Brian Murphy: Boise State offense still a work in progress

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comApril 13, 2014 

Boise State football's new coaching staff promised a return to the Broncos' old offense, that motioning-and-shifting tour de force that carved up defenses in all sorts of ways, dazzled fans with creativity and lit up scoreboards.

That offense is not back. Not yet, at least.

Sure, the Broncos pulled out the Statue of Liberty, attempted a wide receiver pass and tried several other gadgets during Saturday's Spring Game at Bronco Stadium.

But, right now, the offense is an imitation of those Bryan Harsin-coordinated juggernauts. It looks familiar, but not nearly as good as the original.

All caveats apply. It was just spring practice. A new coaching staff is installing a new scheme with new wrinkles. The offensive line has some injuries, limiting its effectiveness. Running back Jay Ajayi is going to touch the ball more than the 10 times he did in Saturday's game.

Still, in two spring scrimmages open to the media, the Broncos failed to sustain meaningful drives. Boise State scored on big plays (and those are important, too), but it lacked the consistent execution to march the ball down the field. Plus, the Broncos were too loose with the ball. They turned it over four times Saturday.

"We've shown that we can make some big plays in there. If we can put some back to back and be more consistent with those, then we'll have the type of drives and sustained drives that we want," Harsin said.

"It's great to move the ball in the open field. Anybody can do that. It's when you get down there, can you do it back to back? And when you get in the red zone, can you execute? And we've shown signs we can do that. We're not there yet."

Far from it.

New offensive coordinator Mike Sanford said the Broncos have installed about 75 percent of their offensive concepts. The complexity will come, he said.

But no matter how complex and diverse the offense looks compared to last year's high-tempo, pistol-look, it still must work with largely the same components that the previous regime built the offense around - Ajayi and wide receivers Shane Williams-Rhodes and Matt Miller.

The new staff may have brought a new energy and enthusiasm to the program, particularly in recruiting, but the group is no smarter (or dumber) than the coaches now collecting larger paychecks in Seattle. They're going to rely on their best players and craft an offense around Ajayi, a special talent at running back.

"Our main focus is going to be downhill run game. Get Jay the ball and let him do his thing," quarterback Grant Hedrick said. "And then we need to take some shots downfield and have a little bit of a vertical passing game."

Speedy running back Devan Demas and receiver Thomas Sperbeck could add to the formula. The Broncos' assortment of tight ends provides hope.

All those parts are nice. All the shifts and motions are wonderful when they lead to open receivers and confused defenses. All the trick plays are fun and creative and great for the brand.

The success (or failure) of the new/old offense, however, hinges on two things: improved play from Hedrick and physical dominance from the offensive line.

If the Broncos are to reach the Mountain West championship game (and more), then Hedrick must reduce his turnovers, use his legs to add a dimension and play to an All-Mountain West level. The offensive line, which must replace potential NFL Draft picks Charles Leno Jr. and Matt Paradis, must consistently open holes and cut down on the negative plays that destroy an offense's rhythm.

"We've got to get back to just knowing that we can move people off the football. That was the one thing that, at times, lacked today. We weren't moving people," Sanford said. "That needs to become our identity. Everything else will open up with that."

They can call the offense whatever they want. Call as many Statue Lefts and double passes as they want. This offense, run by two former Boise State quarterbacks, will only be as consistent as its current signal-caller and the men in front of him are.

Right now, they've got a lot of work to do.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444

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