Sears veritcal

Boise State quarterback Jack Sears throws a pass as offensive lineman John Ojukwu blocks Air Force linebacker Alec Mock in a game Oct. 31, 2020.

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The Idaho Press is counting down the 25 biggest questions facing the Boise State football team during the 2021 season. Next up is No 14: Can Boise State’s offensive line protect the quarterbacks?

The offensive line is often one of the most scrutinized and criticized positions on any football team. When a quarterback is sacked or the running game can’t get going, it’s easy to blame the offensive line. When things go well? The group up front never seems to get any of the credit.

Boise State has experienced that for years.

The group is an easy target for fans whenever anything goes wrong offensively. Last year was no different. Boise State finished dead last in the Mountain West in rushing at just 107.14 yards per game — the first time since joining league they ranked at the bottom — and the Broncos allowed 2.0 sacks per game.

The past two years, Boise State has seen two different quarterbacks suffer three injuries — forcing them to miss eight games. The offensive line is not solely to blame, but the group could do a better job of limiting big hits on the quarterbacks. Hank Bachmeier, in particular, has taken a number of big hits during his two years on the field.

The good news is Boise State returns four players who started during last year’s pandemic-shortened season. Left tackle John Ojukwu is the most experienced with 24 career starts, while right guard Jake Stetz (10), center Kekaniokoa Holomalia-Gonzalez (7) and left guard Garrett Curran (7) have also started at least one game in each of the past two seasons.

But while that seems like a lot, it’s really not. A few years ago Boise State had four offensive linemen with 20-plus starts. Other than Ojukwu, the group has yet to really prove much.

The group will need the four returners to all take a big step forward, which is not unreasonable to expect given what game experience does to help with things such as communication.

But they’ll also need whoever wins the right tackle spot to not be a liability. Uzo Osuji and Ben Dooley are the two candidates at right tackle to replace Nick Crabtree and they combine for one career start — Osuji last year at Hawaii.

Boise State’s new high-octane offense will go fast — which figures to make things harder for the big boys up front. The tempo will be pushed and there won’t be much time to rest between plays. There will be stress on the offensive line to keep up.

The Broncos have a chance to be lethal on offense — new offensive coordinator Tim Plough said he’s aiming for 50 points a game — but the offensive line will have to play well for that to happen.

Open up some holes in the running game and protect the quarterback and Boise State could put up a lot of points. But if the group struggles and whoever wins the right tackle spot proves to not be ready? It could be a long year.

There’s plenty riding on the play of the offensive line this year. Will the group be up to the challenge? It’s a big question heading into the season.

This article originally ran on idahopress.com.

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