All the heat on the Boise State football teams offense, and all the debates among fans about the playcalling of first-year offensive coordinator Robert Prince, could have been avoided if the Broncos had done one thing in the first month of the 2012 season:
Score touchdowns in the red zone.
The No. 24 Broncos, who have failed to score an offensive touchdown in two of three games going into Saturdays Mountain West opener at New Mexico (4:07 p.m., KTVB), havent lacked scoring chances.
They crossed the opponents 20-yard line three times at Michigan State. The result: two field goals and an interception.
They entered the red zone six times against Miami (Ohio). The result: three touchdowns, a field goal, a missed field goal and an interception.
And they drove deep into BYU territory three times last week. The result: a missed field goal and two failed fourth-down attempts.
Its one of those things where were frustrated with ourselves because we know we have it, were so close and yet were not finishing, senior wide receiver Chris Potter said. When you look at the film, its the little tiny things that were doing wrong and its costing some downs and some points.
If we can get that momentum, we know what it could look like, and I think it will.
The Broncos are 3-for-12 at scoring touchdowns in the red zone a 25 percent conversion rate.
They converted 74.3 percent last year, the best since the program began tracking that stat in 2006. The worst percentage was 66.2 in 2008.
At 66 percent, Boise State (2-1) would have five more touchdowns and quite possibly one more win right now.
I feel like were not playing loose enough or playing as fast, senior tight end Chandler Koch said. We get kind of tense down there.
Coach Chris Petersen says he cant detect tension from the sideline, but he doesnt doubt its an issue.
I get it, he said. Probably the biggest problem is theyre trying too hard. They want to win too much, they want to do too well and they start pressing. And all of a sudden guys who can make certain plays cant make them.
Weve got to be able to handle a little adversity without the sky completely falling on everything and just keep battling and eventually things will come around.
The message from players and coaches has been the same since moments after last weeks 7-6 defeat of BYU ended: A detail here or there is preventing the offense from clicking.
I know we keep saying were close, but if you look at the film, its there, senior wide receiver Mitch Burroughs said. Weve done a good job moving the ball for the most part. At the end, weve got to capitalize and finish drives. If we do that, it changes the whole dynamic of that game.
One of the popular complaints from fans about Princes playcalling is that he relies too heavily on the run. The numbers, however, dont show that.
Boise State has run the ball on 55 percent of its plays this year, up slightly from 51 percent last year as youd expect with a new quarterback, junior Joe Southwick. The Broncos ran on first down 61.7 percent of the time last year; that number is up to 63.5 percent this year.
The plays that are being called are great plays, Potter said. We fully trust in everything thats being called. We trust coach Prince and everyone on the offensive staff to call those plays. If we dont get it done, its on us, because we know hes done his job in studying and scheming. All of us will admit that thats not him. Thats us not doing what we need to do.
Petersen said the playbook hasnt changed much this year and he doesnt think it needs an overhaul now.
Boise State, the highest-scoring team in the country since 2000, ranks 107th in the nation with 19.7 points per game.
Do we have all the answers? No, Petersen said. Is it working the first couple games? No, not how we want it to be. So were analyzing and looking at everything maybe more diligently than we ever have. Weve just got to get better at what were doing.
This isnt the best week for Boise State to work through offensive issues. New Mexico utilizes a ball-control offense that limits possessions for the opponent.
Texas only got nine drives in its game against New Mexico. The Longhorns won 45-0, but at least 7 minutes of game clock elapsed between touchdowns except the TDs at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half.
Boise States offense only got the ball eight times last year against Air Force, which uses a similar offensive approach to New Mexicos.
Its frustrating, and its scary as well, because youve got to be efficient, Petersen said. Youve got to make your possessions count. Thats something we have to do a heck of a lot better. Now you get a team that thats part of their M.O., it puts a little more pressure on you.
Petersen in recent years has shielded some of his players from the media. This fall, senior kicker Michael Frisina has not been made available for interviews.
(His confidence) is great as long as you guys stay away from him, Petersen said at his weekly press conference. And I mean that sincerely. Hes fine. Part of the deal is blocking out the outside noise and managing expectations a little bit. Its tough to manage expectations, but we can block out the outside noise.
Boise State defensive backs have contributed to seven of the teams nine takeaways this season. The group has five interceptions, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and a touchdown.
First-year defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said earlier this year his group would be defined by its success creating turnovers. So far, the players have responded.
We just have to continue to do what we do thats hustle, hustle and hit, and great things will happen, Lake said. Theyre fun to watch. Its fun to stress turnovers, stress hustling to the football and playing physical, and then having good things like that happen. Its making these guys go, OK, this stuff works.
Coaches from both teams will wear Coach to Cure MD patches during the New Mexico game. The fifth annual event sponsored by the American Football Coaches Association has raised more than $1 million to fight Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Chadd Cripe is in his 11th season covering Boise State football for the Idaho Statesman. He also is a voter in The Associated Press Top 25. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 377-6398. His Twitter account is @IDS_BroncoBeat.