LOGAN, Utah — The Boise State football team came out of a bye week, rolled into a sold-out, hostile stadium Saturday night and played perhaps its best first half of the season.
The offense marched 91 and 89 yards for touchdowns on back-to-back drives.
The defense set a physical tone.
And the Broncos, who once seemed vulnerable in the Mountain Wests Mountain Division, reaffirmed their status as favorites.
Boise State beat Utah State 34-23 improving to 2-1 in the Mountain West and leaving just one unbeaten in the Mountain Division. Thats 2-0 Wyoming, which visits Bronco Stadium on Nov. 16.
I think theres a lot to learn from, coach Chris Petersen said, but I think theres going to be some confidence thats going to be gained, as well.
Utah State (3-4 overall, 2-1 MW) entered the game with the Mountain Wests best defense by far, but it was Boise States defense that controlled the game.
The Broncos (4-2) gained 447 yards, including a career-high 335 passing yards for senior quarterback Joe Southwick and career highs of 13 catches and 150 yards for sophomore wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes. Sophomore tailback Jay Ajayi added 109 hard rushing yards.
The Aggies gained 348, a number padded by a 91-yard touchdown drive in the closing minutes. The Broncos held them to 3.3 yards per rush, collected four sacks and grabbed two interceptions.
The Aggies, playing their first full game without injured quarterback Chuckie Keeton, punted on their first four possessions including three three-and-outs as the Broncos front seven began to exert itself.
Thats exactly what we talked about all week, we knew they were going to run the ball, we knew they were going to be very physical, and we knew it was up to us, said junior defensive end Beau Martin, who contributed 1.5 sacks. We want to try to get out there and get that respect. We work hard in practice and we feel like we can get it done. Its been a process. It was good to be able to go out and execute.
The Broncos took the lead for good on their second drive of the game. Williams-Rhodes made a 21-yard catch and Ajayi bulled his way into the end zone from 2 yards out for the touchdown.
They made it 10-0 on their next possession, which included a 39-yard catch by Williams-Rhodes, and answered Utah States first touchdown with a long march that left little doubt about the games outcome.
Southwick scored on a 7-yard scramble on third-and-5 that capped a 13-play, 91-yard drive. Williams-Rhodes was instrumental again with a 25-yard catch off a Southwick scramble.
Williams-Rhodes has 22 catches in the past two games but he got the ball on pass patterns more Saturday, instead of just on short throws designed to use his quickness in the open field.
Its nice to get him the ball downfield, Petersen said.
The Broncos went 89 yards for another touchdown on the next possession for a 24-7 lead. Senior wide receiver Geraldo Boldewijn made 22- and 18-yard catches, and Ajayi did a full-circle spin with his hand on the ground to escape a group of defenders on a 19-yard run.
On third-and-18 at the Utah State 24, Southwick threw one of the best passes of his career a dart to senior wide receiver Aaron Burks, who ran a skinny post and secured the catch between two defenders.
That was good football just really good execution, Petersen said.
The Aggies pulled within 24-10 at the half. It could have been worse after Petersen mismanaged the clock. He ordered the Broncos to take a knee and go to the locker room, but Utah State coach Matt Wells used his timeouts to force a punt.
The Aggies blocked the kick. Junior cornerback Bryan Douglas, who made his fourth interception of the season in the game, broke up two throws into the end zone and senior left tackle Charles Leno Jr. blocked the field-goal attempt to prevent the Aggies from scoring again.
Our guys took (the momentum) right back, Petersen said. They did a great job covering up for me not being aggressive enough.
The momentum swing showed in the opening minutes of the third quarter.
Utah State went three and out.
Boise State drove 69 yards for a touchdown, a 2-yard reception by Williams-Rhodes.
That made it 31-10.
That defense is legit, theres no doubt about it, Southwick said. Im proud that we got it done today.
The offense sputtered the rest of the night Southwick threw a pick six when Boldewijn slipped and true freshman wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck tossed an interception on a trick play but the defense never budged until the final drive.
Our confidence is up and everything we emphasize in practice, we executed on the field, Douglas said.
It was a must-win game for the Broncos, who would have fallen two games behind the Aggies with a loss. Now the Broncos can win the Mountain Division and reach the conference championship game by winning their final five conference games.
This win was big, Douglas said. It was a big game for us in the Mountain West, and our team came through.
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat