No concrete answers came out of Saturday’s Spring Game at Boise State football’s most notable vacancies, but there were enough moments to leave most content with what the Broncos have at quarterback and running back.
The quartet of quarterbacks vying to replace Grant Hedrick were the focus of the 10,072 fans who braved the persistent rain, and all four did enough to keep the competition interesting heading into the summer.
“I fully expect those guys to show up to compete — we’ll be a lot better at that position than we are now, I like what they’ve done to this point,” coach Bryan Harsin said.
Sophomores Ryan Finley and Tommy Stuart, redshirt freshman Alex Ogle and true freshman Brett Rypien combined to complete 36-of-62 passes (58.1 percent) without an interception. Finley, Stuart and Ogle each led a touchdown drive, while Rypien completed seven of his first eight passes.
Finley started with the first-team offense and completed 13-of-25 passes for 196 yards, all in the first half. Ogle had the lone touchdown pass in the group, a 43-yard strike to junior Taylor Pope in the fourth quarter. Stuart led a touchdown drive in his first action, completing a team-best 66.7 percent of his passes (8-of-12), while Rypien finished 9-of-14 for 48 yards.
“We were able to move the ball. We had three touchdown drives with three different quarterbacks, which is always a good measuring stick of where you’re going,” offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz said.
Only Finley has appeared in a game for the Broncos, playing five times last season. Despite non-ideal conditions, Finley showed some zip on his intermediate and deep passes. He hit sophomore tight end Jake Roh for 39 yards on third-and-14 on the opening drive and set up a 17-yard touchdown run by redshirt freshman Cory Young in the second quarter with a 46-yard shot to junior Chaz Anderson along the sideline.
Of Finley’s six drives, two ended with scores, one a touchdown and one a field goal. Two more got inside the red zone, but ended with running backs fumbling.
“He has improved, and he’s taken advantage of that,” Harsin said. “... I like where Ryan’s at. I think he understands what we’re trying to accomplish. He’s been in the fire, so to speak. Now, what does he do this summer? How does he take advantage of that? Then come fall, in those first few practices, how does he take advantage of that?”
Drinkwitz reiterated the “competition is open, and it’s going to stay open.” He noted each of the quarterbacks showed ability in four key areas — toughness, preparation, decision-making and accuracy. The fifth, leadership, will show this summer, he hopes. Former Bronco great Kellen Moore, involved in quarterback battles early in his career, said “it’s what you do the next few months that probably has a bigger indication than just this spring ball.”
“The guys we have now, I feel they’re doing a magnificent job. ... Going against a defense like ours isn’t easy,” senior safety Darian Thompson said. “... They’ve been doing a really good job taking control of the team and making sure we’re headed in the right direction.”
With only three running backs — junior Devan Demas, sophomore Ryan Wolpin and Young — at their disposal, the Broncos didn’t have many options, but Young stood out. He rushed 11 times for 68 yards, scoring a touchdown with a long gain of 25 yards. Sophomore Jeremy McNichols will likely be the feature back after missing spring with an injury, but Young showed he could help at a thin spot.
“I thought today was one of his better performances,” Harsin said of Young. “Cory’s a guy that runs extremely hard, and I think you (saw) that.”
The offense struggled at times with the rain, fumbling a few too many times to coaches’ likings, while the defense felt it should have had a few interceptions. However, it stepped up nicely when the offense began an early drive at the 32-yard line after yielding some yardage on the previous drive. The defense forced a three-and-out and blocked junior Tyler Rausa’s field goal attempt.
“It’s about making them drive the football and don’t give up the big play. ... Even if they get some yards, you want to make them earn every yard. That’s what we want to harp on, to limit explosive plays,” defensive coordinator Marcel Yates said.
Certainly the next few months are of utmost importance, but the spring yielded some progress on both sides. Harsin said “this spring has been very good.”
“I think we got exactly what we needed out of the spring,” Drinkwitz said.