BOISE — Fresh off their lowest point production in more than a decade, the Boise State coaching staff assembled in the days after a 28-26 win over Washington in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas to discuss making changes to the offense.
With Kellen Moore entrenched as the starter for four years, the Broncos were able to continuously add formations, plays and wrinkles to the offense and not miss a beat. But when Moore left and Joe Southwick took over for the 2012 season, it became fairly obvious that the same system and offense wasn’t going to continue to work.
The offense had become too big and too complicated for others to master.
“A lot of it started at the quarterback position,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. “There’s just a lot there for the quarterback, and there always will be, but when you’re kind of a jack-of-all-trades (offense), that’s a lot of information for that guy to have to know. Maybe your starter can know it, but really nobody else can know it.”
So the Boise State coaching staff set out to find the offense and personnel groupings that would best fit the 2013 group. Without divulging the specific offenses they considered, offensive coordinator Robert Prince said “everything” was considered.
“We started with ourselves,” Prince said. “We looked at what we did well and we branched out from there. We studied many offenses and talked with other coaches, other staffs and visited other staffs.
“We just said with our personnel, what would be the best? If it was going to be a wholesale change, it was going to be a wholesale change. Coach Pete wasn’t going to hold back with that kind of stuff. He said what was best. Not what have we done, but what was best with our personnel, and let’s start from there.”
After weeks of research and conversations with coaches across the country, the Broncos decided on a no-huddle, up-tempo offense based out of the Pistol formation.
And one of the main reasons was running back Jay Ajayi.
“I think it starts with our running back,” Prince said. “We feel like he’s a downfield runner, so what scheme was going to be best for him and our O-line without deviating too much from what our guys know. So that’s what we came up with. We started with a downhill running attack.”
Ajayi, who rushed for 548 yards on 82 carries as the backup last year as a redshirt freshman, set the school record with a 6.68 yards-per-carry average. And the 6-foot, 220-pounder was one of the few positives in Saturday’s 38-6 loss to the Washington Huskies, rushing for 93 yards on 23 carries.
“You’re downhill faster,” Ajayi said of the Pistol formation, in which the quarterback lines up in a shorter shotgun and the running back lines up directly behind him.
“It gives us an opportunity to get downhill and be able to make those drastic cuts so we can get to the second level very fast. I like the offense a lot. It’s giving us a lot of opportunities.”
The Broncos also added a no-huddle, hurry-up element to the offense. In addition to eliminating some of the personnel packages and specific formations, they simplified the terminology and calls coming from the sideline.
No longer are groups of players running on and off the field on each play to give the Broncos a different formation and look. With the formations simplified, the substitutions now come more because players need a breather and not due to the coaches wanting a specific look or play.
“This is all stuff we’ve done ,so nothing is new to any of these kids,” Petersen said. “We just wanted to streamline some things, and you have to pick and choose. That’s always been a weakness because we like a lot of things and that can be a good thing, but it can also be a hard thing as well.
“It’s a fine balance of giving them too much, so we’re just trying to see if we can score more points, for sure, but in a different way where guys can play fast and know exactly what they are doing and eliminate some thinking and more reaction.”
When the previous play ends, the offense immediately looks to the sideline for the next play. They can get to the line of scrimmage faster than the previous set-up, and with the playbook simplified, they have less to worry about when the call comes in.
“I really like playing fast,” wide receiver Kirby Moore said. “It makes everything a lot simpler for everyone involved. We just need to know our adjustments off coverage, and we’ll do a better job with that this weekend.
“It’s a little bit different. We used to have a lot of personnel groups and now we just kind of switch if someone is tired. We don’t have as much shifts and motions, which we used to do in the past. … It really is a lot easier. Obviously, we just look to the sideline and get our call, and we’re ready to go.”
Petersen noted that the Broncos have been an “I” formation team for several years — when the running back and fullback line up behind the quarterback — and “that’s what this is, it’s ‘I formation with the quarterback in shotgun.”
In deciding to simplify things and focus on running a smaller number of plays better, the Broncos had to give up some of the creativity and trickery that became a staple of their offense in the past.
And while it wasn’t easy, they say it had to be done.
“There’s not a play that we haven’t seen around here that we haven’t really liked so that’s a principle of life, you have to give up something to get something,” Petersen said. “So you have to give up some plays, but it’s a fine line, you want to get good at these things but you can’t be so predictable and so simple that people can dial you up.
“Like anything, we can stay doing exactly what we’ve always done and we’d still be having the same exact conversations. We have to evolve. We have to get better. We have to be detailed. We have to make plays.”
Prince says the playbook “is not that much smaller” from last year but noted that things got simplified within the terminology of the plays. He said they “didn’t even run everything that was in our game plan” for the Washington game and “we were nervous that we might have had too much going in.”
It wasn’t the start many expected after hearing for months about how the new offense would light up the scoreboard and bring back the explosive plays. But one game in, the Broncos remain committed to the new look.
“It always starts back with me, I have to put us in a better position,” Prince said. “We looked back at the game plan and we feel there’s some things we can do better and hopefully we’ll do that this next game.
“We are 100 percent confident that this will work. Unfortunately, it didn’t work Saturday, so we had a chance to study the film and see what we need to tweak. We feel good with it.”
Back in the friendly confines of Bronco Stadium Saturday against an FCS opponent in Tennessee-Martin and with a week to work out some of the kinks, the Broncos expect the new offense to have a much better showing for Game 2.
“We’re still excited about this offense,” Ajayi said. “We weren’t able to portray that in the (Washington) game, but we’re definitely still excited about it. It’s still an explosive offense and, hopefully, we’ll be able to show that this weekend.”