Brian Murphy: Injuries not helping the Boise State football team's cause

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comOctober 27, 2013 

— PROVO, Utah — Kirby Moore, dressed like a Boise State coach and not the wide receiver he is, stood on the Broncos’ sideline Friday night and spent his evening signaling in plays to new quarterback Grant Hedrick rather than catching passes from him.

Starting safety Jeremy Ioane was in uniform, but he never left the sideline — even when replacement Dillon Lukehart was ejected from the Broncos’ 37-20 loss for targeting.

Quarterback Joe Southwick, who underwent surgery to repair his broken ankle on Monday, didn’t even make the trip to Provo, leaving the Broncos with just two healthy quarterbacks for the game and necessitating Moore’s signaling.

Those veterans have played 109 games and started 52 for the Broncos. They combined for zero snaps against BYU.

And they are just part of the injury issues for Boise State, which played BYU without six starters and running back Aaron Baltazar, who had played his way into significant carries.

Turnovers (four of them), missed tackles (too many to count), fourth-down struggles (2-for-5) and the Cougars’ strong play from quarterback Taysom Hill, their wide receivers and their defense are the reasons Boise State lost Friday night. Many of those were factors in their blowout loss at Washington and the narrow defeat to conference rival Fresno State.

But injuries certainly have been a problem.

In addition to Moore, Ioane and Southwick, the Broncos were without middle linebacker Blake Renaud, right tackle Rees Odhiambo and linebacker Jonathan Brown, each of whom began the season as starters.

“I know how hard it is to win games. If you can stay relatively healthy, which we haven’t, you might have a chance to do some things that are on the special side,” said Chris Petersen, who coached his 100th game as the Broncos’ head coach against BYU.

“If you can’t, you know I’ve said it from the start, this is probably the toughest schedule we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

With the Broncos (5-3) enduring their worst start to a season since 2001, the search for answers — or clues — as to what is ailing the program is intense.

Some are obvious: personnel losses, a young team, a road-heavy schedule.

In addition to the six starters and Baltazar, the Broncos lost three defensive players who were listed as starters within the last 12 months. Safety Lee Hightower, defensive end Sam Ukwuachu and defensive tackle Tutulupeatau Mataele are no longer at Boise State. Add in other attrition, including quarterback Jimmy Laughrea, who transferred to UC Davis, and the Broncos have been left little depth or with young players in critical spots.

Boise State has 45 freshmen or redshirt freshmen on its roster. Sixteen appear on the Broncos’ depth chart. Some, like linebackers Ben Weaver and Tanner Vallejo, have impressed immediately.

“The guys are battling and we’ll battle hard throughout the rest of the season,” Petersen said.

Boise State’s three losses have all been on the road against teams that were either ranked at the time (Washington, Fresno State) or soon could be (BYU). Boise State’s toughest Mountain Division game was also on the road — at Utah State. And the Broncos must visit San Diego State, which defeated Boise State in Bronco Stadium in 2012.

“I’ve said it before, everybody wants to blow right by this, but this is the toughest schedule we’ve played since I’ve been here,” Petersen said after the Broncos’ loss at Fresno State.

The Broncos’ five victories (four at home) haven’t been against top competition, calling into question their solid efforts when the offense has been churning out yards and the defense has been stifling.

UT Martin, Air Force, Southern Miss and Nevada have two wins against FBS competition. Utah State, which Boise State defeated on the road without the Aggies’ starting quarterback Chuckie Keeton, has three FBS victories.

For a program used to incredible success — Petersen is 89-11 as head coach — the season already feels like a lost one. The angst over offensive coordinator Robert Prince’s play-calling and Petersen’s future grows with each defeat.

But Boise State’s No. 1 goal is to win the Mountain West, and that is still firmly within its sights.

And if the Broncos can make the Mountain West title game —four straight wins to close the regular season will do it — it might be one of the more satisfying accomplishments for the program.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444; Twitter: @MurphsTurph

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