The Boise State football team has a starting quarterback.
It also has two quarterbacks.
Brett Rypien is the starter — and should be — even though he spent nearly the entire fourth quarter of Saturday’s season-opening, 24-13 win against Troy on the sideline.
Montell Cozart is the alternative — a dynamic run threat whose playing time likely will vary based on opposing defenses and game situations.
On Saturday, the senior transfer from Kansas was needed more than expected because the Broncos’ inexperienced offensive line was overwhelmed by Troy’s talented defensive line. The additional threat of the quarterback run softened the Trojans just enough for Cozart to engineer touchdown drives in the second and fourth quarters — the only two times the Broncos offense reached the end zone.
“As far as Brett goes, it doesn’t change anything for him,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “As far as Montell goes ... Montell was a big part of our success at the end of the game today.”
Cozart started 18 games at Kansas — so he’s accustomed to playing under duress, which was required Saturday behind three linemen making their first starts and one making his fourth.
Cozart showed poise in leading the Broncos in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. His TD pass to tight end Jake Roh with 2 minutes, 12 seconds left clinched the victory.
And he was always going to play in this game. The plan was to give him a series around the start of the second quarter and occasional plays that fit his style.
But he’s not the answer to what ails the Broncos’ offense. The Broncos need better offensive line play. The group committed four penalties in the first half — by four different players — and couldn’t open holes for the running backs when the less-mobile Rypien was on the field.
Rypien was sacked four times, including a lost fumble, and was drilled a couple other times. He missed a wide-open touchdown pass while under pressure.
The Broncos also went 0-for-4 on fourth down.
“You want to see if you can go get 2 yards, and we didn’t do that today,” Harsin said. “We’ve got good players (on the offensive line). I thought they grew up as the game went on.”
Cozart’s ability to run made it easier for the Broncos to overcome the line troubles. He can avoid pressure more easily and the threat of him running the ball takes a defender away from traditional run responsibilities.
With Rypien in the game, the Broncos rushed 19 times for minus-3 yards
With Cozart — who played two drives in the second quarter and the final three of the game in the fourth — they rushed 25 times for 150 yards.
“It didn’t affect me at all which quarterback was in,” said sophomore tailback Alexander Mattison, the only representative of the offense made available to the media. “I knew my job was to protect him and I knew my job was to produce.”
The rushing numbers illustrate why the Broncos had to switch to Cozart in the fourth quarter. They needed to milk the clock to protect the overworked defense on a hot afternoon and close out the game.
The numbers also show why Rypien remains the best choice for Saturday’s showdown at No. 24 Washington State. A steady but not dynamic rushing attack isn’t enough to overcome Cozart’s lack of polish in the pass game. He was 6-for-9 for 50 yards but missed a couple of open receivers down the field and at least once escaped the pocket when there was no need to run.
Rypien, the two-time All-Mountain West quarterback, was 13-for-23 for 160 yards. He made some terrific throws but one awful mistake — an across-the-field heave that cornerback Blace Brown picked off and returned for the Trojans’ only touchdown.
“I’m not getting too hung up on (the interception),” Harsin said. “... I like where Brett was at. He’s going to come back to practice and get better.”
Chadd Cripe is the Idaho Statesman sports editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 208-377-6398 or @chaddcripe on Twitter.