Chadd Cripe

Analysis: Boise State’s QB situation keeps getting weirder — but it’s working

The Boise State football team’s ever-evolving quarterback situation took another strange turn on Saturday night in a 24-14 win against Wyoming.

Senior backup Montell Cozart became the red-zone quarterback — except when junior starter Brett Rypien came in to run a couple plays with Cozart at running back.

The plan was a reaction to Wyoming’s defensive scheme, which brings one safety down near the line of scrimmage. The Broncos coaches figured they needed a run threat at quarterback to block the extra defender.

“We want to run to win when we get in the red zone,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “In this game plan, that’s how we thought we could get an advantage.”

Cozart finished 4-for-5 passing for 53 yards and a touchdown and had 16 carries for 52 yards and two touchdowns, including a 4-yard run on a lateral from Rypien.

Rypien, meanwhile, was the primary quarterback on the rest of the field. Quietly, he put together a solid game. He was 14-for-19 for 124 yards and he busted a 12-yard run. Rypien completed passes for first downs on third-and-3, third-and-9, second-and-12 and second-and-8 to fuel the Broncos’ three touchdown drives — drives that all ended with Cozart on the field.

“Brett extending drives, that goes unnoticed,” Harsin said. “You think about explosive plays and touchdowns.”

Rypien wasn’t made available to the media after the game. Cozart said the two quarterbacks have formed a strong bond that has made an unusual two-quarterback system work for the Broncos, who have won their past three games with a conservative offensive approach and outstanding play on defense and special teams.

Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said the two quarterbacks, who run distinct offensive packages, created problems for his defense.

“I think some of the schemes that they did with Cozart were really good,” Bohl said. “He’s a really good athlete, and you’ve got to have good leverage on him. He’s got really good speed. That dimension is a challenge – even though a different guy is in the game, it’s a different game plan. And then they put two guys in at the same time, and that poses a challenge as well.”

Rypien, the two-time All-Mountain West quarterback, rarely was on the field inside the 30-yard line. He exited for the first two red-zone plays on the opening drive, then was sacked on third-and-5 at the Wyoming 6. On the next drive into the red zone, Rypien didn’t throw a pass inside the 40-yard line. On third-and-8 at the 10, Cozart stayed in the game for a run play.

On the first drive of the second half, Rypien threw the ball on eight consecutive plays. He completed six of those passes, including a beauty on third-and-9 into tight coverage, to drive the Broncos to the Wyoming 32-yard line. In came Cozart, who ran the ball, took a sack and hit wide receiver Cedrick Wilson on a short throw that turned into a 14-yard gain on third-and-16. That allowed Cozart to pick up fourth-and-2 with a run and eventually score on a 4-yard touchdown run.

Rypien led the Broncos inside the 30 on the next drive, too, and came out for Cozart again. Rypien returned inside the 5 to throw a lateral to Cozart that turned into a 4-yard touchdown run. The two-quarterback package was used in the first half, too, with Cozart as the decoy on a shovel pass to tight end Jake Roh that was ineffective.

Rypien also started the final scoring drive of the game. When the Broncos moved inside the 30, Cozart came in. He tossed a quick slant to Wilson for a 24-yard touchdown. The run threat Cozart presents had created 1-on-1 coverage on Wilson several times and Wilson and Cozart had discussed using that throw to beat it.

“We knew the game plan was going to be a fun one,” Cozart said.

The “red-zone quarterback” was the latest twist on a quarterback situation that has been unsettled all season. Cozart closed out the Troy game when Rypien struggled, replaced an injured Rypien against Washington State and New Mexico, played sparingly in the loss to Virginia, was used in run packages against BYU and was used to close out the San Diego State win in a run-almost-every-play attack.

Give the coaches credit: They’ve found a way to make a two-quarterback system work where many others have failed. They could go to Rypien or Cozart full time, but why? They need Rypien’s ability to run the full passing game in the open field, and they need Cozart’s playmaking ability in the run game.

At the same time, this offense often is excruciating to watch. The Broncos scored three points in the first half against the Cowboys. They scored two offensive touchdowns the week before against San Diego State.

Boise State fans expect more. Many won’t be happy with “good enough to win.” Though at this point, the alternative likely would be worse — the Broncos just don’t have the offensive talent for a wide-open, high-scoring attack.

“There’s still a lot of progress to be made,” sophomore tailback Alexander Mattison said. “We know the identity of this program is to establish that run game and hitting explosive plays. ... We do have a long way to go. We need to put up more points offensively. We know that we can be better.”

Fan reaction

From Facebook:

Jarrod Garton: I’m not a coach, but things seem to happen when Cozart is in.

Jeff Misner: It was great to see the adjustment on offense in the second half. Wyoming’s defense was playing shallow and bunched towards the line which killed our run game. The opening drive of the second half saw a lot of quick and short passes to spread their defense out to allow a run game to develop.

Jen Walters: Wow what a difference the first and second half. The offense came alive and the defense got the job done again. Way to go Broncos !! Not happy about the empty seats come on Bronco Nation stay for the full game.

Mike Ridgeway: Love it when Cozart and Rypien are in the game at the same time. You just know something good is going to happen!

Jennifer Otto: Using a dual QB system wears down the defense and it makes it more fun to watch. We may not be doing “trick” plays but all the different looks we can do with both Rypien and Cozart adds zing to the offense again.