Boise State’s defense has allowed 23 points in 120 minutes of regulation football this season — while facing two of the most prolific passers in the country.
The Broncos’ offense has allowed 21.
That first sentence is the reason the Broncos looked like a Top 25 team for much of Saturday night at Martin Stadium against No. 20 Washington State. The second sentence is why they flew home with a 1-1 record after a triple-overtime loss.
“I’m proud of all the guys,” said junior linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who contributed 16 tackles and two sacks. “We could tackle better, but when it comes down to it, we did what we needed to do.”
The Broncos’ offense did not do what was needed in the 47-44 loss.
After linebacker/end Curtis Weaver rumbled 55 yards for a touchdown on a fumble recovery and the Cougars answered with their first touchdown drive of the game, Boise State got the ball leading 31-17 with 7:54 to play. All the Broncos needed was a couple first downs to burn some clock. Instead, backup quarterback Montell Cozart threw a desperation shovel pass on second-and-7 that became an interception return for a touchdown.
That was the second touchdown of the game for the Cougars’ defense.
“We put our team in a hole with the offensive turnovers for touchdowns,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.
Needing a couple first downs again, the Broncos committed a false start, ran three times and punted on the next drive.
And needing a field goal to win late in regulation, the offense allowed a sack and committed a holding penalty to set up another punt.
Then in overtime, the Broncos ran 13 plays. Only four went for more than 3 yards.
Certainly, the defense could have made one more play to win this game. Vander Esch forced a fumble in the final minute that Washington State recovered. Jamal Morrow broke a tackle behind the line of scrimmage to convert third-and-2 in the second overtime and set up a TD. And on the final play, Morrow forced a missed tackle and scampered 22 yards for the winning score.
“I was proud of our D,” Harsin said. “I thought they had a good plan. They played hard. I think we had guys positionally in place. We need to find a way to finish, too. It’s not one phase or another. It’s a team result when it’s all said and done.”
That’s undoubtedly true — but any analysis of this game would conclude that the Broncos’ defense played winning football. If you hold Washington State to 17 offensive points in regulation, you should win. Every time.
The Broncos’ defense made one major mistake in the first half — a coverage bust for a 59-yard gain to the 4-yard line. The Cougars settled for a field goal after a goal-line stand.
They forced Washington State coach Mike Leach to bench quarterback Luke Falk — the school’s career leader in passing yards and touchdowns — for a drive in the second half, then knocked Falk out of the game when he returned.
They forced three turnovers for the second straight week, including Weaver’s TD.
“Obviously the goal was to keep them off the board, so I don’t feel like we did enough,” said junior defensive end Durrant Miles, who grabbed an interception. “I think we did a pretty good job, and in some areas we did a great job. In others we need to improve.”
The defense was put in a nearly impossible position late in the game. The Cougars, who ran 94 plays on the night, got the ball at the Boise State 24-yard line after a botched punt return and at the 25-yard line, by rule, three times in overtime. Those drives resulted in three touchdowns and one field goals.
“We’ve got to be able to turn around and come back and throw that punch right back,” Miles said. “Sometimes it’s like catching a hook across the chin. You’ve just got to come back and keep fighting.”