Hawaii Bowl game breakdown

What to watch for during Tuesday's game between Boise State and Oregon State.

ccripe@idahostatesman.comDecember 24, 2013 

Boise State’s Jay Ajayi has 1,328 rushing yards this season — 296 more than Oregon State’s entire team.

DARIN OSWALD — Statesman file

Broncos with the ball

Can Hedrick start fast? Boise State junior quarterback Grant Hedrick has played most of the past six games. His first series in those games have produced an interception, failed fourth down, fumble, fumble, three-and-out and three-and-out.

Beware of picks: Oregon State ranks fifth in the nation with 19 interceptions - including six each for cornerbacks Rashaad Reynolds and Steven Nelson. Hedrick's bugaboo has been turnovers.

In the red zone: Oregon State ranks 120th in the nation in red-zone defense, allowing points 93.2 percent of the time. Boise State is 10th in red-zone offense, scoring 90.6 percent of the time. The Broncos reach the end zone at a 70.3 percent rate.

Missing pieces: Boise State will play without its leading passer, second-leading receiver and third-leading rusher.

Beavers with the ball

Need to run: The Beavers rank third in the nation in passing (382.1 yards per game) but 118th in rushing (86 yards per game). They had rushed for a season high of 120 yards against Colorado until breaking through for 231 yards against Oregon. "It was so much of a better way for us to play," coach Mike Riley said. "We want to continue that, we hope, against Boise."

A little sloppy: For all the success the Beavers have had throwing the ball, they also have hit some bumps. Quarterback Sean Mannion has thrown 14 interceptions and the team has allowed 25 sacks. Boise State has collected 15 interceptions and 30 sacks, so it's equipped to capitalize on those weaknesses.

Not just Cooks: Oregon State has a second dynamic receiver - Richard Mullaney. He averages 15.0 yards per catch.

Special teams

Advantage Broncos? Oregon State doesn't have a standout phase of its special teams. Boise State has been strong most of the year but will be missing two key players - punt returner Shane Williams-Rhodes and special-teamer Taylor Loffler, who are injured. "Our special teams coach was very disappointed in the draw," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "They do so much stuff on special teams it's just killed him. He put in tons of hours of work trying to cover all the bases there."

Goodale's No. 1: Boise State kicker Dan Goodale leads the Mountain West in field-goal percentage at 14-of-16 (87.5 percent) - an overlooked stat because he missed the most important kick, the potential game-winner at San Diego State.

A big leg: Oregon State kicker Trevor Romaine is 3-for-6 from outside 45 yards.

Today's key matchup

OREGON STATE'S DEFENSE VS. BOISE STATE'S RUN GAME

The Beavers have allowed at least 150 rushing yards in each of their past five games - all losses. They hit that threshold three other times during the season, including in their other loss.

The run defense ranks 91st in the nation - a ranking inflated by a 530-yard drubbing by Washington and 283-yard performance by Oregon in the final two regular-season games.

Boise State averages 201.8 rushing yards per game and features one of the nation's top young backs in Jay Ajayi, who has accumulated the fourth most rushing yards in a season in school history (1,328).

"That's where the game will lie - controlling the ball, the line of scrimmage," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "That will be a big issue."

The Broncos will need a productive run game to help junior quarterback Grant Hedrick, who did not perform well in his two biggest tests - losses to BYU and San Diego State.

"Make them one-dimensional," Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton said of the Beavers' key. "Stop this run game."

Despite the numbers, the Broncos say the Beavers' defense has impressed them on video - particularly the front seven that is most responsible for run defense.

"They're really fast guys. They're maybe one of the most hustling teams I've seen," Boise State senior center Matt Paradis said. "They're all flying around, sprinting everywhere."

Oregon State players to watch

SEAN MANNION, QB

The junior is in his third season as the Beavers' primary starting quarterback and second as a team captain. The former Freshman All-American has blossomed this season and has a chance to rewrite the Pac-12 record book against Boise State.

Mannion needs 56 passing yards (he has 4,403) to break Cody Pickett's single-season record and four touchdown passes (36) to break Matt Barkley's record. He already holds school records in those categories, as well as for completions (376) and attempts (570). He has set single-game records for passing yards (493), completions (41) and TD passes (six).

"I've seen some back-shoulder throws in the end zone this year that have been pretty spectacular," Boise State junior linebacker Corey Bell said.

Mannion has completed a career-high 66 percent of his passes this season and posted a 146.8 rating, an 8-point jump over his sophomore year and a 19.7-point increase over his freshman year.

"He's just growing up with the position," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "He is a very, very diligent young man with some talent. It's all come together for a better year for him."

BRANDIN COOKS, WR

Cooks won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top wide receiver. He broke the Pac-12 record for receptions in a season (120), needs 52 yards to break the record for yards in a season (he has 1,670) and needs three touchdown catches to match the record for TDs in a season (he has 15). His least productive game was against USC - six catches for 88 yards and a touchdown. That's an outstanding day for nearly anyone else.

"What really sets him apart is what a tremendous worker and teammate and leader for our team he is," quarterback Sean Mannion said.

SCOTT CRICHTON, DE

Crichton leads a stout line with 16 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks - numbers in the same ballpark as those posted by Boise State's Demarcus Lawrence. Tackle Mana Rosa, who has 49 tackles and two blocked kicks, is a playmaker in the middle. "It's as good of a front seven as we've seen this year," Boise State offensive line coach Chris Strausser said. "They're really good up front."

Boise State players to watch

GRANT HEDRICK, QB

Hedrick will make his fifth start and be the primary quarterback for the seventh straight game. He replaced Joe Southwick after the senior starter broke his right ankle on the first play against Nevada and again after Southwick led a touchdown drive on his only series against New Mexico.

Now Hedrick will play a much larger role than expected in the Hawaii Bowl because Southwick was sent home after an incident at the team hotel.

Hedrick also has dealt with a new offensive system and a coaching change this season.

"It's been crazy," he said. "I think mentally it's just been draining. Just with all the changes and everything, trying to adjust to different things."

Coaches raved about Hedrick's starter-like preparation when he was the backup but the junior said there is a different feel to being the No. 1 guy.

"I try not to change the way I prepare, but you kind of do in your mind," he said. "It's a lot more taxing mentally - a lot more than I ever thought. But it's awesome. It's fun. It's what I came here to do, so I've been ready for that my whole life. It's been an adjustment."

Hedrick is from Independence, Ore., which is about a half-hour from Corvallis. He grew up watching Oregon State and attended some Beavers practices during his senior year of high school.

"I love how he throws the ball," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "He's a very, very natural passer."

GABE PEREZ, DE

Perez, a true freshman, was one of the Broncos' most productive players in November. He made 20 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in four games. He had four tackles and 0.5 for loss previously.

Defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski credits Perez's "familiarity with the defense" for his emergence.

"He's able to play fast and the game is slowing down for him - it shows up in his production," he said.

DEMARCUS LAWRENCE, DE

This could be Lawrence's last game as a Bronco. The junior is considered a potential NFL second-round pick. He hasn't spoken to the local media in months, so his opinion on leaving early is unknown. He's second in the nation with 19.5 tackles for loss.

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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