The cliched story line gets repeated over and over whenever Boise State plays a team from an AQ conference. Somehow, people still think the Broncos cannot match up with bigger offensive lines because they simply are not physical enough to handle the load.
And every single time, Boise State dispels the tired complaint with a ferocious performance. It happened last season against Virginia Tech. It happened even more emphatically Saturday in a 35-21 win over Georgia.
The Bulldogs boast an offensive line full of 300-pound big men. Tackle Cordy Glenn and center Ben Jones are two of the more highly rated offensive linemen headed into the NFL draft. But they and their teammates could not stop a relentless Boise State defensive front, featuring veteran players who simply know how to play their assignments and make big takedowns behind the line.
Tackles Billy Winn and Chase Baker, and defensive end Shea McClellin have been starting together for two years now. Tyrone Crawford took over for Ryan Winterswyk, but as a reserve last year he was tied for the team lead with 13.5 tackles for loss and second on the team with seven sacks. This is a group that knows each other, that plays together and works extremely hard to prove themselves.
Boise State ranked first in the nation last season with 48 sacks. The Broncos are off to another great start after racking up six against the Bulldogs. McClellin had 2.5; Crawford had 1.5. What does it say that McClellin led the team with seven tackles? He constantly harassed Aaron Murray, hurrying him into throws and getting him on the run. Coach Chris Petersen said simply: "Shea McClellin had a great day."
As for the performance of his entire line, Petersen said, "They did have a good day. They're good players. They're well-coached. They answered against a pretty good offensive line in Georgia. There's no way we're going to play good defense if we don't start on the defensive line."
A big reason why they play so well together is because they have done so for so long. Baker has started 28 games; McClellin 25. Winn started all 13 last season. Crawford was supposed to redshirt last season after transferring from a junior college. But he made so many plays behind Winterswyk, the Broncos had to play him because he was too valuable to keep on the sideline.
His transformation has been remarkable. He only began playing football in Windsor, Canada, in ninth grade. His physical education teacher also was the head football coach, and asked Crawford to play for him because he had such a big body. Crawford played running back, tight end and a little linebacker, but it was not until junior college in Bakersfield that he started playing defensive line.
His story just shows once again how Boise State coaches can take raw players without all the recruiting hype and turn them into stars on their defense. Crawford understands the importance of joining such a strong defensive front, and believes they can be the best in the nation this season.
"We can take it to the top," he said. "Our first and second string defensive line, we have all big guys who know how to play. I feel we can go as far as everyone is saying we can."
Petersen, ever the humble coach, had no answer when he was asked Monday whether his line was the best in the nation.
"I would have no idea on that," he said. "They're good for us but those are hard comparisons to make."