Boise State Football

Boise State’s special teams struggles prompt a renewed focus

Bryan Harsin's cup of coffee with Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl

Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin remembers his first meeting with Craig Bohl, which took place at a Starbucks on game day in 2014.
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Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin remembers his first meeting with Craig Bohl, which took place at a Starbucks on game day in 2014.

At the time, it sounded like the sort of small detail that only a coach worries about before any games have been played. Bryan Harsin said a few times in the offseason that one of his biggest question marks focused on special teams.

That concern has become valid.

Boise State’s special teams efficiency is No. 122 out of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision schools, according to ESPN stats.

The list of woes is ugly: three muffed punts (two recovered by opponents), three failed onside kick recovery attempts (including consecutive ones against Colorado State), a field goal blocked (3-of-6 on field goals overall), and a 100-yard kickoff return for a TD allowed.

“Special teams, you get one shot. ... Really what we have to do a better job of is understanding that,” Harsin said this week. “Every catch we have an opportunity to make, every extra point, field goal, every punt, you get one shot when you go out there and do that. That environment needs to be created better in practice.”

He said special teams have “been way too up and down.”

There have been some positives, namely blocking field goals in a three-point win over Washington State and a one-point win over BYU. Senior punter Sean Wale is 15th in the nation with 45.0 yards per punt.

But that focus, the team agrees, must be reinforced daily and not ever wane.

“It’s something we need to have more passion with, not seeing special teams as a transition period in the game, but an actual, pivotal force on our team,” said senior defensive end Sam McCaskill, who had a blocked field goal against Washington State.

Fine-tuning the issues will be a collaborative effort, starting with special teams coordinator Kent Riddle, who also coaches tight ends. Harsin and running backs coach Lee Marks often work with the punt returners, and put more focus on that this week. Defensive coordinator Andy Avalos works on the punt unit, and safeties coach Gabe Franklin works with punt, kickoff and kickoff return.

“It’s huge,” Franklin said. “That’s been our focal point this week, to make sure everyone understands that.’’

Boise State plays at Wyoming on Saturday (5 p.m., CBSSN), and perhaps Laramie could bring something out of the special teamers. Their last return touchdown was Nov. 22, 2014, when Donte Deayon had a 75-yard punt return for a score.

CONTRACT MILESTONE

USA Today released its annual coaches salary database this week. Three Mountain West coaches will make more than $1 million before bonuses, but Harsin is not on top.

Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter, who was fired Sunday, is the top-paid league coach, with a salary of $1.548 million, followed by Colorado State second-year coach Mike Bobo, at $1.45 million. Harsin is due to make $1.3 million this season.

A win at Wyoming would be an important mark in Harsin’s contract. In February 2015, a restructured version of his initial deal was approved, which included an automatic one-year extension if the Broncos (7-0) win eight games. Previously, the bench mark was nine.

In 2017, Harsin is poised to make $1.55 million, and an additional $100,000 each season. His contract is through 2020, but will extend 2021 with a win.

WHEN A POSITION IS ALL ITS OWN

Junior STUD Gabe Perez will miss the rest of the season after shoulder surgery, Harsin said Tuesday. And no, STUD is not an adjective. It’s the name the Broncos have used since 2010 to describe their defensive end/linebacker hybrid position.

First occupied by eventual first-round pick Shea McClellin, it’s a unique spot that allows athletic defenders to rush the passer off the edge or drop back into coverage like a linebacker. Sometimes they have their hand on the ground, sometimes they stand up.

Other schools that use or have used the term are Virginia Tech, Arizona, Oregon and Old Dominion. Some call the spot Leo (notice the first two letters - linebacker/end), Elephant or Jack (of all trades). The STUD name first came into vogue in the late 1990s with Virginia Tech’s excellent defenses. It’s an acronym for “STand-Up Defensive end,” Harsin said.

QUICK HITS

Boise State and Wyoming are the lone unbeaten teams in the Mountain Division of the Mountain West, both 3-0. A win by either team would put it fully in control for a spot in the conference championship game. ... The Cowboys will be without junior right tackle Ryan Cummings, who will miss the rest of the season with a foot injury. He’s started the last 26 games, and Saturday will be the first time Wyoming hasn’t started the same five offensive linemen this season. ... Wyoming has one Idahoan on its roster: sophomore guard Richard Bettencourt (Meridian), who has played in all seven games in a reserve role. ... Quote of the week came from McCaskill on senior linebacker Tanner Vallejo, with dried blood on his face doing post-game interviews last week: “He looked like a psychopath.” ... Boise State has won its last six road games by an average of 28.3 points.

Dave Southorn: 208-377-6420, @IDS_southorn

No. 13 Boise State at Wyoming

  • When: 5 p.m. Saturday
  • Where: War Memorial Stadium (29,181, FieldTurf); Laramie, Wyo.
  • TV: CBS Sports Network
  • Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM
  • Records: BSU 7-0 (3-0 MW); Wyoming 5-2 (3-0)
  • Kickoff weather: Low 60s, sunny and windy
  • Vegas line: BSU by 14
  • Series: BSU leads 10-0
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