Again, Boise State struggled for half of Saturday night’s football game at Albertsons Stadium.
This time, it wasn’t the last 30 minutes.
Following a sluggish start in which the Broncos had difficulty moving the ball outside of some patented trickery, they found a bit of a groove after halftime, thanks to a weapon not in their arsenal the last time Boise State and Utah State met.
No. 24 Boise State exacted some revenge and quelled some concerns about its ability to finish games with a 21-10 victory over the Aggies to open Mountain West play.
“I think there were some demons we had to exorcise a little bit, especially on the offensive side,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.
Even as Boise State (4-0, 1-0 Mountain West) mustered just 96 yards outside of a 61-yard touchdown pass from receiver Cedrick Wilson to running back Jeremy McNichols, it was never going to be like the last time the two teams met.
The Broncos weren’t going to have seven turnovers in the first half like they did Oct. 16, 2015, in their 52-26 loss in Logan. Not in front of an announced crowd of 36,602 — the fourth-largest crowd in stadium history.
“That was humiliating last year, just bad feelings all around,” defensive end Sam McCaskill said. “To come out and really bounce back from that, especially against this opponent, is huge.”
In fact, the Broncos had just one turnover, and the Aggies (2-3, 0-2) got precisely nothing out of it.
Sophomore receiver Akilian Butler muffed a punt late in the second quarter with the Broncos up 7-3, and the Aggies recovered at the Boise State 25-yard line. But a missed field goal from 32 yards out to end the first half nullified the negative play.
And one massive X-factor that was not available for the Broncos in that loss last year made plenty of difference this time around.
McNichols, who did not play against the Aggies last season while going through concussion protocol, rushed 30 times for 132 yards and had team-highs with six receptions and 73 receiving yards. His touchdown reception was his 22nd score in 10 games since missing last year’s contest. Exactly 100 of his rushing yards came in the second half.
“Having him on the field is fantastic, he’s an unbelievable player that can do so many different things,” Boise State sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien said. “... it was definitely good to have Jeremy, that definitely made a difference.”
Wilson’s touchdown pass came 9:04 into the game after the Broncos had 26 yards combined their first two drives. It was the offense’s only TD in a 69:30 span stretching back to the previous week’s win at Oregon State, until Rypien hit senior receiver Thomas Sperbeck for a 5-yard touchdown with 8:07 left in the third quarter. That finished a 10-play, 85-yard drive, the offense’s first in the second half.
“In a really tight game, that needed to happen,” Harsin said.
Rypien, who was 8-of-15 passing for 38 yards in the first half, paid Wilson back for the early spark, connecting with him for a 36-yard touchdown strike on a third-and-17 with 12:03 left to play. Rypien finished 15-of-24 for 163 yards.
Again, Boise State’s defense was stout, picking up four sacks, only slipping with the Broncos leading 21-3 following Wilson’s touchdown catch.
The Aggies, who had 211 yards of offense going into the fourth quarter, were nearly put away when they faced third-and-32 from their own 13-yard line. However, quarterback Kent Myers hit receiver Braelon Roberts for 14 yards, then on fourth-and-18, receiver Ron’Quavion Tarver drew a pass interference penalty on cornerback Raymond Ford on a deep pass from Myers. Four plays later, on fourth-and-4, Myers found tight end Wyatt Houston for a 15-yard gain into Boise State territory.
Myers capped off a 14-play, 75-yard drive with a 30-yard touchdown pass to receiver Andrew Rodriguez with 7:41 to play to cut the lead to 21-10. It was not enough to truly threaten, as the Broncos responded with a 6-minute drive that did not result in any points but milked enough clock to keep the Aggies at bay and off the scoreboard the rest of the way.
“I think they left some stuff out there that we didn’t capitalize on, but they were a good defense,” Utah State receiver Rayshad Lewis said. “They were disciplined and aggressive, and they wanted to win more than we did apparently.”
Boise State finished with 384 yards of total offense, 227 coming in the second half. The Broncos did not have an offensive touchdown in the second half at Oregon State and had two late interceptions in the second half Sept. 10 against Washington State.
“We aren’t firing on all cylinders yet but I definitely see it coming, we’ve got a lot of different pieces that we can use,” Rypien said.
Next up for the Broncos is another shot at team that upset them last season, traveling to face New Mexico (2-2, 1-0 MW) on the road at 7 p.m. Friday.