It couldn’t be chalked up to facing a challenging offense like the triple option.
It wasn’t because the game was on the road. The motivation was there.
The ball didn’t bounce in crazy ways against Boise State on Friday in its 42-23 loss to Virginia. The Broncos simply got beat, and badly at that. Considering it happened at Albertsons Stadium, where they were once nearly invincible, the defeat was even more surprising.
“Right now, that’s disappointing, very disappointing,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “I don’t think that’s what this team is about.”
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Boise State has plenty of time to stew about the setback, as it doesn’t return to the field until Oct. 6’s nonconference finale at BYU, then hits the road again Oct. 14 at San Diego State.
“I think this is good for us. It gives us time to really look at some things and focus on our mistakes and correct them, moving on,” junior linebacker Leighton Vander Esch said.
Here is our report card for Friday’s game.
The Broncos threw for 353 yards, and senior wide receiver Cedrick Wilson was his usual awesome self, with career highs of 13 receptions and 209 yards.
That’s where the good ends. The non-existent rushing attack again didn’t show up, totaling 30 yards on 24 attempts, the lowest output since the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl. Redshirt freshman Robert Mahone had three carries for 21 yards, a team high, and only got those on one second-quarter series.
“If you can’t run the football, they can do whatever they want in coverage. It’s really that simple,” Harsin said. “... The obvious is that it’s not good enough.”
Quarterbacks Brett Rypien and Montell Cozart were sacked twice apiece. Rypien led a scoring drive to open the game, and managed another to end the first half, but couldn’t get into scoring range any other drive.
Cozart led three late drives — the first was a three-and-out, the second stalled at the Virginia 20 with four straight incompletions and the last resulted in a TD against a backup defense after starting at the Broncos’ own 45 with 2 minutes remaining.
Even when the passers had a shot to get the ball off, the receivers didn’t help. Officially, there were six drops (three by junior Sean Modster), but depending on your definition, there were more.
“I don’t think it’s just a one-man show, I can’t win the game by myself,” Wilson said. “I had two dropped balls as well. I’m more focused on those than the ones that I caught.”
So much had been put on the defense’s shoulders all season, it was expected the young unit would eventually need some help. Of the 11 starters Friday, only two made multiple starts last year. It also made it more difficult that the Cavaliers were on point all night, with 273 passing yards and 167 rushing.
The Cavaliers averaged 6.4 yards per play and had six plays of 25 yards or more. They more resembled the Boise State offense than Boise State did, with an array of shifts and motions, methodical marches down the field and a perfectly blocked end-around touchdown run from 56 yards out.
“We’ve got to be back on track communicating on defense, playing to the best of our ability, and I don’t think that’s something we did (Friday). That will definitely change,” junior defensive end Durrant Miles said.
The Broncos had a sack but didn’t force a turnover for the first time this season. Virginia was 9-of-15 on third downs.
“We’re not worrying about if it will spoil our season,” said Vander Esch, who had 10 tackles. “... We’ve got to learn from our mistakes. But we’re coming back.
“It’s tough, but you’ve got to be resilient, got to bounce back and find some way to execute.”
SPECIAL TEAMS: D-plus
Five of Boise State’s nine penalties Friday came on special teams, resulting in an average starting field position of the Broncos’ own 15-yard line on those drives.
“It seemed like about every special teams (play) we had, we had a penalty. The handkerchiefs were out on every special team. ... We had our chances, we didn’t execute.”
In the fourth quarter, Mahone blocked a punt, the team’s first since 2015. Avery Williams had a 26-yard kickoff return following a safety that gave the Broncos the ball at their own 45, and Cozart led them to a touchdown four plays later. Boise State punted eight times, with Quinn Skillin and Joel Velazquez averaging 42.9 yards.
A fake punt failed in the second quarter and Virginia cashed in with a touchdown to take a 21-7 lead.