Brian Murphy: Boise State takes a few steps forward, but still has lessons to learn

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comOctober 13, 2013 

LOGAN, Utah — Late in the fourth quarter Saturday night, with Boise State’s victory assured and much of the crowd filing for the Romney Stadium exits, a Utah State male cheerleader did a series of backflips starting from the end zone.

What was left of the crowd cheered him on. His effort was there, but he stopped his impressive run after about 80 yards.

A solid performance, yes.

Completely satisfying, no.

Much like Boise State’s 34-23 victory against the Chuckie Keeton-less Aggies.

“We showed we’re getting better,” quarterback Joe Southwick said. “Was not nearly good enough. It was good enough to win the game.”

It’s been a two steps forward, one step back kind of season for the Broncos, each success tempered by another concern.

Southwick threw for a career-high 335 yards. He also had the first multi-interception game of his career, including one that was returned for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. The intended receiver fell down on the play.

The Broncos scored 34 points against a stout Aggies’ defense, the most points Utah State has allowed all season. And Shane Williams-Rhodes was electrifying. But three interceptions and a host of negative rushing plays — “there’s too many of them,” coach Chris Petersen said — left a sour taste.

“There’s going to be a lot to learn from this game,” Petersen said.

Petersen showed a lack of aggression at the end of the first half, choosing to kneel on the ball rather than play offense with three timeouts and almost one minute remaining. The move nearly backfired as Utah State used its timeouts to stall the clock and then blocked a punt. The Broncos responded with a blocked field goal of their own to steal the momentum.

Two steps forward, one step back.

“A lot of little things from a lot of people. We’ll be fine. We still won,” Southwick said. “A little bitter taste. We could have scored 50 points. But we’ll fix it.”

There is still more potential in there with these Broncos. At least that’s the way it feels.

Potential to cut down on mistakes. Potential for some younger players to improve. Potential for injured players to return to the lineup and add more firepower.

The defense was better against the Aggies, allowing just one of the wide-open passes that bedeviled the secondary earlier in the year against Washington and Fresno State. Utah State clearly missed Keeton, the Aggies’ standout quarterback, as the Broncos held his replacements to less than a 50 percent completion percentage.

The defense is gaining confidence, cornerback Bryan Douglas said. Perhaps it can raise its performance another notch or two with younger players gaining experience and confidence.

And yet, six games into the season, you also wonder if that’s all there is. If this is a good, but flawed, team that is going to have to fight each week through lulls — some self-inflicted — to earn wins. If the ultimate ceiling for this team is lower than for previous Bronco teams.

“The kids have done a good job of really studying. They’ve done a good job of practicing hard and making progress,” Petersen said. “There’s always something new each game.”

With six regular-season games remaining and the victory in Logan, the Broncos are well positioned to be precisely where nearly everyone expected them to be on Dec. 7 — playing for the Mountain West championship.

The path there hasn’t been the straightest. And it likely contains twists and turns no one can predict from this vantage point, but there is no reason the Broncos can’t finish it out.

The cheerleader, after composing himself, finished his flipping in the fourth quarter, finally reaching the end zone to great applause and some dizziness.

Good enough to win the game as Southwick said.

It’s really the only standard the Broncos have to measure themselves against right now.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444, Twitter: @MurphsTurph

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