Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin took on play-calling duties this season, and having previously done so as the Broncos’ offensive coordinator and Arkansas State’s head coach, he knows it’s an easy gig to scrutinize.
He’s a genius when it works, and when it doesn’t, the thousands watching or the wise scribes in the press box surely could have done better.
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When the Broncos opted to throw late in Saturday’s 30-28 loss at Wyoming deep in their own territory, it backfired when defensive tackle Chase Appleby sacked Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien, forcing a fumble that resulted in a game-winning safety.
“I’ll do a better job of calling plays,” Harsin said after the game.
On Tuesday, in preparation for Friday’s game against San Jose State (8:15 p.m., ESPN2, Albertsons Stadium), it was a key topic as Harsin held his weekly press conference, the ideal way to celebrate his 40th birthday.
“In every single game I’ve ever coached in, win or lose, I’ve never walked out of a game and said, ‘That was perfectly called,’” he said. “Waiting for that moment.”
Calling plays has not fallen solely on Harsin’s shoulders. He said it’s often a collaborative effort with co-offensive coordinators Scott Huff and Zak Hill. Though he declined to elaborate, as television broadcasts have mentioned in recent weeks, Hill has taken the lead on play-calling on third-down passing situations.
Rypien was sacked on a second down, and the Broncos were 2-of-8 on third downs in Laramie, so the finger could point in multiple directions.
“There’s always things you want back in games you win. I’m not quite sure exactly who has the play-calling formula. ... It’s always good when it works,” Harsin said. “We ran the reverse pass to the quarterback, and we scored a touchdown on that. I’m sure right as it was happening, everyone was like, ‘What are you doing?’ Then we score and it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s great.’”
Huff said Tuesday there is no conflict in the play-calling dynamic: “It’s been great ... there’s nothing really there.”
In two close games, the Broncos have thrown when most would expect them to ride with workhorse junior running back Jeremy McNichols. Both times, it was not successful, including the final possession Saturday and when Rypien had two interceptions in the final 5 minutes of the 31-28 win over Washington State on Sept. 10.
The Broncos did try to grind it out on the ground while up 28-23 on Colorado State on Oct. 15, going to McNichols six straight plays before being stopped on fourth down with 15 seconds to play, giving the Rams an unsuccessful final shot. Same goes for the 28-27 lead on BYU five days later, rushing six of eight plays on their last drive before punting with 2 minutes left.
“We can go out there and kill it. We can end it, and we haven’t done that,” Harsin said. “If you want to do that ... your opponent’s trying to do the same thing, just understanding that. It’s a combination of things. I don’t think it’s just players or just play calls.”
In the second half at Wyoming, the Broncos threw 14 times for 106 yards and ran it 11 times for 39. The previous week against BYU, they had 15 second-half passes for 125 yards and 18 rushes for 67 yards (33 on the last drive). While the Broncos have often said they won’t take the conservative approach (Wyoming did have two timeouts left on the Broncos’ last drive), Harsin has often felt having Rypien throw gives them better a shot to move the ball.
“We haven’t reached that point yet as a team that runs the football well enough to do that. It hasn’t shown up yet,” Harsin said. “We still have more games to prove that. We may be in that situation in this game (Friday).”
San Jose State at a glance
- Nickname: Spartans
- Location: San Jose, Calif.
- Head coach: Ron Caragher (18-28, fourth year; 62-50 overall, 10th year)
- Last week: Beat UNLV 30-24 in San Jose.
Struggling with key injuries most of the season, the Spartans have been at their healthiest the last three weeks, winning two of three. Both sides of the ball have been inconsistent, especially what was expected to be a strong offense. The Spartans are scoring 23.1 points per game (105th in FBS) and allowing 35.1 (111th). The rushing defense has been particularly rough, allowing 234.2 yards per game.
Senior quarterback Kenny Potter has struggled, seeing his completion percentage drop from 67.4 to 57.1 percent. His six interceptions in eight games are one fewer than he had in 11 games as a junior.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Andre Chachere, CB
A starter in the last eight games of 2015, Chachere has emerged as one of the Mountain West’s best. A 6-foot, 192-pound junior, he has three interceptions (67 return yards) and 11 pass breakups. The 14 passes defended are tied for No. 5 in the FBS. According to Pro Football Focus, he has been targeted 32 times, allowing 14 completions for 167 yards and one touchdown, a pass efficiency rating of 79.15. No FBS teams have a total rating of less than 97.4.
San Jose State at No. 24 BSU
- When: 8:15 p.m. Friday
- Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf)
- TV: ESPN2 (Dave Lamont, Ray Bentley)
- Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
- Records: Boise State 7-1, 3-1; San Jose State 3-6, 2-3 Mountain West
- Series: Boise State leads 12-0 (won last season 40-23 in San Jose)
- Vegas line: Boise State by 29
- Kickoff weather: 50s, with light winds
- LIVE ONLINE CHAT: 11 a.m. Thursday at IdahoStatesman.com