The turning point for the 2014 Boise State football team was a hard-fought victory in early October in Reno.
If the Broncos are going to have another special season in 2015, they need that same type of moment Friday at Virginia (6 p.m., ESPN).
Teams are made on the road — and with the Mountain West in an incomprehensible nosedive, a two-loss Boise State has little chance of reaching another New Year’s Six bowl this year.
“To me, we can’t say we’ve arrived because we still haven’t won on the road,” defensive coordinator Marcel Yates said. “So to me, this is a big game for us.”
Never miss a local story.
The Broncos (2-1) haven’t won a road game in an opponent’s stadium with more than 45,000 fans in attendance since 2008 against Oregon. Since then, all of their marquee wins away from home have come at neutral sites (including Georgia in Atlanta and Virginia Tech in Landover, Md., which were large, hostile crowds).
In the only road game so far this season, the offensive line got the jitters, the defense lost its discipline in scramble situations, the quarterback threw three interceptions and the Broncos squandered a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead in a loss two weeks ago at BYU.
“This is going to be a good test for us, a really good test,” senior cornerback Donte Deayon said, “because the last time we were on the road we had miscues. Things we didn’t have in the first game or the last game, really.”
In fact, for all their success, the Broncos have an ugly track record in situations like they faced at BYU and could face at Virginia.
While playing in opponent stadiums with at least 45,000 fans in attendance, the Broncos are 3-13. The only wins were that 2008 Oregon game, the 2006 Utah game and the 2003 BYU game.
“This is everything,” junior defensive end Sam McCaskill said. “This is where we see how mature a team we are, how we can produce on the road. We didn’t finish at BYU. It left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth. Winning on the road is a hard thing, especially when you’re playing in a hostile environment. This game is a big one to see where we’re headed this season.”
ELSEWHERE IN THE MW ...
The Mountain West is on an incredible losing streak — 21 straight non-conference losses against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. The last win was Boise State’s defeat of Washington on Sept. 4.
The losses are important for Boise State because the Broncos earned the Group of Five bid to a New Year’s Six bowl last year in part thanks to the conference’s strength — four teams in the Mountain Division finished the regular season with at least nine wins.
Boise State’s Mountain West schedule includes just two teams who currently have winning records: Hawaii (2-1) next week and Air Force (2-1) in November, both at home. The other six conference opponents have started 4-14 overall and 0-13 vs. FBS opponents.
A NEED FOR RAC
Boise State’s wide receivers haven’t reached the end zone yet this season. One way they can get there: more run after catch (RAC).
“That’s one area we have to get better at now ... create explosives with the ball in our hands,” wide receivers coach Junior Adams said.
There could be more opportunities this week because Virginia plays a lot of man coverage. If the receivers win their 1-on-1 battles, they’ll have a chance to break away.
“We’ve just got to start creating some more separation on our routes,” senior wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes said. “... And then if we have more separation, when we catch it, we can get away.”
UNIQUE TV PERSPECTIVE
Former Texas coach Mack Brown will be the game analyst for ESPN on Friday night — the first time he’ll call a game involving his former Longhorns offensive coordinator.
Brown hired Boise State coach Bryan Harsin after the 2010 season. Harsin coached there for two years before becoming the Arkansas State head coach in 2013.
“I still work at Texas but I take my Texas hat off when I’m on TV,” Brown said. “I do the same when I’ve got friends coaching. It will be fun because I know Bryan’s offense. My preparation will be a little different this week.”
Brown is curious to see how Harsin handles his quarterback situation with starter Ryan Finley out with a broken bone in his right ankle.
“You can always have a new star pop up, but when the guy you’ve been working with and tried to teach so long is out and you’re playing against a good Virginia defense that lines up and pressures from everywhere with a lot of zone blitz, it can be problematic to a new quarterback,” Brown said. “But Bryan is such a great teacher. That’s why it will be so much fun for me to watch.”
Brown is scheduled to make his first visit to Boise for the Air Force game (Nov. 20), a Friday night game on ESPN2.
ANOTHER STADIUM IN THE BOOK
Boise State defensive line coach Steve Caldwell’s children gave him a map showing all of the stadiums in which he has coached and a book detailing each of those trips as a Christmas present a couple years ago.
Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va., will be a new one for the list. He’s been a college football coach since 1978.
FRESH FACES ON D-LINE
Boise State’s depth on the defensive line has taken hits from the injuries to end Gabe Perez (redshirting with a shoulder injury) and Rondell McNair (out four weeks with a knee injury) and the academic-eligibility issue surrounding tackle Antoine Turner.
That has opened the door for three freshmen: stud ends Jabril Frazier and Durrant Miles and nose tackle Dereck Boles.
Frazier joined the team in January after sitting last fall because he was academically ineligible out of high school. Miles arrived this summer after serving a church mission in Bolivia and made his debut last week, a year ahead of schedule.
“The more they play, the better they get and the more confidence I get in them,” Caldwell said. “They’re probably playing better than I give them credit for. I’ve got to get confidence in putting them in at any time. I’m that way with Jabril and it won’t take long to get that way with Durrant, I believe.”
Miles was on campus about 10 days after he returned from his mission, Caldwell said. He was in terrific shape but, like most football players fresh off missions, he’d lost his strength.
“He still lacks a little strength,” Caldwell said, “but he can make up a little more of that because he’s a very smart player.”
WHO THREW THAT?
Williams-Rhodes said during fall camp that he often didn’t know which quarterback was throwing him the ball. That was true again this week, he said, with sophomore Tommy Stuart and true freshman Brett Rypien rotating heavily.
Harsin said he expects to play both and likely won’t name a starter in advance.
“They’re getting in and out,” Williams-Rhodes said. “They’re controlling the offense. They’re doing a good job.”
Many of the players who met with the media this week, regardless of position, said they can help the young quarterbacks by performing at a higher level.
“Ever since I’ve been at Boise State it’s been our goal that we have the power to win the game as a defense,” McCaskill said.
Virginia is scheduled to play at Boise State on Sept. 23, 2017. The Cavaliers would be the first Power Five team outside of the Pac-12 to play a regular-season game in Boise. The cancellation fee is $500,000. Virginia previously played in Boise for the 2004 MPC Computers Bowl against Fresno State. ... Former Boise State player and Idaho State head coach Larry Lewis is the special teams coordinator and tight ends coach at Virginia. Lewis was a linebacker on the 1980 Division I-AA national championship team. Former Colorado State head coach Steve Fairchild is the Cavaliers’ offensive coordinator. ... Virginia also has a graduate transfer from Stanford on its team: co-starting tight end Charlie Hopkins. Boise State brought in former Stanford running back Kelsey Young, who is a backup tailback.
Chadd Cripe is in his 14th season covering Boise State football for the Idaho Statesman. He also votes in The Associated Press Top 25. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.