ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. The conclusion is apparent, and after Boise State had to sweat out the final minutes of a 32-29 victory at New Mexico it is even clearer: This season just wont be like previous ones.
It wont be 40-point blowouts and backups playing the entire second half. It likely wont be BCS busting and scoreboard watching. It wont be that Boise State is playing on another level from the majority of its conference foes.
No, this year is going to be harder. Much harder. Hard on fans fingernails and coaches stomachs.
The mistakes are going to be magnified. The coaching decisions scrutinized. All the things that got swept away when the Broncos were manhandling foes and lighting up scoreboards are suddenly cause for concern.
Coming in this season we knew it was going to be a dogfight. Every game we were expecting a dogfight, and thats what weve had, said senior linebacker Tommy Smith, who stuffed New Mexicos final two plays, including a fourth-down pass attempt.
A dogfight at New Mexico?
The Land of Enchantment has been the Land of Excellence for Boise State. The Broncos were 14-0 against New Mexico teams entering Saturday night. Few had been competitive.
But that was the old Boise State and, perhaps, the future Boise State. The current Broncos dont have that in them. At least, not right now.
You let a team off the hook, Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. This is what Ive been saying all along, it can change that fast. I hope this team learns that. It doesnt matter how much youre up or how much youre behind. Youve got to finish. Youve got to play.
The current Broncos have many lessons to learn. They didnt handle success well, letting a 25-0 halftime edge slip away. They coughed up the opening kick of the second half. They couldnt finish off another drive inside the 5, failing to covert on fourth-and-1. They fumbled on offense and floundered on defense.
They turned a yawner into a screamer.
It was fumbles by sophomore Dallas Burroughs and freshman Shane Williams-Rhodes that turned the game young playmakers who earlier in the game had made two of the Broncos biggest plays. A 50-yard catch by Burroughs, an 8-yard touchdown catch and run by Williams-Rhodes.
The Broncos need them, but have trouble trusting them. Boise State has six turnovers on the season: two fumbles by Williams-Rhodes (a true freshman), one fumble by Jack Fields (a true freshman), one fumble by Burroughs (an inexperienced sophomore) and two end-zone interceptions by quarterback Joe Southwick (a first-year starter).
Theyre all great players by the fact that were putting them out there and trusting them to get stuff done, Southwick said. Thats just fundamentals. Our coaches will get on them and get that straightened out. Its not going to change us putting them out there. Those dudes can play.
Said Petersen: Weve got some guys with experience, but we are young in some critical situations. Maybe theyll hear us a little more in practice.
The Broncos have played three one-possession games in their four contests. They havent played more than that in an entire season since 2006. In the past two years combined, they had three total one-possession games.
Every missed field goal matters more. Every failed third-down conversion or fourth-down try. Every personnel choice which defensive line to put on the field, which running back to use, which receiver to throw to looms larger.
Theres a good reason that Petersens hair is turning gray. And fast.
The reality, now four games into the 2012 season, is that things probably wont change much. The Broncos are going to have to stay true to the slogan that was repeated often Saturday evening: Keep swinging.
It wont be easy. It will be much harder. It might, however, be more rewarding.
Brian Murphy: 377-6444