When the topic of fourth downs was broached Monday, Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin was so confounded, he had no choice but to answer with a dry response.
“Unbelievably enough, we actually practice fourth downs,” he said.
The Broncos failed on both attempts in Saturday’s 28-17 loss at Fresno State, bringing their conversion percentage to 12.5 (2-of-16) on the season. That’s worst among the 129 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“Maybe we’re not doing it well enough, obviously,” Harsin said of that situational practice.
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As to why Boise State has been good on third down (47.1 percent, ninth-best in the FBS), but so bad on fourth down, it’s a bit of a mystery — though one major player has been oddly absent on those plays.
The only two conversions have come on scrambles by senior quarterback Montell Cozart. Sophomore running back Alexander Mattison has not had a carry on fourth down since Oct. 6 at BYU. The Broncos have faced the situation four times since. The 1,000-yard rusher was stopped at Fresno State on a third-and-1 for no gain that led to a fourth-down try, though he was not given a generous spot.
Junior quarterback Brett Rypien is 0-for-3 passing on fourth down, including an interception, and was sacked for a safety Saturday. He also attempted a sneak on the fourth-and-1 that followed Mattison’s run at the Fresno State 25-yard line, but was stopped. Offensive coordinator Zak Hill said Rypien tried to plunge through the wrong gap.
“Those are building up on us,” Hill said. “We took ourselves out of drives.”
Harsin lamented the failed sneak, with the game tied 7-7 in the first quarter, saying: “We can’t get a foot? That’s pretty bad.”
Like turnovers, sometimes there isn’t a magic answer. Harsin said he’s coached offenses that were good on fourth down and the approach isn’t any different this year.
But he knows there’s an even bigger push to convert third downs, so as not to get into that situation.
“When you’re that pathetic on fourth downs ... you manage the game differently,” he said.
“We haven’t given up on it, we’re going to keep doing it, we’re going to find a way to coach it better and help our players execute those situations 1,000 times better than what we’ve done.”
INJURY ENDS BSU CAREER FOR PEREZ
Gabe Perez, a redshirt senior linebacker, broke a wrist Saturday at Fresno State, ending his playing career, Harsin said.
Shoulder injuries restricted Perez to just five games in 2015 and 2016. This season, he played in 10 games, making five starts. He had 14 tackles (two for loss), a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
“You all know with Gabe, what he’s been through. ... He’ll be OK but will not be able to play moving forward,” Harsin said.
The Broncos’ linebacker corps has seen plenty of injuries lately, namely sophomore Tyson Maeva missing the Nov. 18 Air Force game and freshman Riley Whimpey missing the last two. Sophomore Will Heffner, who started twice in September, has missed four in a row. Senior Blake Whitlock is redshirting with a shoulder injury.
“Gabe’s been awesome this year, what he’s been able to do on the field, but really as a leader, too, helping out with some of the young guys,” defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said. “... Guys will step up.”
NO FURTHER CLARITY ON ROH STATUS
Senior tight end Jake Roh, who leads the team with nine touchdown catches, did not play Saturday with a lower leg injury. He was on the sideline with a boot on his left foot, moving with the help of a scooter.
Harsin said he didn’t know if Roh would play this Saturday.
Senior Alec Dhaenens and redshirt freshman John Bates had two receptions each Saturday.
Mountain West Football Championship
When: 5:45 p.m. Saturday
Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf)
TV: ESPN (Adam Amin, Dusty Dvoracek, Molly McGrath)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: BSU 9-3, 7-1; Fresno State 9-3, 7-1 (Fresno State beat Boise State 28-17 last Saturday in Fresno)
Series: Boise State leads 13-6
Vegas line: Boise State by 9
Kickoff weather: Low 40s, rain
Boise State men’s hoops hosts 7-0 team
Mountain West Preseason Player of the Year Chandler Hutchison was set to practice Monday and there’s a chance he could play Tuesday night, Boise State men’s basketball coach Leon Rice said Monday.
Hutchison missed a game Saturday while in concussion protocol. He hit his head hard on the floor early in the previous game against Iowa State.
“Things are looking good,” Rice said.
Loyola (Chicago) brings a 7-0 record to Taco Bell Arena for the 7 p.m. game. Loyola is one of the top teams in the Missouri Valley Conference. Boise State is 5-1.
“They’re just a really well-schooled team that knows how to play together, and they’re fun to watch,” Rice said.