Bronco Beat: Are more snaps leading to more injuries?

Boise State football team might be an indication that the theory is true

ccripe@idahostatesman.comNovember 15, 2013 

Aaron Baltazar, Boise State's No. 2 tailback, tore his ACL earlier this season.

FILE PHOTO

Five years from now, we might have an answer.

Today, we just have anecdotal evidence.

The Boise State football team has run or defended 161.2 plays from scrimmage per game this season — a 19 percent increase over last season. Even without the conference championship game, the Broncos likely will play the equivalent of two extra games this season because of the up-tempo schemes they, and many of their opponents, operate.

And coincidentally or not, the last time the Broncos were on the field — Nov. 2 at Colorado State — the defense was so battered that guys were playing positions they had never even practiced.

“There needs to be a study done,” coach Chris Petersen said of the possible correlation between additional snaps and injuries.

Said junior linebacker Corey Bell: “This is a lot more snaps than we’ve had in the past. I don’t know if that’s why (guys are getting hurt). Sometimes, there’s just freak things that happen and you don’t have any control over it. It’s hard to put it into perspective.”

Statistically speaking, the more plays, the better chance of one of those “freak” injuries, Petersen noted.

But then, he said, many of the Broncos’ key injuries this year — like quarterback Joe Southwick’s broken ankle and tailback Aaron Baltazar’s torn anterior cruciate ligament — have happened at the game’s outset.

“It seems like if we can get through the first quarter, we’re making progress,” Petersen said.

The Broncos already have lost at least 70 games to injuries to players who have, or were projected to, make the depth chart or contribute significantly on special teams — with an average of eight players sidelined per game.

The injured list includes the team’s top passer (Southwick, two games so far), No. 2 tailback (Baltazar, four games plus the rest of the season), two senior wide receivers (five games for Kirby Moore, two for Aaron Burks), top two tight ends (three games each for Holden Huff and Gabe Linehan), starting right tackle (Rees Odhiambo, three games so far), top defensive tackle (Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, one game), starting strong safety (Jeremy Ioane, one game and parts of others), starting middle linebacker (Blake Renaud, three games), starting strong-side linebacker (Jonathan Brown, seven games) and important special-teams players Travis Saxton (seven games plus the rest of the season), Ebo Makinde (four games plus the rest of the season) and Chanceller James (the entire season). And leading tackler Ben Weaver was among the players who was unable to finish the game at Colorado State.

The injuries have been balanced between offense (36 games) and defense (34), but they seem to have taken more of a toll on the already youthful defense. The Broncos are in the midst of their worst defensive season since 2004, allowing 25.2 points and 438.2 yards per game and a combined conversion rate of 44.8 percent on third and fourth downs.

The defense can protect itself from massive play counts, coaches say. Colorado State ran 109 plays with help from 13 third- and fourth-down conversions.

“We’ve got to get more stops,” Petersen said. “We’re all working together, but everybody’s got to do their share.”

Said sophomore safety Dillon Lukehart: “Offenses these days are running a lot of plays. That takes a toll on a defense. … We’ve just got to rise to the occasion and overcome adversity.”

The Broncos hope to have several injured players back in the lineup for Saturday’s home game against Wyoming (8:21 p.m., ESPN2).

• • • 

Boise State was plus-20 in turnovers last season (16 giveaways, 36 takeaways). It’s minus-1 this season (17 giveaways, 16 takeaways).

That remains the No. 1 fix-it item for the defensive players and coaches. The team hasn’t finished with a minus turnover ratio since 2005.

“We’ve got to go get them,” said junior cornerback Bryan Douglas, who has four of the team’s 11 interceptions. “Nobody’s going to give us turnovers.”

• • •

Lukehart spent the first half of the Colorado State game in the locker room serving his suspension for a targeting penalty and ejection in the second half at BYU.

He had hoped to watch the game on an iPad, but that didn’t work. So he busied himself with Powerade, energy bars, an exercise bike and stretching exercises. He also received periodic scoring updates.

“Just super antsy,” he said of his disposition.

Lukehart played throughout the second half on special teams and replaced injured free safety Darian Thompson in the fourth quarter.

He saw his mistake on the BYU hit on video — his shoulder hit the receiver’s helmet — but at game speed wasn’t aware of it.

“It happened so quick … only people from the outside can really tell,” he said. “There’s definitely a fine line. We’ve got to abide by the rule and hit them lower.”

• • • 

Kuna High football player Boone Bartlome will get a mention on the video board between the first and second quarters Saturday night. Petersen visited him Thursday. Bartlome broke his neck in a playoff game last week.

• • • 

The honorary captains this week are centers Lyle Buhler (1953-54) and Randy Schrader (1979-80). Schrader announced his retirement this week as superintendent of the Garden Valley school district. He received the Idaho Association of School Administrators District Leadership Award last week for his work turning around a troubled district.

• • • 

The Broncos plan to wear black pants, blue jerseys and black helmets Saturday.

• • • 

Boise State junior defensive end Demarcus Lawrence is on the midseason watch list for the Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award. Lawrence is among 18 players honored. He leads the Mountain West with 8.5 sacks and is second with 13.0 tackles for loss.

• • • 

Boise State had distributed 31,700 tickets for the Wyoming game as of Thursday afternoon. There are $25 tickets available. The season low for attendance is 33,293 for the home opener against UT Martin.

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 ccripe@idahostatesman.com, follow him on Twitter at @IDS_BroncoBeat and read his blog at blogs.idahostatesman.com/broncobeat.

STATESMAN BOWL PREDICTIONS:

Bowl Championship Series

National Championship Game (Jan. 6, Pasadena, Calif.): Alabama vs. Florida State

Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1, Glendale, Ariz.): Baylor (Big 12) vs. Fresno State

Rose Bowl (Jan. 1, Pasadena, Calif.): Stanford vs. Ohio State

Sugar Bowl (Jan. 2, New Orleans): Texas A&M vs. UCF

Orange (Jan. 3, Miami): Oregon vs. Clemson

Mountain West tie-ins

Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 21): Boise State (MW No. 1) vs. Oregon State (Pac-12 No. 5)

Poinsettia Bowl (Dec. 26, San Diego): Utah State (MW No. 2) vs. Bowling Green (MAC)

New Mexico Bowl (Dec. 21, Albuquerque): Colorado State (MW) vs. Arizona (Pac-12 No. 7)

Hawaii Bowl (Dec. 24, Honolulu): UNLV (MW) vs. Marshall (C-USA)

Armed Forces Bowl (Dec. 30, Fort Worth, Texas): San Diego State (MW) vs. Navy

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (Dec. 21, Boise): San Jose State (MW) vs. Ball State (MAC No. 3)

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