The fourth-ranked Boise State Broncos finally get conference action in Idaho.
Boise State, which has made the switch from the Western Athletic Conference to the Mountain West, began the 2011 campaign a long, long way from home in Atlanta where the team defeated nationally-ranked Georgia, 35-21. The Broncos then took a break to prepare for another lengthy trip across the land to Toledo where they dumped the Rockets last Friday night in a 40-15 final. BSU is off to a 2-0 start for the fourth straight year and fifth time in the last six campaigns.
Meanwhile, the Golden Hurricane are working on a bit of a short week as they prepare for their play on the famed blue turf of Bronco Stadium. Against nationally-ranked Oklahoma State last week, Tulsa's start time was delayed several hours because of weather concerns and eventually not only did the Hurricane lose a 59-33 decision in the wee hours of Sunday morning, they also lost the services of quarterback G.J. Kinne who suffered a left knee injury and is now expected to miss 2-4 weeks of action.
Tulsa, which now turns to Kalen Henderson as its quarterback, is just 1-2 on the campaign, having lost to top-ranked Oklahoma (47-14) in the season opener and then defeating Tulane (31-3) in the Conference USA lidlifter on September 10.
Boise State has never lost to the Golden Hurricane, going 5-0 thanks in part to a 28-21 win two seasons ago in Oklahoma.
This was supposed to be one of those games that Boise State had to be wary of, given how well the Tulsa offense operated under Kinne, but now that he'll be watching from the sidelines Tulsa head coach Bill Blankenship acknowledges that it won't be the same.
"I don't think the physical structure will change much. I don't think you will see different plays being run. What you will see is a little less reliance on the quarterback's ability to change things at the line and to rely on the three years of experience that (G.J.) has. He doesn't have what G.J. has. He has a lot of talent and a lot of ability, but in terms of how we'll approach it, I don't think you will see much difference. You just may not see him controlling those decisions quite as much as I allowed G.J. to do."
With Kinne at the helm, the Hurricane had a signal-caller who was the only one in program history to pass for at least 6,000 yards and run for 1,000, but now Henderson's status brings into play a QB who redshirted last season and has had very little college football experience. Henderson might have a cannon for an arm, but until he learns to play at game speed and gets on the same page with his receivers that really won't matter.
What will be important for the Tulsa offense is for the front line to hold together well and for the running backs to take on more of the load. Ja'Terian Douglas and Trey Watts have combined for close to 500 yards on the ground, but still the rushing attack has produced just three TDs in as many games and that's something that has to change during Kinne's absence.
The Golden Hurricane defense could also use a boost, but one can't fault them for giving up 480.3 ypg and 36.3 ppg since they have played against two of the premier teams in the nation. But if you factor in the matchup with Tulane, it does show just how much Tulsa can be pushed around by dominant offensive teams, like Boise State.
This might not be the BSU offense of old, or even the one from 2010 that was second in the nation in scoring with 45.1 ppg, but still quarterback Kellen Moore has elevated his game to an even higher level this year, his fourth and final season in Boise. Moore, who threw for just 187 yards, but three touchdowns in the last meeting against the Golden Hurricane, threw for a stunning 455 yards and five touchdowns on 32-of-42 against the Rockets last week, the first time any opposing QB has every connected on as many TD passes in a single game against Toledo.
Moore, who is closing in on becoming the all-time leader in wins as a starting quarterback, has now thrown for multiple TDs in 15 consecutive games and in all but seven of his 42 collegiate outings since taking over the BSU offense. Among active quarterbacks, Moore is second with 107 TD strikes, just 10 behind Houston's Case Keenum.
What makes Moore such a tough matchup for opposing defenses is that he isn't afraid to turn to second and third options, rather than forcing balls into tight situations. In each of the last two games, Moore has delivered passes to nine different receivers, something that Tulsa's Blankenship is keenly aware of heading into this weekend.
"Kellen Moore does a great job of managing the offense. When you watch them, there is going to be a lot of movements, shifts, motions, alignments to try to create mismatches. I think he does a great job of managing it. They have two receivers that have gotten the bulk of their catches. They are the wideouts and one of those guys is a freshman and he's been very impressive in the first two games."
BSU's defense may not be the talk of the town this season, but there's no denying that the squad typically comes up with big plays when it needs to most. After two games, the squad is second in the MWC and eighth in the nation with four sacks per game and has also generated seven tackles for loss per outing, something Henderson and his Tulsa teammates have to be aware of as they try to fill the void left by Kinne.