junior kicker Dan Goodale has made four straight field goals and all 17 of his PATs. He also has become a kickoff artist, delivering 10 touchbacks, a successful onside kick and a spinning pooch kickoff that the Broncos recovered. “I’m starting to get really comfortable on the field,” he said, “so that’s helped me.”

Golden Eagles can kick, too: Southern Miss kicker Corey Acosta is 5-of-7 on field goals, with a make from 45 yards and a miss from 49. He has booted five touchbacks on 10 attempts.

Vanishing Williams-Rhodes: Boise State sophomore punt returner Shane Williams-Rhodes was so impressive against UT Martin that the past two opponents have not allowed him to return a punt.

Today's key matchup

BOISE STATE’S LEAKY DEFENSE VS. SOUTHERN MISS’ FLAILING OFFENSE

It’s a matchup of triple digits when the Golden Eagles have the ball in this game.

Boise State’s defense ranks 98th in total yards allowed, 100th in passing yards allowed, 118th in third-down defense, 103rd in fourth-down defense, 106th in red-zone defense and 115th in first downs allowed.

Southern Miss’ offense is 112th in yards, 117th in rushing yards, 115th in pass efficiency, 120th in scoring, 114th in third-down conversions, 10th in fourth-down conversions, 120th in red-zone offense, 117th in first downs and 120th in turnovers.

Somebody is going to turn it around.

“We all want to make plays and we all want to have an awesome defense,” junior defensive tackle Tyler Horn said, “but if we don’t we just need to keep working.”

The Broncos have allowed at least 14 points in 10 consecutive games — the longest streak since a 12-game stretch in 2004-05. The longest previous streak under coach Chris Petersen: five.

The defense has rotated 11 newcomers.

“It’s going to be an enjoyable process to watch these guys grow throughout the season,” defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said.

BSU players to watch

DALLAS BURROUGHS, KICKOFF RETURNER

The junior wide receiver made his 2013 debut as a kickoff returner last week against Fresno State. He produced two returns longer than 50 yards and jumped to 13th in the nation with a 31.0-yard average.

“The group as a whole really blocked well,” Burroughs said. “I’ve just got to find the crease that they provide and hit it, and after that just hit the burners.”

Burroughs replaced sophomore Shane Williams-Rhodes, who averaged 21.7 yards in the first three games.

“Just trying to spread guys around and play to guys’ strengths,” coach Chris Petersen said. “… Those plays were blocked pretty cleanly and Dallas did a nice job hitting the crease.”

BEN WEAVER, LINEBACKER

Weaver was the backup at weak-side linebacker for the first three games but was promoted to starter last week, when he took the bulk of the snaps. Weaver has made 30 tackles — nine more than any other Bronco.

“He’s definitely making plays,” linebackers coach Bob Gregory said. “They didn’t run the ball a ton last week but it seemed like almost every time, when he was in, he was in on (the tackle). He’s very natural in there.”

DILLON LUKEHART, SAFETY

Lukehart received his most playing time on defense last week, when he replaced injured starter Jeremy Ioane. Lukehart is expected to return to his backup role this week, but he proved he’s ready if needed with a team-high nine tackles. He also is one of the Broncos’ most important special teams players.

“It (creates) more ease for us to know that we have a quality backup in waiting who could be a starter real soon, similar to a Darian Thompson last season,” defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said.

Southern Miss players to watch

TYRE’OUNE HOLMES, WIDE RECEIVER

The true freshman started the season opener and made 12 catches — tying for the second-most in a game in school history. He has 24 catches in his first three college games. That puts him on pace to break the school record for a season, set by another freshman, DeAndre Brown, in 2008.

Holmes, like Boise State’s Shane-Williams Rhodes, often is targeted near the line of scrimmage with hopes that he can break a big play. He has 173 yards (7.2 per catch).

“A shifty guy,” Boise State cornerback Bryan Douglas said. “They like to get him the ball, so we’ll have to keep him bottled up.”

Holmes played quarterback for his high school last year in Tylertown, Miss.

“He runs great routes, gets open,” quarterback Allan Bridgford said. “He’s quick and elusive.”

ALAN HOWZE, LINEBACKER

Howze leads the team with 34 tackles, including 16 against Arkansas. He’s the centerpiece of a talented front seven that gave the Broncos problems last year in Hattiesburg.

The Golden Eagles rank 38th in the nation in yards allowed at 337.7 per game.

“I actually think we’ve done well as a defense,” Howze said. “It’s to the point where we’re getting better each week — you see guys walking around with confidence. You can see it on our side of the ball.”

ALLAN BRIDGFORD, QUARTERBACK

Bridgford is a one-year quick fix at quarterback for Southern Miss. He transferred from Cal after earning his degree this summer. He has two touchdown passes and seven interceptions.

“I think I’ve had my fair share of mistakes, but also believe I’ve done well handling the offense, getting the reads,” he said. “We can’t start out slow, can’t turn the ball over.”

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398; Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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