It was the type of game that the fans at Albertsons Stadium suddenly have become accustomed to, one that wasn’t decided until the final minutes. But Boise State came out on top Saturday for the 16th straight year in its home opener.
The Broncos defeated the Troy Trojans 24-13, and they did it thanks to two offseason points of emphasis — the kick-return game and creating turnovers.
“It all came together, things we worked on all offseason,” sophomore nose tackle Sonatane Lui said.
But the offense, the one that has scored more points than anyone since 2000? Well, that left something to be desired.
Here is our report card for Saturday’s game.
If it all starts up front, then that goes a long way explaining why the Broncos were out of sync most of Saturday afternoon. Three offensive linemen made their first starts, and one was making his fourth. Troy’s solid defensive line had 12 tackles for loss and four sacks. Outside of sophomore Alexander Mattison’s 49-yard touchdown run, the Broncos averaged 2.3 yards per carry (98 yards on 43 attempts).
When junior quarterback Brett Rypien was behind center, the Broncos scored three points. With senior Montell Cozart in, they scored a pair of touchdowns. Rypien remains the starter, and despite throwing a pick-six, has shown he can make a wider variety of throws. What Cozart brought, especially with a shaky line, was an ability to keep plays alive and to make the run game more effective. If Rypien struggles, there is a comfort in knowing the Kansas transfer can handle a role that tends to be fluid.
Boise State was 0-for-4 on fourth downs, stuffed on three short runs, another product of line issues, and an off-target deep throw by Cozart. All four were at or inside the Troy 40-yard line.
Ten different players caught passes, a positive sign for an offense that has hoped to foster more options in the pass game beyond senior wide receiver Cedrick Wilson (who had four catches for 65 yards).
“We’ve got two guys that can play,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said of the quarterbacks. “It’s like everybody else, there’s going to be opportunities for guys, the way we run the offense.”
Eight of Boise State’s starters had one or zero career starts under their belts, and yet the group played like a bunch of grizzled veterans. The Broncos surrendered just six points to the Troy offense, which averaged 33.7 points per game last season.
Against a veteran offense that returned a senior quarterback and 98.7 percent of its production from 2016, the Broncos gave the Trojans almost no breathing room. Troy had just two plays of more than 20 yards, and QB Brandon Silvers’ 80.8 pass efficiency rating was his worst in the last 21 games.
The young defense is full of potential, and it showed quickly. Boise State had nine tackles for loss and four sacks, plus the big one — the group created three turnovers, all in the final 17 minutes with the game still close. The Broncos had just nine turnovers all of last season.
All three turnovers, plus three of the four sacks, were created by redshirt freshmen or sophomores.
“The performance we had this afternoon, it felt really, really good, to know we can fly around and make up for mistakes with our pursuit,” said Lui, who had a fumble recovery. “... It’s only the first game, but that to me spoke levels about all the hard work we’d done. Seeing that number of three (turnovers) on the board, that made me feel really good about the direction we can head”
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
From a unit that was at times brutal to watch last year to a huge reason for the win, it was quite the turnaround. On the very first return opportunity of the year, redshirt freshman Avery Williams’ 81-yard punt return for a touchdown was not just one of the day’s most enthralling plays, but one of the best in college football.
Williams added a 48-yard kickoff return and Wilson a 55-yard kickoff return. Boise State was 73rd nationally in kickoff-return average in 2016 and 86th in punt-return yardage.
Junior kicker Haden Hoggarth hit a 41-yard field goal on his only attempt, and all but one of Joel Velazquez’s kickoffs went for touchbacks. The only curious moment occurred when Velazquez came in to punt after Quinn Skillin booted a 59-yarder and Velazquez subsequently shanked a 24-yarder.
“Those guys did a hell of a job, really proud of them,” special teams coordinator Kent Riddle said. “We knew Avery, if we gave him a chance, could make something happen.
“I think our guys would’ve told you, ‘It’s been different.’ ”
SATURDAY’S GAME GETS ESPN ASSIGNMENT
When Boise State travels to No. 24 Washington State for an 8:30 p.m. Saturday kickoff, the game will be televised on ESPN.
The matchup had been set for ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU. Both teams are coming off wins, as the Cougars topped Montana State 31-0 on Saturday, their first shutout since 2013. Washington State quarterback Luke Falk completed his first 20 pass attempts.
Here’s how the Broncos have fared in their first game under a new playcaller since 2011: