So that’s what the 2015 Boise State football team could have been.
The Broncos closed a tumultuous season with one of the most dominant performances in school history Wednesday in the Poinsettia Bowl against Northern Illinois.
Boise State won 55-7 — a lopsided score that still doesn’t accurately reflect the damage the Broncos inflicted on a Huskies team that has appeared in six straight Mid-American Conference championship games and won more games during that time than any Group of Five program.
“The teams going into the game were very comparable if you were looking at statistically over the last four or five years,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “I think tonight we were different.”
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The Broncos (9-4) steamrolled their way to 654 yards of offense at 6.8 yards per play.
They gained 35 first downs with sophomore tailback Jeremy McNichols contributing 189 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns, and freshman quarterback Brett Rypien throwing for 377 yards and three scores for offensive MVP honors.
The offensive yardage was the eighth-highest total in school history and the most in the Broncos’ 16 bowl games (they’re 11-5).
“That’s a tribute to our players, just taking the challenge, putting the plan in place and really working it and not letting it get stale,” offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz said.
And that was the lesser half of the Broncos’ performance.
The defense that had allowed at least 400 yards to four straight opponents limited the Huskies (8-6) to 33 yards — the second-fewest by a Boise State opponent. The only time an opponent did less with the ball was in 1968 against Whitworth.
Northern Illinois, which averaged 426.6 yards per game during the regular season, beat Toledo and fought deep into the fourth quarter against Ohio State, rushed for minus-5 yards.
The Huskies ran 51 plays at an average of 0.6 yards each.
They gained 49 yards on their first 12 plays, all on the opening drive — and lost 16 yards the rest of the day.
The Huskies’ longest play covered 11 yards.
“We went back and said, ‘If you look at the games we didn’t win or we didn’t play well on defense, it came down to one thing: explosive plays,’ ” defensive coordinator Marcel Yates said. “If we can make teams have to drive on us, I think we can be a pretty good defense. And we held up to that.”
This was the defense the Broncos thought they had in August. Junior end Kamalei Correa, likely playing his last college game, was disruptive with two sacks and a forced fumble to earn defensive MVP honors. Senior linebacker Tyler Gray, playing nickel, forced a fumble and recovered two. Senior tackle Tyler Horn added 1.5 sacks — part of the Broncos’ five-sack attack, which accounted for 46 lost yards.
Perhaps the defense’s shining moment came in the second quarter, with Northern Illinois down 24-7 and driving to try to make the game interesting. Correa stripped quarterback Ryan Graham and Gray crawled to recover the bouncing ball.
The Huskies never crossed midfield again.
“I felt like we had turnovers in the right time,” senior safety Darian Thompson said. “We kept momentum on our side. Every time I felt like it was going to shift a little bit, we did something big. And that’s what great teams do.”
Of course, this Boise State team wasn’t great.
It beat Washington and Virginia, two Power Five opponents, but lost to New Mexico and Utah State, two below-average college teams. The Broncos also squandered a fourth-quarter lead at BYU and lost the de facto Mountain West Mountain Division title game at home against Air Force.
It was a season of unexplainable outcomes — and yet you could argue nothing fit that description more than the Poinsettia Bowl.
Walk-on tailback Ryan Wolpin rushed for 87 yards for Boise State.
Even if you remove Graham’s negative rushing yards from the total, the Huskies only gained 82. They scored their touchdown on a kickoff return.
“We wanted this to be our best performance of the entire year,” Harsin said. “And I felt like from the sideline, and what happened out there on the field, it really was.”