Bronco Beat

Boise State vs. Troy: Who gets the edge and which players to watch in opener

Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is expected to have a big season for the Broncos.
Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is expected to have a big season for the Broncos. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

WHO GETS THE EDGE?

When the Broncos run the ball ...

Though sophomore running back Alexander Mattison is the presumed starter, he missed a good portion of fall camp. Senior Ryan Wolpin has earned some serious playing time, but the duo had a combined 367 yards last season.

Troy allowed 3.4 yards per carry in 2016 (13th in the nation) and returns a group of defensive tackles that is among the best in the nation. The Trojans’ linebackers are inexperienced, but that line can make life a lot easier for them.

[Related: Parking, tickets, alcohol policy and other fan facts for the game]

“The No. 1 thing for us defensively this week is getting lined up and making sure our gaps are covered in the run game,” Troy coach Neal Brown said. “They run the ball as well as anybody in the country over the last 10 years and do a great job of getting one-on-one opportunities in the play-action passing game.”

ADVANTAGE: Troy

When the Broncos pass the ball ...

Junior quarterback Brett Rypien is a two-time All-Mountain West first-teamer for a reason. He improved in most categories last season while focusing a majority of his passes on four targets, only one of whom returns (senior Cedrick Wilson). However, a lot of options are eager to step up, and the tight ends should be much more active.

[Note: Don’t miss the team depth charts at the bottom of this post]

Troy had a solid pass rush in 2016 (tied with Boise State with 29 sacks), and its secondary was ferocious, intercepting 22 passes, second-most in the FBS. Those responsible for 13 of them return. Against a veteran quarterback on the road, the defense will be tested.

“They’ve got a veteran secondary ... they’ll be ready for us,” Boise State offensive coordinator Zak Hill said. “We’ve got to be sharp with what we’re doing, be crisp in our routes, crisp in our decisions at the quarterback position.”

Advantage: Boise State

cedrick wilson
Boise State wide receiver Cedrick Wilson (1) catches a 36-yard touchdown during the 2016 game against BYU at Albertsons Stadium. Kyle Green kgreen@idahostatesman.com

When the Trojans run the ball ...

Senior Jordan Chunn is a powerful back, checking in at 6-foot-1 and 231 pounds, complementing the varied passing game well. He did 441 yards of damage last season against Austin Peay, Idaho and South Alabama, averaging 7.6 yards per carry. In the other nine games, he had 847 yards, with his ypc cut in half (3.8).

Boise State’s rush defense took a step down last season, finishing 69th (179.8 ypg). But that was bound to happen with run-heavy teams on the schedule and without much depth on the line. This year, the Broncos have the numbers to cycle in more linemen, plus they can trot out two 300-pound nose tackles instead of playing 270-pound David Moa in the middle.

“They stop the run, are long, and do a great job in their recruiting process of going out and choosing long defenders,” Brown said. “They get off and shed blocks, probably as good as I’ve played against in a long time.”

Advantage: Boise State

When the Trojans pass the ball ...

Troy quarterback Brandon Silvers is one of the best in the Group of Five conferences and coming off a strong junior season. There’s no reason to think he couldn’t be better in 2017. The Trojans return players responsible for 305 of the 315 receptions last year.

“They’ve got a whole army of wide receivers that can play,” Boise State defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said.

Boise State, which had seven interceptions all of last season, could start three sophomores at defensive back and none of its linebackers have started before. The Trojans led the nation with only eight sacks allowed on 492 pass attempts, but must replace three starters on the line.

Troy was 109th nationally with 10.8 yards per completion, a product of the quick-strike, spread-style system Brown worked with as an assistant at Texas Tech and Kentucky.

“We’re going to have to be able to make plays in space, we’re going to have to win some one-on-one battles, both in coverage, and when we’re tackling ball carriers,” Avalos said.

Advantage: Troy

Special teams

Both teams must replace their primary kicker and punter. The Broncos struggled on special teams last season while the Trojans were pretty good. ESPN ranked Boise State 116th and Troy 28th in special teams efficiency.

If both come back toward the middle, this could be a close matchup with Boise State led by Wilson on punt returns (132 yards on 10 returns) and Troy by sophomore Jabir Daughtry-Frye (27.9 yard average on kickoff returns, No. 10 in the FBS).

Advantage: Push

PLAYERS TO WATCH

BOISE STATE

Jake Roh, tight end

It’s impossible not to notice how good Roh feels compared to a year ago. It’s the smile on his face, and on the field, feeling as good as ever.

The senior missed two games to start last season with a knee injury that continued to plague him all year, limiting him to 10 catches for 113 yards.

“It’s nice to not be in the same situation as last year,” Roh said. “... I feel as healthy as I ever have. I’m really excited to get things going.”

Roh showed a glimpse of his old self in the Cactus Bowl, following a month of rest between games, catching six passes for 54 yards. He had 68 catches for 765 yards his first two seasons. He said knowing he feels good allows him to be confident he can make all the plays he did as a freshman and sophomore.

“I think it’s definitely going to help us a lot, because Jake’s pretty much like another receiver, but he can also block,” senior wide receiver Cedrick Wilson said. “Jake on a safety is a mismatch, so it’s definitely going to help us, with him being healthy.”

Leighton Vander Esch, LB

Concussion symptoms forced the Riggins native to miss seven games last season, but Vander Esch showed a ton of potential late in the season with 15 tackles (two for loss) and an interception the final two games.

The defense’s lone permanent captain, he’s primed for a big-time role as a junior. It starts Saturday against the versatile, veteran Troy offense.

“He’s definitely going to be a breakout guy for us,” junior quarterback Brett Rypien said. “He’s a freak athletic talent. I don’t think he’s got to showcase really all he can do quite yet because he’s battled some injuries.”

In July, Rypien said of Vander Esch, “That guy is our best player, I’d say, on our team right now.” The Broncos have not shied away from the high expectations they have for the athletic 6-foot-4, 240-pounder on and off the field.

“The character and the work ethic, and the personality, the humility he brings to this program is unbelievable,” Boise State defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said.

wolpin
Boise State running back Ryan Wolpin (30) gets the handoff from quarterback Brett Rypien (4) during the second half of an NCAA football game against San Jose State in 2015. Marcio Jose Sanchez AP

Ryan Wolpin, RB

Battling for a starting job all through the offseason, Wolpin at worst has earned himself a solid role as a senior. Last year, he rushed just 13 times for 39 yards. As a sophomore, he had 25 carries for 155 yards. He should also again be a key special-teamer.

“He’s one of the hardest working guys on our team,” Rypien said. “You put that with the athletic ability he has ... he’s been tremendous throughout this past year, developed a lot.”

Wolpin was named one of college football’s “freaks” by Sports Illustrated this summer because of the strength he packs into his 5-foot-8, 195-pound frame. He squats 555 pounds, benches 383 and power cleans 361. He hopes the off-field work translates into a big final season on it.

“Just really excited to get things rolling,” Wolpin said. “... I’ll be more involved in the run game, so I’m excited for that, but I just want to do my best in my role.”

TROY

Brandon Silvers, QB

Silvers’ 7,394 career passing yards trail only Idaho’s Matt Linehan among Group of Five quarterbacks. The senior from Orange Beach, Ala., connected on 64 percent of his passes last season for 3,180 yards with 23 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. He also rushed for four scores.

“He knows their offense, he operates it very well, gets the ball out quick, very accurate with his throws,” Avalos said.

Of the 6-foot-3 Silvers, Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said, “This guy is an NFL player.” The preseason first-team All-Sun Belt selection has 12 games under his belt with at least three touchdown passes.

“He’s matured from a kid to a grown man,” Troy coach Neal Brown said. “If you look at him as far as senior quarterbacks, I like our guy as much as anybody in the country.”

Jordan Chunn, RB

There’s no question the Trojans can let it fly, but what makes the offense tough to stop is that it can mix in the 6-foot-1, 231-pound senior to bring some power.

Chunn rushed for 1,288 yards and 16 touchdowns last season on 279 carries, adding 30 receptions for 228 yards.

“This guy can hit it,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “He’s big, he’s fast, he’s a downhill, physical runner ... one guy doesn’t usually bring him down.”

Already the school-record holder with 37 career rushing touchdowns, Chunn has 2,346 career rushing yards, well within range of the school record of 3,441.

“He’s gonna get that ball, he’s going to lower his pads, not give you a lot of surface to tackle,” Avalos said.

Cedarius Rookard, S

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound junior is coming off a strong sophomore campaign in which he tied for second on the team with 52 tackles and had three interceptions to go with a fumble recovery. One of the interceptions came against Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, a first-round pick of the Houston Texans.

Rookard also is the team’s No. 1 punt returner, averaging 8.2 yards per return last season (second in the Sun Belt) with a long of 33 yards. Coach Neal Brown said he should be “an all-conference type player.”

BOISE STATE

DEPTH CHART

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

4 Brett Rypien

6-2

208

Jr.

3 Montell Cozart

6-1

205

Sr.

Tailback

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

21 Ryan Wolpin OR

5-8

195

Sr.

22 Alexander Mattison

5-11

214

So.

34 Robert Mahone

5-10

211

RFr.

Wide receiver (X)

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

1 Cedrick Wilson

6-3

188

Sr.

9 Bryan Jefferson

5-11

193

So.

Wide receiver (H)

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

28 A.J. Richardson

6-0

209

Jr

81 Akilian Butler

5-10

193

Jr.

Wide receiver (Z)

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

8 Sean Modster

5-11

196

Jr.

81 Akilian Butler

5-10

193

Jr.

Tight end

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

88 Jake Roh

6-3

227

Sr.

87 Alec Dhaenens

6-3

246

Sr.

Left tackle

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

76 Ezra Cleveland

6-6

296

RFr.

66 Isiah Moore

6-4

275

Jr.

Left guard

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

67 Garrett Larson

6-4

295

So.

52 Andrew Tercek

6-1

278

Sr.

Center

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

59 Mason Hampton

6-3

295

Sr.

71 Donte Harrington

6-2

298

RFr.

Right guard

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

77 John Molchon

6-5

313

So.

79 Eric Quevedo

6-4

304

So.

Right tackle

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

74 Archie Lewis

6-3

299

Sr.

78 Andres Preciado

6-6

292

Jr.

DEFENSE

Defensive end

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

91 Durrant Miles

6-5

253

Jr.

93 Chase Hatada OR

6-3

267

So.

45 Kayode Rufai

6-4

254

RFr.

Nose tackle

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

98 Sonatane Lui

6-1

305

So.

57 Emmanuel Fesili

6-2

302

So.

Defensive tackle

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

55 David Moa

6-3

271

Jr.

90 Daniel Auelua

6-2

298

Sr.

STUD end

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

53 Sam Whitney

6-2

231

So.

8 Jabril Frazier OR

6-4

243

Jr.

99 Curtis Weaver

6-3

252

RFr.

Weakside linebacker

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

38 Leighton Vander Esch

6-4

240

Jr.

48 Bruno DeRose

5-11

216

RFr.

Middle linebacker

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

58 Tyson Maeva

6-0

214

So.

25 Benton Wickersham

6-2

231

RFr.

Strongside linebacker

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

33 Gabe Perez

6-4

246

Sr.

9 Desmond Williams OR

5-11

201

RFr.

26 Avery Williams

5-9

194

RFr.

Field cornerback

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

14 Tyler Horton

5-11

188

Jr.

15 Jalen Walker

6-0

172

RFr.

Boundary cornerback

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

27 Reid Harrison-Ducros OR

5-10

180

So.

6 Michael Young

6-0

211

Jr.

Field safety

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

4 DeAndre Pierce

5-11

174

So.

32 Jordan Happle

5-11

198

RFr.

Boundary safety

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

10 Kekoa Nawahine

6-2

199

So.

37 Cameron Hartsfield

5-10

197

Sr.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

46 Joel Velazquez

6-0

228

RFr.

41 Haden Hoggarth

6-0

198

Jr.

Punter

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

46 Joel Velazquez

6-0

228

RFr.

49 Quinn Skillin

6-4

185

Jr.

Snappers

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

89 Brock Barr

6-3

204

Sr.

50 Nicholai Pitman

5-11

230

So.

Holder

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

27 Reid Harrison-Ducros OR

5-10

180

So.

1 Cedrick Wilson

6-3

188

Sr.

Kick returner

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

1 Cedrick Wilson

6-3

188

Sr.

26 Avery Williams

5-9

194

RFr.

Punt returner

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

1 Cedrick Wilson

6-3

188

Sr.

26 Avery Williams

5-9

194

RFr.

SCHEDULE

Date

Opponent

Time/Result

Saturday, Sept. 2

Troy

1:45 p.m. (ESPNU)

Saturday, Sept. 9

at Washington State

8:30 p.m. (ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU)

Thursday, Sept. 14

New Mexico

6 p.m. (ESPN)

Friday, Sept. 22

Virginia

6 p.m. (ESPN2)

Friday, Oct. 6

at BYU

8:15 p.m. (ESPN)

Saturday, Oct. 14

at San Diego State

8:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

Saturday, Oct. 21

Wyoming

TBA (ESPN Networks)

Saturday, Oct. 28

at Utah State

8 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

Saturday, Nov. 4

Nevada

TBA (ESPN Networks)

Saturday, Nov. 11

at Colorado State

8:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

Saturday, Nov. 18

Air Force

TBA (ESPN Networks)

Saturday, Nov. 25

at Fresno State

1:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

TROY

DEPTH CHART

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

12 Brandon Silvers

6-3

219

Sr.

7 Kaleb Barker OR

6-1

210

So.

3 Sawyer Smith

6-3

212

So.

Tailback

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

38 Jordan Chunn

6-1

235

Sr.

33 Josh Anderson

5-11

250

Sr.

Wide receiver (X)

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

80 Deondre Douglas

6-1

197

Jr.

2 John Johnson

6-1

193

Sr.

Wide receiver (H)

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

6 Sidney Davis

5-11

219

Jr.

11 Tevaris McCormick

5-10

183

Sr.

Wide receiver (Y)

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

87 Clark Quisenberry

6-3

221

Sr.

17 Sam Letton

6-2

226

So.

Wide receiver (Z)

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

15 Damion Willis

6-4

194

Jr.

8 Emanuel Thompson

6-1

200

Sr.

Left tackle

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

67 Steven Rowzee

6-3

310

Sr.

62 Jonathan Boring

6-5

305

Sr.

Left guard

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

78 Kirk Kelley

6-4

310

So.

70 Zach Branner

6-5

305

So.

Center

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

57 Deontae Crumitie

6-2

296

Jr.

65 Dylan Bradshaw

6-2

300

RFr.

Right guard

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

54 Tristan Crowder

6-4

314

So.

64 Ethan Calhoun

6-1

291

Jr.

Right tackle

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

69 J.L. Gaston

6-4

295

So.

75 James Peach

6-5

293

So.

DEFENSE

Defensive end

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

94 Seth Calloway

6-3

252

Sr.

40 Antione Barker

6-3

253

So.

Nose tackle

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

90 Trevon Sanders

6-0

310

Jr.

97 Baron Poole II

6-2

283

Sr.

Defensive tackle

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

30 Jamal Stadom

6-2

280

Sr.

48 Marcus Webb

6-3

252

So.

Bandit

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

50 Zo Bridges

6-2

225

So.

47 Hunter Reese

6-1

221

Jr.

Weakside linebacker

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

29 Tron Folsom

6-2

218

So.

31 A.J. Smiley

6-3

216

So.

Middle linebacker

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

5 Sam Lebbie

6-3

244

Sr.

25 Justin Whisenhunt

6-1

219

Fr.

Spear

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

10 Tyquae Russell

6-1

200

Sr.

15 Andre Flakes

5-9

200

Sr.

Cornerback

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

18 Blace Brown

6-0

186

Jr.

8 Marcus Jones

5-9

170

Fr.

Cornerback

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

9 Jalen Harris

6-0

187

Sr.

4 Kamryn Melton

5-10

184

Sr.

Cat safety

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

3 Kris Weatherspoon

6-2

205

Sr.

12 Melvin Tyus

6-0

212

So.

Free safety

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

24 Cedarius Rookard

6-1

210

Jr.

35 Tyler Murray OR

6-1

186

Fr.

19 Adarius Wesley

6-0

197

So.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

43 Bratcher Underwood

5-9

179

Jr.

99 Evan Legassey

6-3

195

Fr.

Punter

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

98 Tyler Sumpter

5-10

230

RFr.

99 Evan Legassey

6-3

195

Fr.

Snappers

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

51 Preston Langham

5-9

171

So.

74 Cameron Kaye

6-2

220

RFr.

Holder

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

7 Kaleb Barker

6-1

210

So.

2 John Johnson

6-1

193

Sr.

Kick returner

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

5 Jabir Daughtry-Frye

5-7

170

So.

14 Terence Dunlap

5-11

174

Fr.

Punt returner

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

24 Cedarius Rookard

6-1

210

Jr.

8 Marcus Jones

5-9

170

Fr.

SCHEDULE

Date

Opponent

Time/Result

Saturday, Sept. 2

at Boise State

1:45 p.m. (ESPNU)

Saturday, Sept. 9

Alabama State

4 p.m. (ESPN3)

Saturday, Sept. 16

at New Mexico State

6 p.m. (ESPN3)

Saturday, Sept. 23

Akron

TBA

Saturday, Sept. 30

at LSU

TBA

Wednesday, Oct. 11

South Alabama

6 p.m. (ESPN2)

Saturday, Oct. 21

at Georgia State

TBA

Saturday, Oct. 28

Georgia Southern

TBA

Thursday, Nov. 2

Idaho

7:15 p.m. (ESPNU)

Saturday, Nov. 11

at Coastal Carolina

TBA

Friday, Nov. 24

Texas State

TBA

Saturday, Dec. 2

at Arkansas State

TBA

Dave Southorn: 208-377-6420, @davesouthorn

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