Boise State quarterback's mojo rises in victory over Air Force

Southwick’s record night fuels Bronco offense in Mountain West opening victory.

ccripe@idahostatesman.comSeptember 14, 2013 

— The students wore blue mustaches in his honor.

The crowd cheered as he left the field at Bronco Stadium late in the fourth quarter — even if the bow was accidental.

And he found a spot in the school record book with a number not even the most-loved Boise State quarterbacks can match.

Maybe senior Joe Southwick — often criticized during his 16-game run as the starter — is starting to carve out a niche.

Southwick, sporting his good-luck mustache for the fifth time in the past six games, completed 93.1 percent of his passes Friday night as the Broncos opened Mountain West play with a 42-20 defeat of Air Force.

“He was in a great groove,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. “… He put the ball where it needed to be.”

Southwick was 27-of-29 for 287 yards and one touchdown with one interception on a jump ball that deflected off his receiver to a defender. He also rushed for a career-high 53 yards and his first touchdown.

He broke the school completion percentage record set by Jared Zabransky in 2006 against Utah State (21-of-23, 91.3 percent). He also broke the Mountain West record held by former TCU star Andy Dalton.

“That’s pretty cool,” Southwick said. “I’m proud of it. I’m proud of the guys, though. Everyone did a great job tonight. The O-line — I didn’t get touched all night. We ran the ball for a lot of yards. And the receivers got open.”

The Broncos (2-1, 1-0 MW) also set the NCAA FBS record for team completion percentage with a minimum of 25 completions (93.5 percent).

That efficiency was critical against the Falcons (1-2, 0-2), who held the ball so long that the Broncos only got three possessions in the first half. All resulted in touchdowns. In fact, the Broncos scored six touchdowns on eight full possessions in the game. The only failures were on a fumble inside the Air Force 10-yard line and an interception in the end zone.

“In the second half, we go down there and fumble and throw an interception — you’re panicked,” Petersen said. “The players weren’t, but I was, just because I know how they can hold the ball. Three possessions in the first half — that might be a record.”

The Broncos led 21-17 at halftime because they capitalized on those possessions. That took some stress off a defense that, for the second time in three years, couldn’t find an answer for the Falcons’ option rushing attack in the first half.

The Falcons scored two TDs and a field goal on their three drives.

“It was very, very nice,” said linebacker Ben Weaver, who tied for the team high with nine tackles and now is the leading tackler on the season. “That was kind of a big thing when we went into halftime — we can’t rely on our offense as much.”

The offense slipped twice in the second half. Sophomore tailback Jay Ajayi, who rushed for a career-high 125 yards and matched last year’s season total with four touchdowns, lost a fumble on the opening drive of the second half.

And Southwick, trying to build on a 28-17 lead, took a deep shot on third down. He threw a go route to wide receiver Geraldo Boldewijn, who was unable to come up with the jump ball. The pass deflected to safety Christian Spears for an interception.

After the first miscue, the defense forced the Falcons’ first punt of the game. And after the second, they stopped consecutive plays from the Broncos’ 3 to force a field goal.

“Those guys did a heck of a job in the second half,” Southwick said.

The Broncos delivered the knockout blow shortly after the field goal. Southwick led an 80-yard touchdown drive, capped by Ajayi’s 9-yard run. Safety Darian Thompson intercepted Jaleel Awini on Air Force’s next play. And Southwick led a 47-yard TD drive, capped by Ajayi’s 2-yard run.

The first-team offense now has scored touchdowns on 13 of its past 16 drives after going touchdown-less in the opener at Washington.

“The good thing about our group tonight,” Southwick said, “was it was, ‘Hey, let’s stick to our game plan. Let’s stick to our process. And eventually we’ll get a swing, some momentum, something that will happen that we can kind of separate.’

“That’s what you want to do against these guys is get a little cushion. That takes them out of their comfort zone.”

Southwick completed his first eight passes. The ninth, an incompletion, probably should have been a pass-interference penalty. He completed 14 in a row after that.

Many of Southwick’s throws were quick hitches to the sideline. Those are run-pass option plays where he throws the ball if he decides the run play isn’t going to work based on the defense’s alignment. Sometimes, he makes that decision while the snap is en route from the center.

“Joe’s an excellent player,” Petersen said. “He’s as smart as any quarterback we’ve had since I’ve been here. The thing I thought he took the next step with is he didn’t hesitate to run and he got some really big yards.”

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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