Still unbeaten, far from flawless.
The first 30 minutes of Saturday’s football game at Reser Stadium had the makings of a classic Boise State rout: trickery, a laughable difference in yardage, and visiting Bronco fans louder than the home faithful.
But nothing comes easy for Boise State these days, despite a still perfect record.
The Broncos beat Oregon State 38-24, though a scoreless second half for the offense provided a few uneasy moments along the way.
“The first half to the second half, two different things. You want to be consistent with it, and it certainly wasn’t,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “That starts with me, starts with the offensive staff, making sure we can do those things.”
The Broncos (3-0) improved to 10-3 against Pac-12 teams since 2006 — including the victory over Washington State in the home opener — and won for the first time in five games against Oregon State (1-2) outside of Boise. Boise State has beaten two Pac-12 teams in the same season for the first time in school history.
Boise State’s offense has mustered 24 second-half points, but 76 in the first two quarters of the Broncos’ trio of games.
The Broncos had four three-and-outs and 8 total yards after a fantastic first half in which the Broncos held a 435-67 yardage advantage and a 31-7 halftime lead. Junior running back Jeremy McNichols’ 70-yard scoring run with 2:37 left in the second quarter outgained the Beavers on its own.
“We’re definitely struggling in the second half right now,” senior receiver Thomas Sperbeck said. “I think the defenses are doing a good job mixing up their coverages, we’re not getting the same looks we are in the first half. We still have plays we can check to and run in those situations.”
As the offense had difficulty putting together drives in the second half, the Broncos’ defense did what it has done well all season, stepping up when things got toughest.
Oregon State, which replaced junior Darell Garretson in favor of freshman Conor Blount at quarterback in the second half, marched 82 yards on 13 plays its second drive of the third quarter, capping it off with a 1-yard Ryan Nall touchdown run, then sprung a surprise onside kick on the Broncos. The Beavers turned it into a 41-yard Garrett Owens field goal to cut the lead to 31-17. After another punt, the defense stuffed Nall on a fourth-and-1 at the Broncos’ 46. Opponents are 2-of-8 on fourth downs this season against Boise State.
The Beavers managed 27 yards on each of their next two drives, but the Broncos forced punts both times. Needing to make a play, the Broncos got it in senior middle linebacker Darren Lee, who stripped receiver Seth Collins at the Broncos’ 19-yard line, turned upfield and went unabated for the touchdown with 3:33 to play.
“It gives confidence. ... It was a great battle, we just had to keep that mentality and bow up, and we did really well,” Lee said. “There’s times we’ve put them in tough spots, that’s how the game goes.”
Naturally, the 21-point lead wasn’t safe, as the Beavers’ Victor Bolden took the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown.
But behind McNichols, the Broncos salted it away after recovering the onside kick, carrying four straight times for 26 yards to get the clock under a minute, keeping Oregon State away for good. Coming off the bye week, McNichols rushed for career-highs of 208 yards and four touchdowns.
“It felt good. ... I had a long time to really study them, so when I came into this game I felt really confident,” McNichols said.
Simply taking Boise State’s first half, and it would have been a fine game in itself. Sperbeck had 104 yards receiving at the half, the same amount he finished with, giving him 11 career 100-yard games, second-most in Boise State history.
In the first 9 minutes alone, the Broncos ran the famed Statue of Liberty play with McNichols (gaining 16 yards), ran Sperbeck and McNichols out of the Wildcat, had a 28-yard run by sophomore receiver Akilian Butler on a reverse, and junior receiver Cedrick Wilson threw an absolute dart to junior tight end Alec Dhaenens for 23 yards on a trick play.
“It was an absolute beatdown in the first half, but the kids fought and battled back and did some good things,” Oregon State coach Gary Andersen said.
Taking an imperfect team with a perfect record back home, the Broncos begin Mountain West play Saturday at Albertsons Stadium against Utah State (8:15 p.m., ESPN2), the first of four teams remaining on the schedule that beat them last year.
“There’s stuff out there that you can go ‘that’s not the standard.’ I’m happy that we’re undefeated, but I also know that we have a lot of work to do,” Harsin said.