Of the ugly losses the Boise State football team has taken in recent years, Friday’s was likely the most hideous.
The Broncos didn’t turn the ball over gratuitously, unlike some of the brutal setbacks under coach Bryan Harsin. But make no mistake, they were completely overmatched by a team that won two games last season and had lost 20 of its previous 21 road games.
Boise State’s offense looked pedestrian at best. The defense, so good the first three weeks, was beaten 42-23 by a Virginia team that resembled the Broncos of yore with a solid rushing attack and a varied array of passing options.
“Demoralizing,” junior defensive end Durrant Miles called it.
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It was the first loss at Albertsons Stadium by double digits since 2001, and would have been even worse if not for nine points in the last 127 seconds with only a small percentage of the crowd of 33,947 still on hand.
Virginia (3-1) threw for 273 yards and ran for 167, with four players scoring touchdowns. Boise State (2-2) had 383 total yards, just 30 on the ground.
“They were clicking. You have to give them credit. To be completely honest, they were really good,” junior linebacker Leighton Vander Esch said.
Beyond simply being beaten on both sides of the ball, a litany of head-scratching decisions added a propellant to an already-simmering dumpster fire.
Down 35-14 late in the third quarter, the Broncos had a second-and-1 at their own 33-yard line. The play was a rush by sophomore running back Alexander Mattison, who has looked hesitant most of this young season. No gain.
On third down, junior quarterback Brett Rypien threw to senior wide receiver Cedrick Wilson — who had not even turned around. The Broncos called timeout on fourth down and tried to get the Cavaliers to jump offside. They didn’t. Boise State got a delay-of-game penalty and punted.
“Bottom line, that was a poor performance overall ... and that starts with me,” Harsin said. “Playing at home and playing that poorly, that’s tough.”
Boise State’s anemic rushing attack was at its worst Friday, averaging 1.3 yards per carry, with no run going more than 8 yards. Wilson was the lone weapon, with 13 catches for 209 yards and a late touchdown.
Harsin said Monday he planned to give redshirt freshman Robert Mahone more carries. Mahone had three consecutive carries for 21 yards on a second-quarter drive.
The only time he touched the ball again is when he blocked a punt in the fourth quarter.
“It wasn’t Rob’s fault, I can tell you that,” Harsin said, noting that the team trailed and had to throw, even though the game was tied when Mahone got his carries.
Outside of an excellent seven-play, 80-yard drive to start the game with Rypien leading the charge capped by a 5-yard Ryan Wolpin touchdown, the offense sputtered, going 4-of-16 on third downs and 1-of-4 on fourth down. Senior Montell Cozart, the mobile backup to Rypien, saw just a handful of snaps until the fourth quarter, when the Broncos trailed 42-14.
“We’ve got to go back and look at why,” Harsin said. “That’s part of coaching. You’re going to make decisions out there and when they work, everyone says, ‘What a great decision.’ And if it doesn’t work, it’s, ‘What a dumb decision.’ ”
Even when the Broncos tried to make something happen, pull out some of that old-fashioned trickery, it ended in a fashion that was fitting for the evening.
The stagnant offense was facing fourth-and-3 at its own 40, trailing 14-7 with less than 2 minutes until halftime. Senior tight end Alec Dhaenens took the direct snap on a fake punt, but fumbled. Two plays later, Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert hit Doni Dowling for a 27-yard touchdown.
Benkert completed 19 of 29 passes and had three touchdowns. His 64-yard scoring strike to Andre Levrone on the third play of the third quarter was a gorgeous deep pass that proved to be a dagger after Boise State had scored on a 2-yard Jake Roh run with 21 seconds left in the second quarter. Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall dropped a few choice words at halftime.
“We had heard stories of him using the F-word one time ... it was awesome,” linebacker Micah Kiser said, adding it was “a program-defining win.”
On the other hand, it could be the same for Boise State.
Is this a sign of the decline of the program? Or is it the kick in the pants the team needs?
Harsin said “there’s going to be changes” in the coming weeks, but did not know what those would be immediately after the game.
“We have a long way to go and a lot to learn,” he said.
Players said next week’s bye comes at a great time, but if there’s something ailing the program, there’s a danger it could get worse. Especially considering the next two games come on the road at places that have never been easy — Oct. 6 at BYU and Oct. 14 at San Diego State.
“We’ll find out what we’re made of when we go out and play again,” Harsin said. “... We’ve got to go prove it and we certainly didn’t do that tonight.”