It’s Week 12 of BSU Takes.
After each game, I post my top takeaways. During the game, I solicit takeaways from fans on Twitter and Facebook. We’ll run a select few — and a shorter version of my story — in the newspaper. But the full version will always be in the Bronco Beat blog with many contributions from fans.
Boise State beat San Jose State 40-23 on Friday at Spartan Stadium. You can find our comprehensive, multimedia coverage of the game here and our traditional game story here.
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1. The tweaks worked. Boise State’s coaching staff placed quarterback Brett Rypien under center and in the pistol more Friday night and used some swing passes to defeat the blitz — changes that allowed the Broncos to produce 497 yards and score points on seven of 10 possessions.
The team only went three-and-out once, on the first drive of the game. And Rypien was 3-for-3 on that drive.
“We felt like we could dent the defense,” coach Bryan Harsin said, “... that we could get under center and really just let the backs get downhill. As we continue on with the players that we have, I think that really fits.”
By playing from under center and the pistol, the running backs were able to take the ball while moving forward instead of flat-footed or moving laterally. The Broncos rushed for 300 yards at 8.6 yards per carry.
The plays from under center also are simpler for true freshman quarterback Brett Rypien. Many of the Broncos’ run plays out of the shotgun are run-pass options, with Rypien choosing the handoff or — in Friday’s case — a swing pass based on the defensive alignment. But from under center, a run play is a run play — and that’s one less decision for Rypien to make.
The Broncos still used run-pass options. They just didn’t use them as often.
“That was to keep him focused on exactly what he had to do and I thought he handled it really great today,” offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz said. “... We were looking to create a spark, and we did that.”
2. Jeremy McNichols is the MVP. As good as wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck has been in a record-setting season, McNichols is the engine for the Broncos.
The sophomore tailback rushed for a career-high 192 yards and scored three touchdowns Friday. His 232 yards from scrimmage represented 47 percent of the offensive output.
McNichols now leads the nation with 23 touchdowns, or 43 percent of the team’s offensive total.
He broke a tackle on each of his three touchdowns against the Spartans — the go-ahead score on third-and-goal from the 5-yard line, a school-record 88-yard run and a 19-yard run. On those plays alone, he gained more than 100 yards after contact.
“It’s physicality,” Harsin said. “That’s what his game is about. It’s a physical game. When you see guys being physical, you see guys giving extra, everybody’s motivated by that — whether it’s a teammate, a fan, somebody at home. Everybody loves to see that.”
Perhaps the most impressive stat about McNichols, a true sophomore, is his reliability. He has rushed for a touchdown in every game in which he has played this season (a Mountain West-record 11 straight games) and rushed for 100 yards in all seven conference games in which he has played (tying a Mountain West record for consecutive 100-yard games).
Even when the Broncos haven’t played their best — the three losses in which McNichols played (he missed the Utah State game while recovering from a concussion) — McNichols has delivered. He rushed for 325 yards, gained 121 yards receiving and scored six touchdowns against BYU, New Mexico and Air Force.
In the past two games, he has busted the longest (88) and fourth-longest (83) runs in school history.
“He runs like that every week,” junior defensive end Kamalei Correa said. “He practices hard, so it’s going to show up in the game.”
3. The secondary woes are back. The Broncos played with three linebackers last season because the injury-depleted secondary couldn’t fill the nickel spot. They were back in that situation Friday, with linebacker Tanner Vallejo reprising his role from last year.
Vallejo is fantastically productive in the nickel spot — he led the team with nine tackles against San Jose State — but his limited coverage skills restrict the defenses the Broncos can play.
Even worse, the Broncos were forced to use their two nickels — Chanceller James, a former safety, and Mercy Maston, a former cornerback — at safety Friday.
For the fifth straight game, they played with either cornerback Donte Deayon or safety Darian Thompson — arguably the two most important players on the defense — on the sideline.
And for the fourth straight game, the defense struggled. The Broncos have allowed 487 yards (UNLV), 413 (New Mexico), 607 (Air Force) and 474 (San Jose State) during that stretch.
The last three opponents have generated 24.2 yards per completion (New Mexico), 31 (Air Force) and 12 (San Jose State). Those numbers are so high because of players who lose sight of their man or miscommunicate on assignments.
“If this defense is ever going to get where we want it to get to ... then we need to get guys to do their job,” defensive coordinator Marcel Yates said.
Stephanie Huffman: Much better offensive game plan, thank goodness! The defense looked better too.
Michael Hicks: Team played with a lot more fire in the second half than was seen previously in the prior two games. Nice to see that. Cleaned up a lot of mistakes, but still missing too many tackles for being so late in the year.
Howard Russell: Thank you for getting back to the running game.
Justin Pilant: JMAC is a wrecking ball!