Each time Boise State coach Chris Petersen was asked who would replace receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Young going into this season, he gave the same answer.
The Broncos would play more receiver by committee.
It was enough to say, especially with Heisman Trophy finalist Kellen Moore returning. But would that work in practice?
It has indeed in their 6-0 start.
Seven different players have caught at least 12 passes -- that includes two tight ends and a running back. Nine different players have caught touchdown passes. Tyler Shoemaker is the only player with a 100-yard receiving game, and he only has two.
None of this is unexpected, really. Petersen knows it was rare for the Broncos to have two go-to players with NFL talent. The distribution was slanted toward them in the past two seasons, especially last year, when they combined for 142 receptions and 2,166 yards. They accounted for 53 percent of the receptions, 57 percent of the yards and 53 percent of the touchdown catches in 2010.
Shoemaker was the next closest receiver with 32 catches for 582 yards.
Now, Mitch Burroughs leads the team with 30 receptions. But it is Shoemaker who leads the team in yards receiving with 401 and touchdown passes with eight. He is coming off a career day in which he had 180 yards receiving and three touchdowns in a 63-13 win over Colorado State. The reaction afterward -- it was just his turn to step up.
“I try to be there for Kellen,” Shoemaker said. “Any time he wants to throw me the ball, I'll be there. I just try to be a leader out there for the other receivers and make sure we're all on track.”
To be sure, all the talk in the preseason about the receiving corps being a potential weak spot aggravated the receivers as a whole.
“We knew that it was going to be a challenge, and the challenge was going to be up to us to fill that void with them gone,” Shoemaker said. “But we decided it was going to be receiver by committee this year and not one person would fill those spots. As a group we've done well.”
Was all the talk used as motivation?
“Any time a senior or a group of seniors leave and that next senior class steps up, it's about filling those roles and becoming a leader,” Shoemaker said. “For me personally, it was a lot of motivation.”
This group also handled another major bit of adversity that came its way when Geraldo Boldewijn was forced to sit out the first four games of the season for violating NCAA rules. Boldewijn had a breakout spring and was supposed to be the deep threat on this team with Young gone, but the Broncos survived just fine without him.
Shoemaker was asked after the Colorado State game whether people should have considered him a deep threat before the season.
“Why not me? I ask people that all the time,” he said with a smile. “I think everybody is going to have their opportunities and everybody has that ability to stretch the field, especially Geraldo. We get different matchups every week and everybody has to be ready.”
Shoemaker has been at Boise State for a while, so his emergence was expected. But one of the most pleasant surprises has been the play of redshirt freshman Matt Miller, one of the most highly sought-after players from the state of Montana in the class of 2010.
Miller chose Boise State over Oregon State, Arkansas, North Carolina, Arizona State and Stanford, in part because he felt a closeness to Petersen. He tore his Achilles’ tendon last season and had to sit out for a long time, costing him valuable time gaining a chemistry with Moore.
It was the first time in his life he had to sit out for an extended period, but he believes that made him a better player. He worked plenty this summer with Moore, and that has paid off. Miller is second on the team with 28 catches for 308 yards and three touchdown passes.
“Kellen hasn't been throwing to me long, but with a high caliber quarterback like Kellen, he makes it look easy,” Miller said. “I just have to get open.”