Chadd Cripe

Boise State should ride QB Brett Rypien to the Mountain West championship

Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien throws a pass Nov. 18 against Air Force. Rypien has thrown 12 touchdown passes and one interception in the past five games.
Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien throws a pass Nov. 18 against Air Force. Rypien has thrown 12 touchdown passes and one interception in the past five games. AP

For the first two months of the season, the Boise State football team needed two quarterbacks.

The young offensive line was struggling. Only one wide receiver was making plays. The starting running back was timid.

Senior transfer Montell Cozart’s running ability bailed out the Broncos — providing just enough offensive life to keep the team in contention for a Mountain West title.

But all that changed in late October. The line jelled. Wide receivers stepped up. And Alexander Mattison emerged as the dynamic running back coaches expected. With those pieces in place, junior starting quarterback Brett Rypien operated at peak efficiency.

At the same time, Cozart’s effectiveness dipped as opponents developed better plans to deal with him.

Yet the Broncos coaches have stuck with the two-quarterback plan — a plan that appeared to backfire in last week’s loss at Fresno State. The Broncos fell 28-17 in large part because they didn’t execute inside the Bulldogs’ 30-yard line.

“That’s on me. We’ve got to figure that out,” coach Bryan Harsin said of the unfinished drives.

On that critical part of the field, Rypien threw one pass in 16 plays (he also scrambled a couple times on pass plays, once to set up a touchdown). That’s the area where the coaches like to utilize Cozart because the offense has an extra blocker when the quarterback runs, and the defense is closer to the line of scrimmage as the offense approaches the end zone.

Defenses have adjusted, treating Cozart more like a running back taking a direct snap than a quarterback. In the past five games, he has 27 carries for 99 yards. Take out the 21-yard run he had on a fly sweep (with Rypien as the quarterback), and that drops to 26 carries for 78 yards (2.9 yards per carry). He was averaging 4.5 yards per carry previously.

If the Broncos are going to throw, it’s clear that Rypien is their best bet. He’s 100-for-150 for 1,427 yards and 12 touchdowns with one interception in the past five games.

If they’re going to run, that’s Mattison — who has averaged 5.5 yards per carry in the past eight games.

It makes sense to use Cozart for an occasional wrinkle, particularly in the developing package of creative plays where Rypien and Cozart are on the field together. But to sub Cozart for Rypien so frequently does not.

The most egregious example last week was on a third-quarter drive when the Broncos were down 16-7 and desperately needed a touchdown. They increased the tempo and Rypien hit wide receiver Cedrick Wilson for gains of 27 and 25 yards, mixed with three effective runs by Mattison. Wilson’s second catch put the Broncos on the Fresno State 14-yard line — and coaches replaced Rypien with Cozart and slowed down.

After three straight running plays, including a 3-yard loss for Cozart, the Broncos settled for a field goal. Rypien was 2-for-2 for 52 yards on the drive and wasn’t given a chance to finish it.

That approach needs to change on Saturday in the rematch with the No. 25 Bulldogs in the Mountain West championship game at Albertsons Stadium (5:45 p.m., ESPN).

Coaches, though, indicate that it won’t.

“(Cozart) being a part of our game plan will continue,” Harsin said. “That’s just how it’s going to be. We would not be in the position that we’re in without Montell. We wouldn’t be in the position that we’re in without Brett. I don’t see that changing whatsoever.”

And the winner is ...

I posted my prediction separately this week. You can read that here.

College football spotlight

Pac-12 — No. 14 Stanford vs. No. 11 USC (-3.5), 6 p.m. Friday, ESPN: USC won early. Stanford wins late. Stanford 31, USC 28

American — No. 16 Memphis at No. 12 UCF (-7), 10 a.m. Saturday, ABC: How will Scott Frost-to-Nebraska rumors affect UCF? Winner gets New Year’s Six bid. UCF 52, Memphis 42

Conference USA — North Texas at Florida Atlantic (-11.5), 10 a.m., ESPN2: The Lane Train chugs on. FAU 45, North Texas 24

Mid-American — Akron vs. Toledo (-21), 10 a.m., ESPN: Toledo’s offense is too much. Toledo 34, Akron 20

Big 12 — No. 10 TCU vs. No. 2 Oklahoma (-7), 10:30 a.m., FOX: No more antics, Baker Mayfield. Oklahoma 37, TCU 27

SEC — No. 6 Georgia vs. No. 4 Auburn (-1.5), 2 p.m., CBS: Beat-up Tigers coming off emotional win and face angry foe. Georgia 27, Auburn 20

Big Ten — No. 8 Ohio State (-6) vs. No. 3 Wisconsin, 6 p.m., FOX: Badgers don’t have enough offense. Ohio State 27, Wisconsin 16

ACC — No. 7 Miami vs. No. 1 Clemson (-9.5), 6 p.m., ABC: Tigers peaking at right time. Clemson 31, Miami 13

NFL spotlight

On TV: Chiefs at Jets (11 a.m. Sunday, CBS), Broncos at Dolphins (11 a.m., FOX), Rams at Cardinals (2:25 p.m., FOX), Eagles at Seahawks (6:20 p.m., NBC), Steelers at Bengals (6:15 p.m. Monday, ESPN).

Chadd Cripe is the Idaho Statesman sports editor. Contact him at ccripe@idahostatesman.com, 208-377-6398 or @chaddcripe on Twitter.

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