Missed opportunities have plagued the Boise State football team’s offense through the first four games of the season.
The Broncos rank 39th in the nation in total offense (466.5 yards per game) but 68th in scoring (30.5 points per game).
The culprit is easy to spot. The Broncos are tied for 97th in red-zone offense with 10 touchdowns and five field goals in 20 trips. That’s a 50 percent touchdown rate and 75 percent scoring rate.
Last week, the Broncos scored 21 points in the first 18 minutes against Louisiana and just 13 in the final 42 minutes on their way to a 34-9 victory. Drives were interrupted by a snap over the quarterback’s head (missed field goal), a failed fake field goal, a third-down sack (field goal) and a formation penalty that negated a touchdown (missed field goal). In the fourth quarter, with the game out of reach but the starters still on the field, the Broncos went three-and-out on their first two drives.
“We have another gear,” offensive coordinator Mike Sanford said. “ It was a little bit lack of execution, a little bit lack of focus. It doesn’t matter if we have 35,000 screaming Bronco fans in the stadium or it feels like a spring scrimmage that’s closed to the public. We’ve got to have the same kind of energy every day.”
The Broncos also missed scoring opportunities in the opener against Ole Miss, when they settled for a total of three points on two first-half drives inside the 5-yard line, and against Colorado State, when they scored 37 points on 676 yards.
Against the Rams, the Broncos threw an interception in the end zone and failed on a fourth-and-goal sneak. Touchdowns on those plays would have given them a 50-point outing.
Instead, the Broncos have not scored 40 points in any of their past five games (dating to the Hawaii Bowl loss to Oregon State) — the longest such streak at Boise State since a six-game stretch in 2008.
“You’re trying to put together that 58-6 win, all that good stuff that a lot of teams think are unethical,” Sanford said. “We’re trying to put together those kinds of masterpieces. We’re playing well when the game is in the balance, outside of the fourth quarter of the Ole Miss game. But I do think we just need to learn to put the finishing touches on a full, complete game. Also, we’ve played good defenses. You look at our schedule, we don’t have any I-AAs on our schedule. Three of the four teams we’ve played won bowl games last year. We’re playing good football, but we’re very much still a work in progress looking for that complete performance, and we haven’t got that quite yet.”
Boise State’s opponents in total defense this year: Ole Miss (tied for 15th), Colorado State (110th), UConn (38th), Louisiana (107th).
Other notes from Sanford:
— “We’re going against one of the best rush defenses in America (in practice) and that’s a great litmus test for us as an offense.” Boise State ranks second in rush defense.
— He continues to be impressed with quarterback Grant Hedrick, who has done a nice job getting the ball to check-down receivers when the downfield throws aren’t available. “He’s growing a ton,” Sanford said. “There’s a lot of stuff, even in the Ole Miss game, that gave me a lot of hope for what he could be.”
— The Broncos often send the outlet receiver — the tailback or a tight end — to the flat on the wide side of the field rather than short and over the middle. It’s been an effective strategy. “It counters somebody playing six or seven guys packed in the box,” Sanford said. “ Generally there will be a lot of space for him to get a lot of yards after the catch. Coach (Bryan Harsin), myself, (running backs coach Kent Riddle), we really believe in getting the ball to the tailbacks in the passing game and that’s been good to see.”
— Sanford challenged Hedrick to become more involved in the game-planning process, and he has. “I got a couple text messages (Monday) morning from him that he wants to see this and this,” Sanford said. “That’s a huge sign of improvement and maturity in terms of his preparation.”
— Hedrick, Sanford said, likes to get hit early — a trait that isn’t uncommon in quarterbacks. “He wants to feel like he’s in the game,” Sanford said. At Stanford, Sanford said, Andrew Luck wanted three types of plays in the opening series — a “get hit” play, an easy completion and a “get outside the pocket” play.
— The Broncos have not lost a fumble on offense this season. The only lost fumble was a punt that hit a blocker. “With the amount of reps (tailback Jay Ajayi) is getting, I’m really proud of him the way he’s holding onto the football. He’s got to continue to take pride in that. That’s going to help us win games.” The Broncos haven’t committed an offensive turnover in the past two games. “We talk about being on a turnover-free streak,” Sanford said. “We’ve got to continue to do that.”
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