Boise State Football

Boise State football’s new coaching twists ‘a work in progress’

Boise State coach Bryan Harsin calls the offense during the Broncos’ 45-10 season-opening win at Louisiana on Sept. 3.
Boise State coach Bryan Harsin calls the offense during the Broncos’ 45-10 season-opening win at Louisiana on Sept. 3. doswald@idahostatesman.com

Perched high above the sea of blue at Albertsons Stadium, Andy Avalos saw what every defensive coordinator dreams of when sophomore cornerback Tyler Horton broke for the ball with no obstructions in his way.

Horton intercepted Washington State quarterback Luke Falk’s pass two weeks ago in the Broncos’ last game, and went all the way for an 85-yard touchdown.

Suddenly, a new feeling came over Avalos, long one of the most energetic presences on the Boise State sideline as a player and coach.

“I was running in place. You can’t go anywhere in the press box. It’s pretty tight up there with our whole crew in there,” Avalos said.

The move is a change for Avalos, promoted from linebackers coach in January.

“It has its advantages, you can see a lot up there. ... Sometimes you can probably see too much, get a little too upset when you see the littlest things done wrong,” Avalos said. “(You miss) the excitement of being on the sideline, and being there for them when the adversity hits.”

This season, Boise State has new coordinators on both sides of the ball in Avalos and co-offensive coordinators Scott Huff and Zak Hill.

Oregon State, the Broncos’ opponent Saturday, also has new coordinators.

It takes time for the new faces to establish what they want their group to look like, and a while to get comfortable. Hill said this summer, “I’m still learning the offense, too,” that he has leaned on sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien at times.

But, so far so good, two games in, says the Broncos’ man in charge.

“It’s been OK, those guys do a good job,” head coach Bryan Harsin said. “It’s hard to evaluate after two games exactly how that all works, but we’re a work in progress in every phase.’’

The most intriguing portion of the equation is how the offense is changing with Hill and Huff now in charge — and with Harsin taking over play-calling duties this season. Hill, who also coaches quarterbacks, spends games in the press box. Huff, also the offensive line coach, is on the sideline.

“It’s been really good so far, and knock on wood, it’ll stay that way,” Huff said. “That’s kind of how it’s always been around here. We always have our input on certain things, and it’s up to coach Hars to filter it all out.

“I might be saying, ‘We need to pound the ball,’ and Zak’s like, ‘Hey, we need to throw it.’ ... We’ll continue to feed off each other, provide information for him to hopefully put us in the best play possible.”

Harsin also called plays when he was the head coach at Arkansas State, but admitted, “I tried to do too much, I think, trying to manage everything.”

He said he has delegated better at Boise State, and it’s perhaps allowed more new looks.

“Having three guys back there that all are qualified and know what they’re doing, I think, you know, we’ve come up with a lot of creative plays. … The more minds on it, the better,” senior receiver Thomas Sperbeck said.

Co-coordinators, and a head coach calling plays could mean too many cooks in the kitchen.

“It’s definitely not an issue with our team,” Sperbeck said. “They do a great job of dissecting the defense and kind of laying out what’s going to work against them.”

In Avalos and Huff, Harsin promoted from within, and didn’t put the pressure on Hill to handle the entire offense after coming from Eastern Washington. The changes happened after the previous coordinators, Eliah Drinkwitz (offense) and Marcel Yates (defense), took similar posts at North Carolina State and Arizona, respectively.

At Oregon State, head coach Gary Andersen promoted quarterbacks coach Kevin McGiven and offensive line coach T.J. Woods to co-offensive coordinators and reassigned offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin to the inside receivers coach.

To replace departed defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, who took the BYU head coaching job, Andersen sought a familar face in Kevin Clune, who was Utah State’s linebackers coach from 2009-12 under Andersen.

The Beavers were 115th in scoring offense last season (19.0 points per game), and tied for 117th with 12 turnovers created by its defense.

“We’re moving along. We didn’t skip a lot of steps with the coordinators,” Andersen said. “I don’t think it was much of a distraction. They were two moves I felt was needed.”

Oregon State has scored 60 points in its first two games, but defensively, the change in staff has been noticeable, and it’s caught Boise State’s attention for good reason.

Clune was the defensive coordinator last season at Utah State when the Aggies forced Boise State into eight turnovers in a 52-26 rout. The Beavers have forced six turnovers this year, half as much as they did all last season, and have seven sacks after posting 17 in 2015.

“Shoot if I was him, I’d be doing a lot of that same stuff,” Huff said. “That was an awesome defensive performance by (Utah State). ... We have to look at that game. I do think there are quite a few similarities. Very similar, just different colored uniforms and different players.”

Boise State’s defense hasn’t altered much, though Avalos said the staff has “done a great job in making things in black and white, trying to eliminate gray, especially with the younger guys we have playing.”

Even if his role is different, and he’s not there on the field, he’s grown into it to the benefit of the defense.

“It’s been nothing but good, he’s a great game-planner,” Horton said.

Dave Southorn: 208-377-6420, @IDS_BroncoBeat

Boise State at Oregon State

When: 1:30 p.m. MT Saturday

Where: Reser Stadium (45,674, FieldTurf), Corvallis, Ore.

TV: Fox Sports 1 (Tim Brando, Spencer Tillman, Bruce Feldman)

Radio: KBOI (670 AM)/ KTIK (93.1 FM); Bob Behler, Pete Cavender

Records: Boise State 2-0; Oregon State 1-1

Series: Oregon State leads 5-3 (OSU won last meeting 38-23 in 2013 Hawaii Bowl)

Coaches: Boise State, Bryan Harsin (23-6, third year; 30-11, fourth year overall); Oregon State, Gary Andersen (3-11, second year; 52-49, ninth year overall)

Vegas line: Boise State by 13

Kickoff weather: Mid-60s and sunny, slight winds and no precipitation

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