EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — The Boise State football team reversed two ugly trends in one quarter Saturday afternoon at Rentschler Field.
The Broncos used two interceptions to score two fourth-quarter touchdowns and beat the Connecticut Huskies 38-21. They won the fourth quarter 14-0 — they had played two dreadful fourth quarters this season — and snapped a three-game losing streak away from home.
Coach Bryan Harsin asked the team going into the fourth quarter, “Are we here to finish?”
“And we did that. And we did it in a big way,” Harsin said. “We did it with some turnovers and we did it (against) a team that momentum-wise they were getting hot.”
Connecticut closed within 24-21 with 1 minute, 9 seconds left in the third quarter. The Huskies got the ball with 11:16 left in the game with a chance to take the lead.
On the first play, quarterback Chandler Whitmer attacked sophomore cornerback Jonathan Moxey — as he had all day. Moxey got his revenge, jumping the route and intercepting the pass.
Four plays later, senior wide receiver Matt Miller made his second touchdown catch of the game for a 31-21 lead. Junior cornerback Donte Deayon padded the lead with a 50-yard interception return later in the quarter on a ball he ripped out of the hands of star receiver Geremy Davis.
The chatter on the sideline in the fourth quarter, Deayon said: “Let’s put our foot on the gas — not break, not slow-play anything, let’s not get a feel for anything. Let’s put our foot on the gas and finish it.”
The Broncos improved to 2-1. The Huskies fell to 1-2.
Boise State returns home Saturday evening. The Broncos will play Louisiana at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 20 at Albertsons Stadium.
— The Broncos outgained the Huskies 292-290. The Huskies had 18 first downs to the Broncos’ 13. Neither team ran it well (52 yards for the Broncos, 48 for the Huskies).
— Boise State won the turnover battle 3-1.
— Boise State was 4-13 on third down. UConn was 7-18.
— QB Grant Hedrick was 19-for-27 for 233 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers and one sack. Miller had five catches for 74 yards and two touchdowns and threw a TD pass to Hedrick. Tailback Jay Ajayi rushed 18 times for 39 yards. He also had two catches for 13 yards.
— Linebacker Blake Renaud led the team with nine tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. The eight sacks went to Mat Boesen (two), Kamalei Correa (two), Robert Ash (one), Beau Martin (1.5), Gabe Perez (1) and Armand Nance (0.5).
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — On a sleepy morning in Connecticut — 2,200 miles from home — junior defensive tackle Armand Nance was one of the Boise State football players who brought a spark to an unusual game-day routine.
“Armand came in today with a bunch of energy and he practiced well all week,” senior defensive end Beau Martin said.
Five plays into Saturday’s game that kicked off at 10 a.m. Mountain time, Nance unleashed that energy on Connecticut running back Arkeel Newsome. Nance drilled Newsome just after he took a handoff and planted him in the Rentschler Field grass.
Sophomore linebacker Tanner Vallejo scooped the loose football and sprinted 31 yards for a touchdown — the beginning of a dominant effort by the Broncos’ defensive front.
“We set the tone early, but all the credit goes to Armand,” Vallejo said. “He’s the one who made the play happen. The ball just hopped up into my hands.”
The Broncos’ defensive linemen then started harassing the Connecticut quarterbacks — the one element missing from their game early this season.
Boise State entered the game ranked fifth in the nation in rushing defense but had recorded just four sacks. The Broncos produced twice that many sacks Saturday with eight — their most in a game since a 2004 contest against BYU and one short of the Mountain West record.
“That was our goal coming into the game — get five sacks,” Martin said. “And I think we crushed that. That felt good. We needed that.”
Coaches helped improve the pass rush by using four ends in many obvious pass situations, with redshirt freshman Mat Boesen and sophomore Gabe Perez joining starters Martin and sophomore Kamalei Correa.
That also helped take some strain off the depleted tackle position. The Broncos have lost two tackles for the season and sophomore starter Sam McCaskill played through a knee injury sustained in the Colorado State game. He wore a brace.
“We’ve asked those guys on the defensive line to carry the flag,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “We’ve probably asked that too much, unfortunately. Sam was a little bit banged up from last week. We did everything we could this week to get him back. They’re giving us everything they’ve got — that’s the one thing about the D-line — and we’re going to ask some more.”
The Broncos collected six of the eight sacks in the first half. All eight came from linemen — with Correa (two), Boesen (two), Martin (1.5), Perez (one), tackle Robert Ash (one) and Nance (0.5) contributing.
Four of the sacks occurred on third downs, including one in the fourth quarter with the Broncos’ protecting a three-point lead.
The line also stuffed the run, as it has all year: The Huskies finished with 48 rushing yards on 36 carries. The pass rush was the difference-maker, helping the defense limit Connecticut to 242 passing yards.
The Broncos’ previous two opponents averaged 410.5 passing yards per game.
“We’ve gotten good pass rush for the first two games. We just haven’t finished,” Martin said. “We were putting our secondary in a bind for the first two games, especially in the fourth quarter. We knew we had to just step up and finish.”
Another big day for Miller
Boise State senior wide receiver Matt Miller factored into all three offensive touchdowns for the Broncos.
Miller caught and threw touchdown passes in the second quarter and made a key touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. He has 29 career receiving touchdowns — 10 short of the school record — and two career TD passes.
Miller’s second touchdown, on third-and-7 at the Connecticut 9-yard line, gave Boise State a 10-point lead with 9 minutes, 19 seconds left.
“I knew there was a hole opening up,” senior quarterback Grant Hedrick said of the play. “I trust that he’s going to be there.”
Miller beat a linebacker at the beginning of his route and caught the pass before the safety could get to him. Hedrick threw low, which allowed Miller to protect the ball — and his body.
“That was the best ball he could have thrown,” Miller said.
His first touchdown was a 35-yard catch on a double move. Miller made a 12-yard catch over the middle on the previous play. Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford called the complementary play immediately — with Miller faking the same route before breaking deep.
“Coach Sanford did a great job setting that up,” Miller said. “He must have liked what he saw on the previous play.”
Sanford pulled another trick out of his bag on the next possession. On third-and-goal at the 7, the Broncos faked a run to the left. Tailback Jay Ajayi flipped the ball to Miller on a reverse. Miller floated a pass to Hedrick, who slipped out of the backfield unnoticed.
It was Miller’s first completion in three tries this season and first TD pass since the 2011 MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.
“He was wide open,” Miller said. “I was scared just to screw it up.”
Said Hedrick: “That pass I caught was pretty scary. It was so wide open it seemed like the ball was in the air forever.”
Miller finished with five catches for 74 yards and two touchdowns. He extended his national-best streak to 42 straight games with a catch (the Mountain West record is 47). He needs 167 yards to break the school’s career record for receiving yards.
Odhiambo, Douglas out
Boise State junior left tackle Rees Odhiambo and senior cornerback/kickoff returner Bryan Douglas, who were injured during the Colorado State game, did not make the trip. They are expected to practice by Tuesday at the latest and play next week against Louisiana, coach Bryan Harsin said.
Redshirt freshman Archie Lewis made his first start in place of Odhiambo. Lewis was the first-team left tackle in spring ball when Odhiambo was injured but spent fall camp competing at right guard. Redshirt freshman Eli McCullough replaced Odhiambo during the Colorado State game.
“(Lewis) and Eli were competing throughout the week,” Harsin said. “We felt like Archie had a good week. When you’re putting someone new in over Rees, it’s who had the best week.”
The Broncos were missing two other cornerbacks, starter Cleshawn Page and backup Mercy Maston, because of injuries. Their backups for the Connecticut game included redshirt freshman nickel Cameron Hartsfield, starting safety Darian Thompson, backup wide receiver Chaz Anderson and true freshman walk-on cornerback Eric Yates.
Junior starter Donte Deayon returned from missing the Colorado State game. Sophomore Jonathan Moxey started beside him.
Deayon said he could have played if needed against Colorado State. He declined to say what his injury was.
“I felt like I was letting the team down not being out there with them,” he said.
A stone wall for Ajayi
Ajayi’s outlandish stats in the first two games apparently got the Huskies’ attention. Ajayi, who led the nation in offensive touches and yards from scrimmage, was held to 52 yards.
Ajayi had 18 carries for 39 yards and two catches for 13 yards. The Huskies were able to beat the Broncos’ offensive tackles and tight ends with their defensive ends and disrupt the outside run game, Harsin said.
“Those guys looked at our stats last week and said, ‘Boise State is not going to run the football,’ ” Harsin said. “ There’s not a lot of room when you get a D-line battling like that.”
Boise State players struggled to keep their feet all day on the Rentschler Field grass.
“The field was pretty slick,” Hedrick said.
The Broncos practiced on their grass field Tuesday and Wednesday and it’s not much different than what they found at Rentschler, Harsin said. The team didn’t visit the stadium until game day.
“Offensive linemen love grass. Skill players hate it,” Harsin said. “We slipped on the (Boise) surface, too. There’s a way to play on it.”
Harsin was not aware of any options to change shoes or cleats during the game.
Connecticut plays at Boise State on Sept. 8, 2018. Boise State’s single-game captains were defensive end Beau Martin and safety Dillon Lukehart. The Broncos wore all white. Defensive end Kamalei Correa carried the Hammer. UConn won the coin toss and took the ball. The officials were assigned by the Mountain West. Fun with stats: Boise State had 38 points and 292 yards against UConn. The Broncos had 37 points and 676 yards against Colorado State. Boise State is 9-9 when venturing east of the Mississippi River. This was the farthest east they’ve gone. Kicker Dan Goodale has made nine straight field-goal attempts. Attendance: 30,098.
BSU — Tanner Vallejo 31 fumble return (Dan Goodale kick), 12:24. Key play: Defensive tackle Armand Nance drilled Arkeel Newsome as he took the handoff to force a fumble. Vallejo scooped the ball and scored. Boise State 7, Connecticut 0
UConn — Bobby Puyol 39 field goal, 6:46. Key plays: Tight end Sean McQuillan broke free for a 15-yard catch on third-and-2 and Geremy Davis grabbed a pass that might have been intended for someone else for a 25-yard gain on third-and-13. Drive: 12 plays, 60 yards, 5:38. Boise State 7, Connecticut 3
UConn — Alec Bloom 16 pass from Chandler Whitmer (Puyol kick), 9:54. Key plays: Deshon Foxx made a 48-yard reception on the first play when cornerback Jonathan Moxey fell down. Whitmer dropped a perfect pass over the top of the defense to Bloom in the back of the end zone. Drive: 6 plays, 83 yards, 2:46. Connecticut 10, Boise State 7
BSU — Matt Miller 35 pass from Grant Hedrick (Goodale kick), 5:03. Key plays: Tailback Jay Ajayi got the run game going with carries for 6 and 9 yards. Miller made a 12-yard catch over the middle, then used a double move to get free for the TD. Drive: 5 plays, 65 yards, 1:22. Boise State 14, Connecticut 10
BSU — Hedrick 7 pass from Miller (Goodale kick), :32. Key plays: The Broncos’ defense and a poor UConn punt helped Boise State get the ball at the UConn 35. Tight end Jake Roh turned a short throw into a 21-yard gain. On the TD, Ajayi gave the ball to Miller on a reverse and the wide receiver threw to Hedrick. Drive: 6 plays, 35 yards, 2:01. Boise State 21, Connecticut 10
UConn — Puyol 24 field goal, 7:30. Key plays: Whitmer dropped a ball over the coverage to Foxx for 20 yards and scrambled for 7 yards on third-and-6. Max DeLorenzo added a 19-yard run. Drive: 13 plays, 80 yards, 5:31. Boise State 21, Connecticut 13
BSU — Goodale 38 field goal, 3:26. Key plays: Roh gained 16 yards on another short crossing route and wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes was left wide open for a 39-yard gain. A holding penalty killed the drive. Drive: 8 plays, 58 yards, 4:04. Boise State 24, Connecticut 13
UConn — Davis 10 pass from Whitmer (Newsome pass from Whitmer), 1:09. Key plays: UConn’s short punt hit Boise State blocker Jack Fields in the foot. Williams-Rhodes couldn’t get the ball and UConn recovered. On the TD, Moxey played way off Davis and never contested the pass. Drive: 3 plays, 30 yards, 1:14. Boise State 24, Connecticut 21
BSU — Miller 9 pass from Hedrick (Goodale kick), 9:19. Key plays: Moxey picked off a pass and Hedrick immediately completed a 25-yard pass to tight end Holden Huff. Drive: 4 plays, 37 yards, 1:51. Boise State 31, Connecticut 21
BSU — Donte Deayon 50 interception return (Goodale kick), 4:00. Boise State 38, Connecticut 21
More on the defensive line
Leftovers from today’s Blitz cover story on the defensive line:
— Defensive line coach Steve Caldwell: “We don’t want a drop-off. I want to be able to play 10 guys, 11 guys, whatever it is, and be consistent once you get out there and not give up plays.”
— Caldwell on Kamalei Correa: “He’s playing really well. We ask a lot of Kamalei. He does a lot of the drops (into pass coverage). We bring him from different places, different blitzes. He’s making a few mistakes but we’re asking a lot more of him than we are of the other guys.”
— Caldwell on defensive tackle Armand Nance: “Every once in a while, I have to tell him, ‘OK, Armand, I am the coach.’ Beyond Nance, there’s not a lot said in that room.”
— Caldwell has not gotten end Rondell NcNair and tackle Nick Terry in a game. He wants to change that. “You look at it — till the fourth quarter we didn’t play much. So then when you get in the fourth quarter and things aren’t going the way you want them to, it’s too late.”
— Caldwell, on ranking fifth in the nation against the run: “It’s just like I tell those guys — it doesn’t take but one play and that’s over.”
— Caldwell on not getting enough pass rush: “I feel bad that we’re not being able to. We’ve got to be able to apply more pressure.”
— Senior end Beau Martin is the only defensive lineman not scheduled to return next season. Two other seniors are out for the year with injuries and will redshirt. “It’s something I have thought about the past week,” Martin said. “I’m the only one who doesn’t get to be a part of this next year. I have to fight that. It’s about this year. I think we can do great things in our room.”
— Martin: “As a defensive line you have to be nasty, you have to be mean. You’re in there every single play, going against those guys who are 300 pounds. Every defensive line I’ve ever watched that’s been successful has been nasty. You have to fight to the whistle and even beyond if that has to be the case.”
— Correa on his position compared to last year: “It’s pretty much the same concept. But with (defensive coordinator Marcel) Yates, I’m more free. He’s just letting me play and do my thing out there.”
STORIES FROM THIS WEEK
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.