It’s time to recalibrate your expectations for the 2017 Broncos.
You’ll enjoy the rest of what figures to be an intriguing season more — and grumble less.
This isn’t a high-flying offense that’s going to amaze you every week. And won’t be.
This isn’t an overpowering team that’s going to blow people out.
This isn’t an experienced group that’s going to win with consistency.
But none of that means this team can’t compete for a Mountain West championship — just that you’ll have to appreciate tension and drama and accept less pure entertainment value.
All of this was evident Friday night at LaVell Edwards Stadium, where the Broncos earned a 24-7 win against BYU that was far more satisfying for the players and coaches than for the folks watching at home.
The Broncos (3-2) threw for just 142 yards — the third time in eight games that they’ve failed to crack the 150 mark — but re-established the long-lost running game and relied on the defense and special teams that have emerged as the backbone of the 2017 team.
It was winning, if unexciting, football — the type of formula that has helped San Diego State capture the past two Mountain West titles. The Broncos visit the Aztecs on Saturday.
“The ultimate goal was to run it,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said of the BYU game plan. “That was the bottom line. Run it, and let’s go play great D.”
The Broncos rushed for 158 yards, held the ball for 32 minutes, 21 seconds, and scored touchdowns on drives of nine, seven and 16 plays.
Meanwhile, the defense limited BYU to 238 yards and the Cougars were forced to start eight of their 11 drives at their own 25-yard line or worse because of terrific punting and kick coverage. The only way Boise State was going to lose was if it committed turnovers (BYU’s lone touchdown was set up by an interception), so the run-and-defend strategy made perfect sense.
It just wasn’t much fun to watch, particularly for a fan base that is accustomed to enjoying one of the nation’s most productive and creative offenses.
Boise State needs to get back to that identity, but the issues are too many to get there this year. This has worked before — in 2012, the Broncos went 11-2 with a struggling, inconsistent offense that was good enough for Mountain West and MAACO Bowl Las Vegas titles.
“We always want to have the most yards and the most points,” Harsin said, “but we wanted to run the ball tonight, and we did.”
The approach was dictated in part by BYU’s defense, which featured two deep safeties. That’s a matchup advantage in the run game and disadvantage in the passing game.
The plan also was dictated by the struggles of junior Brett Rypien, the two-time All-Mountain West quarterback who finally threw his first touchdown pass of the season late in the first half. Rypien was intercepted on his first throw of the night — Harsin credited BYU’s linebacker for surprisingly dropping into the throwing lane — but he was 8-for-12 in the final 32 minutes of the game.
“Offensively, that’s what we want to do and want to do more consistently,” Rypien said.
His closing stretch included the 24-yard touchdown pass to Sean Modster and three third-down conversions on the 16-play drive that clinched the victory.
The touchdown pass was an adjustment by Rypien and Modster at the line of scrimmage. That route usually isn’t designed for that defensive look, but Rypien figured he could convince the safety to move away from Modster just enough to squeeze the pass into the end zone.
“He knew exactly what he was doing,” Harsin said. “That’s a guy taking complete control.”
It was a moment the Broncos needed — as evidenced by the sideline reaction. Harsin was one of the first people to greet Rypien, stepping several yards onto the field to congratulate a quarterback who has lost some playing time to a transfer backup, missed nearly two games with an injury and endured constant criticism from the fan base.
Perhaps the best sign from Friday’s game was that Rypien didn’t flinch after the opening pick.
“Just fighting through adversity — that’s kind of been my mantra the whole year,” Rypien said. “It’s been a tough start to the year.”
Chadd Cripe is the Idaho Statesman sports editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 208-377-6398 or @chaddcripe on Twitter.