2007 Hawaii Bowl - Boise St vs. East Carolina
East Carolina RB Chris Johnson
East Carolina RB Chris Johnson
Posted Dec 19, 2007

No one's giving East Carolina much of a shot to beat Boise State in 2007 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, but Chris Johnson and the Pirate offense should put on a great show. Richard Cirminiello previews tonight's potential shootout.

Boise State (10-2) vs. East Carolina (7-5)

Dec. 23, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN

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National Rankings
East Carolina Boise State
Total Offense
71st  377.92 ypg 10th  475.67 ypg
Total Defense
98th  436.42 ypg 21st  326.50 ypg
Scoring Offense
47th  30.17 ppg 5th  42.75 ppg
Scoring Defense
80th  29.75 ppg 21st  20 ppg
Run Offense
38th  171.33 ypg 29th  192.17 ypg
Run Defense
53rd  29.75 ypg 24th  114.92 ypg
Pass Offense
75th  206.58 ypg 22nd  283.50 ypg
Pass Defense
115th  290.58 ypg 37th  211.58
Turnover Margin
6th  1.17 32nd  0.33
East Carolina
at Va Tech L 17-7
No Carolina W 34-21
So Miss L 28-21
at West Va L 48-7
at Houston W 37-35
UCF W 52-38
at UTEP W 45-42 OT
NC State L 34-20
UAB W 41-6
at Memphis W 56-40
at Marshall L 26-7
Tulane W 35-12
Boise State
Weber St W 56-7
at Wash L 24-10
Wyoming W 24-14
So Miss W 38-16
NMSU W 58-0
Nevada W 69-67 4OT
at La Tech W 45-31
at Fres St W 34-21
SJSU W 42-7
at Utah St
W 52-0
W 58-14
at Hawaii L 39-27
Position Ratings
relative to each other
ECU 5 highest
1 lowest
3 Quarterbacks 3.5
4 RBs 4.5
3 Receivers 3.5
3.5 O Line 4
4 D Line 3.5
4 Linebackers 3.5
1.5 Secondary 4
3 Spec Teams 4
4 Coaching 5

About a month ago, Boise State was thinking about a return trip to a BCS bowl game, while East Carolina had its sights fixed on the Liberty Bowl and a Conference USA championship.  Instead, they’ll meet in Honolulu with an opportunity to soak in one of the prettiest bowl venues, and end the season on a high note.

Last year’s postseason darlings for beating Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, Boise State passed on a chance to host Georgia Tech in the Humanitarian Bowl, opting instead to take its product off the mainland.  Ironically, the Broncos will be returning to the scene of a Nov. 23 loss to Hawaii that ended any dreams of a repeat appearance in a big-money, January bowl game. 

Considering the turnover at some key spots from last season’s perfect squad, Boise State has done well to get back to 10 wins for the seventh time in the last nine years.  A lot of the credit belongs to senior QB Taylor Tharp, who’s proven to be a solid successor to Jared Zabransky, and a fine one-year solution in a system that requires the quarterback to distribute the ball without making mistakes.  After starting slowly, Tharp carried a program that was without star RB Ian Johnson for a time, throwing for more than 3,000 yards and 28 touchdowns, getting picked just nine times.  Long before kickoff, the school got its first big win of December when coveted head coach Chris Peterson made it clear he plans on staying at Boise State for the foreseeable future.      
The East Division of Conference USA was there for the taking before East Carolina squandered control of its own destiny with an inexcusable loss to 1-8 Marshall.  The same UCF team that ECU throttled in October went on to win the division and the league, leaving the Pirates to make the longest trek of any of this year’s 64 bowl participants.  On a more positive note, the school is playing in back-to-back bowl games, a sign that it’s making progress under third-year head coach Skip Holtz.  East Carolina has a game-breaking Johnson of its own, RB Chris Johnson, the nation’s leader in all-purpose yards, and one of the fastest players in the country.  Whether he’s taking a handoff, catching a pass, or fielding a kick, the senior is a threat to go the distance with even a hint of daylight.      

Both schools fully expected to be playing in higher profile games this postseason, meaning whichever one can maintain its focus with paradise in the backdrop is likely to leave the islands with a well-deserved victory.

Players to watch: Holtz has had success using two quarterbacks, strong-armed Rob Kass and the more athletic Patrick Pinkney.  Combined, they’ve tossed 19 touchdown passes, despite having access to a pedestrian corps of receivers. 

Success through the air, however, won’t be easy against a WAC-best pass defense that’s built around two of the league’s premier defensive backs, safety Marty Tadman and corner Kyle Wilson.  Tadman and Wilson rate a huge edge over any receiver that’ll run patterns for East Carolina, meaning it’ll again be up to Johnson to shoulder the load, even though everyone in blue and orange has been instructed to not let No. 5 beat them with big plays.     

The best game within a game, by far, pits a talented Boise State offensive line versus an East Carolina defensive line that boasts the size and depth of some ACC programs.  The Broncos are determined to reestablish Johnson and a running game that’s slipped considerably from last year, when the run set up the pass.  Paving the way will be LT Ryan Clady, a 6-6, 320-pound All-American, who makes NFL scouts gush about his quick feet and agility from a kid that’s so enormous.  Clady, G Tad Miller, C Jeff Cavender will get a challenge up front from a unit that’s been stout all year.  The headliners are ends C.J. Wilson and Zack Slate, who’ve combined for 21 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks.

Boise State will win if... it controls the line of scrimmage.  If the Broncos create seams for Johnson to get to the second level, they’ll destroy an East Carolina defense that’s thin and weak in the back seven.  If Johnson reverts back to his sophomore form, Tharp, even without WR Jeremy Childs, who will miss the game after violating team rules, will have a field day against a Pirate pass defense that ranks 115th nationally, and has given up 24 touchdown passes.  While the Broncos only scored 27 points the last time we saw them, don’t forget that in the previous seven games, they reached 40 points six times.            

East Carolina will win if... dominates the turnover battle.  Other than Johnson completely taking over the game, the Pirates’ best chance for the upset is to generate takeaways, something they’ve been good at all year.  East Carolina is No. 6 in the country in turnover margin, and when it’s successful in this area, it usually picks up a win.  In a game against a decidedly better opponent, the Pirates need their defensive backs to end drives, and their defense to create as many short field opportunities as possible.  If East Carolina isn’t +2 or better in turnovers, it’ll lose this game by double digits.            

What will happen: Count on there to be plenty of points and plenty of big plays from backs named Johnson.  Playing the hunter instead of the hunted this postseason, it might take a quarter or even a half before Boise State realizes it’s a substantially better football team than East Carolina.  The Pirates’ season-long struggles with good offenses will continue, with Tharp connecting with Childs on a couple of touchdown passes, and Ian Johnson deliveing his best production since the Oct. 14 marathon win over Nevada.    

Boise State  -10.5 ... CFN Prediction: Boise State 38 ... East Carolina 24 

2007 Hawaii Bowl History, Each Team's Best Bowl Moments, & More