The Boise State football team has operated 134 pass plays and 71 rushing plays in the past two games — an imbalance that stems from what has become the standard approach to defending the Broncos and true freshman quarterback Brett Rypien.
Opponents are crowding the line of scrimmage to take away the run, blitzing heavily to force Rypien to make decisions quickly and gambling that he can’t consistently make them pay with accurate throws down the field against man coverage.
Virginia and UNLV paid for that approach. Rypien threw for 790 yards with five touchdowns, zero turnovers and three sacks in lopsided wins.
Utah State and New Mexico grabbed upset victories by forcing Rypien and his receivers into 10 turnovers and sacking the quarterback six times.
Boise State coaches expect more of the same approach Friday night from Air Force, which ranks 12th in the nation in yards allowed and tied for 11th in sacks with 30.
“Brett has handled all that well,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “He’s been on more of the winning side than the losing side of a lot of those blitzes ... and he’ll continue to do that. That’s part of what we expect with a young quarterback. We would do the same thing.”
The last two games are a perfect example of what defenses are doing and how the Broncos must beat it.
Against UNLV, the pass-to-run ratio was 53-37. Rypien and his receivers were outstanding as he threw for a Mountain West freshman record 469 yards. Then sophomore tailback Jeremy McNichols closed out the win with 53 rushing yards on four carries in the fourth quarter.
Against New Mexico on Saturday, Rypien and his receivers were out of sync. Rypien couldn’t hit the vertical passes that had been a strength and three catchable passes deflected off receivers for interceptions. Rypien kept throwing — a school-record 75 times — because there was no reason for New Mexico to back off.
“We have answers for it,” McNichols said. “That’s to get it to our guys on the outside to make plays if the (tackle) box is heavy. When we get the ball out there, they start lightening up the box and we start running the ball.”
Senior center Marcus Henry said the Lobos blitzed on nearly every play.
“It’s fun. It’s a good challenge every week,” he said. “It’s definitely hard to run the ball when people are blitzing you, loading the box, but we take that personally — take that as a challenge.”
There was a time when teams might run the ball against the eight-man fronts anyway. In today’s game, most teams adjust to what they’re seeing — throw against eight-man fronts, run against seven-man fronts.
The last time the Broncos ran the ball more than they threw it (47 runs, 28 passes) was against Wyoming, which played a bend-but-don’t-break style.
“You’ve just got to be smart about it,” Boise State offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz said. “You can’t beat your head against the wall. You have to take what the defense gives you. We’re throwing the ball at a high clip really because that’s what we have to do in order to have success offensively with the way the numbers are set up schematically.”
Drinkwitz was happy with the pass protection last week, but even when the line picks up the blitz Rypien must make quick decisions.
New Mexico disguised its intentions well, Rypien said.
“That’s something that we’ve been seeing all year and it’s been a point of emphasis,” he said. “I have to get the ball out quick and be accurate because you’re not going to have a whole lot of time to just sit back there and wait on somebody to get open. You have to have good timing and good accuracy.”
NO DROP IN CONFIDENCE
Boise State’s wide receivers dropped close to 10 passes last week in the loss to New Mexico. Junior wide receiver Chaz Anderson had several of them.
Wide receivers coach Junior Adams tries to stick to the positive and give players the opportunity to play through funks like that.
“He’s made plays for this offense in big games,” Adams said. “I trust Chaz and I want him to know that. He knows we can’t have those days, but it’s happened to the best players in this game. It’s happened to Jerry Rice. Now it’s about how we respond.”
TURNOVERS TO BLAME FOR LOSSES
Boise State is 19-5 under Harsin — and the five losses aren’t difficult to explain.
“Our wins and losses come down to the turnover battle,” McNichols said.
The Broncos committed 26 turnovers in those five games, including four last week against New Mexico, eight earlier this season against Utah State and seven last year against Air Force. Opponents committed 10 turnovers in those games, leaving the Broncos a mind-boggling minus-16.
In Harsin’s 19 wins, the Broncos have 18 turnovers and are plus-25.
Harsin can’t explain why the turnovers come in bunches.
“We’ve identified the problem,” he said, “but it’s not fixed.”
Boise State hasn’t lost consecutive games in a season since the last two games of 2007, at Hawaii and to East Carolina in the Hawaii Bowl.
Under Harsin, the Broncos have beaten Colorado State (37-24), Nevada (51-46), Idaho State (52-0) and Wyoming (34-14) after losses.
Junior linebacker Tanner Vallejo said losses don’t linger in players’ minds.
“We train the whole offseason to come out here and play,” he said. “You’re just thinking about the moment you’re in.”
ANOTHER SHORT WEEK
This is the third time this season the Broncos will play a Friday game on a short week.
For Idaho State in September, they stuck to their usual Tuesday-Thursday practice routine. For Utah State in October, they shifted the schedule to practice Monday-Wednesday and travel Thursday.
This week, they’re back to the Tuesday-Thursday approach.
“We’ve been all over the board,” junior defensive end Sam McCaskill said. “It really all plays into your mindset and how you approach it. You can make every week feel the same if you go about it right.”
Chadd Cripe is in his 14th season covering Boise State football for the Idaho Statesman. He also votes in The AP Top 25. He can be reached at ccripe@ idahostatesman.com
TV BONUS CASH EARNED IN MW
Boise State once again has earned the most money from the TV-bonus system the Broncos negotiated as part of their decision to stay in the Mountain West. Here’s what each school earned during the 2015 season. Bonuses are $300,000 for weekday games on ESPN, ESPN2 or broadcast networks, or $500,000 for Saturday games. Only Mountain West-controlled games are involved. Hawaii doesn’t receive TV money from the conference. The other 10 members pool the bonuses they earn from games against Boise State.
San Diego State
San Jose State