ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. Boise State football coach Chris Petersen walked out of the locker room to meet the media after another closer-than-it-should-have-been victory Saturday at University Stadium.
How are you? somebody asked.
Three and one, Petersen replied, citing the teams record knowing that hed face another set of questions about the Broncos inability to finish.
The Broncos squandered nearly all of a 25-point halftime lead on their way to a 32-29 defeat of New Mexico, a rebuilding program that appears on its way out of the Mountain West cellar.
Boise State built its 25-0 lead with help from three New Mexico fumbles.
The Lobos (2-3) fought back in the conference opener thanks to two Broncos fumbles, including one on the opening kickoff of the second half.
Well never question their heart, Petersen said of his players. We told them that in the locker room. I think those guys compete and go hard, but weve got to play better.
On a day when the offense showed significant improvement in the red zone (four TDs in six drives) junior quarterback Joe Southwick played his best game (career highs of 311 yards and three TDs) and senior D.J. Harper and redshirt freshman Jay Ajayi combined for 216 rushing yards it was the previously reliable defense that blinked.
New Mexico scored touchdowns on its first four second-half drives without throwing a pass, including 96- and 75-yard marches. The Lobos used their triple-option attack to rush for 330 yards overall.
Their coach did a great job working off us, said senior defensive tackle Mike Atkinson, who forced two fumbles during the first half. They came out and played completely different football. We didnt do our job as well as we should have. Give respect to their coach and their players.
Petersen predicted this might happen at his Monday press conference, when he was grilled about the underperforming offense.
We could be having this same conversation about our defense next week, he said then.
New Mexico gashed Boise State on an outside option play in the second half where the Lobos always seemed to have the quarterback and a pitch man against one defender an impossible situation for the defense. They hit plays of 27, 29 and 40 yards to key the two long touchdown drives.
Were trying to mix up some calls, mix up some blitzes, to take some chances, Petersen said. It can turn into a guessing game out there and thats a scary situation.
Boise States offense was nearly unstoppable in the first half with three touchdowns, a field goal and a punt before choosing to run out the clock in the final minute (Petersen didnt want to risk a turnover, he said). New Mexico crossed the Boise State 40 twice but fumbled both times.
The first half was awesome, we did a great job, Southwick said.
The second half was another story almost another game.
And it started with the first play. Sophomore Dallas Burroughs fumbled on the kickoff return, handing the ball to the Lobos on the Boise State 26-yard line.
In the second half, we came out fighting and showed them we were not giving up, said linebacker Joe Stoner, whose team won one game each of the past three seasons. This is a whole different era. We just want them to know that if you are going to come into our home turf, you are going to have to play us for the whole four quarters.
The Broncos seemed to regain control early in the fourth quarter with an 8-yard TD catch by Shane Williams-Rhodes for a 32-14 lead.
Williams-Rhodes, the true freshman with electrifying quickness, caught a quick hitch at the line of scrimmage, faked inside and cut outside leaving the defensive back spinning in place.
That was a dynamic play, said sophomore receiver Matt Miller, who led the team with nine catches for 68 yards. I wish I could do that. That just shows how explosive he is and what he can do in this offense.
New Mexico came back with its own TD and Williams-Rhodes, who had a key fumble at Michigan State, lost the football again on the ensuing drive. Stoner scooped the ball and ran to the Boise State 1, where freshman running quarterback Cole Gautsche scored a touchdown and two-point conversion to pull within 32-29 with 7:42 left.
Thats a back-breaker, Petersen said.
After a missed field goal, New Mexico took over at its own 27 with 3:24 to tie or win the game. The Lobos didnt even get a first down.
On third-and-3, senior linebacker Tommy Smith read the play perfectly and tackled Gautsche for a 1-yard loss. On fourth-and-4, starting quarterback B.R. Holbrook the passer who barely played in the second half entered and dropped back to throw.
Smith was responsible for the back, who stayed in to block. Free to roam, Smith anticipated a throw to the wide side of the field and slipped into the passing lane. He dropped the interception but a breakup was good enough.
Im proud of our guys, how hard they fight, and they make plays when they need to, Petersen said. On both sides, they really did that. It wasnt pretty.
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat