Sometimes the smaller victories within a win mean the most.
That was the case for Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin when he reflected on the Broncos’ 24-7 win at BYU during Monday’s news conference.
In an up-and-down, 3-2 season, the Broncos regained their collective offensive footing and took a step forward ahead of a key Mountain West matchup Saturday at No. 19 San Diego State (8:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network).
And the progress originated with four players who have been dealt their fair share of adversity this season.
“That, to me, that’s the fun part about coaching,” Harsin said. “That’s the fun part about challenges, is to see somebody overcome some really difficult moments in the previous game.”
After a stretch of four games without throwing a touchdown pass, junior quarterback Brett Rypien tossed his first of the season in the second quarter against BYU. The moment helped erase a disappointing start that saw Rypien exit early against Washington State with an injury. The same undisclosed injury then kept him off the field against New Mexico.
Rypien’s return to the starting lineup on Sept. 22 against Virginia hardly went as planned, either. The Broncos suffered their worst home loss since 2001, and some fans were calling for graduate transfer Montell Cozart to take over.
“It was probably the toughest time I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Rypien said. “I’ve never gone through a stretch of not throwing a touchdown pass for four games — I didn’t play one of those games — but it wasn’t an easy time ... for sure.”
On the receiving end of Rypien’s first TD pass was another Bronco looking to prove himself.
Junior Sean Modster had three critical drops against Virginia, and he was taken out of the starting lineup against BYU.
“You know that there’s some psychological things going on there when that ball is being thrown to him. I showed the team that catch,” Harsin said. “Everybody thinks that was just wide open, but he made a great little double move on the safety there that was covering him, and Brett threw it out there and he had to stretch out. That was not an easy catch. ... That was probably the most rewarding thing about that game was seeing Sean do that.”
Said Modster: “It was definitely a big relief after my previous game. It did boost my confidence. I know it’s in me, and I’ve just got to do my job.”
While Rypien and his receivers found their rhythm, the Broncos finally pulled out of a funk on the ground.
Sophomore Alexander Mattison rushed for a career-high 118 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries. It was the first time this season the Broncos had more rushing than passing yards in a game (158 rushing, 142 passing).
“It was nice getting the run game going,” offensive coordinator Zak Hill said. “You could definitely tell the physicality was there in that game.”
Mattison’s career night came behind an offensive line that was using its fifth combination in as many games. Sophomore Garrett Larson, who started the first three games at left guard before being benched, started at center in place of injured senior Mason Hampton.
“I thought we were physical when we ran the ball. I thought our guys up front ... played fast and did exactly what we asked them to do,” Harsin said. “Garrett was a big part of that. Sometimes opportunities like that, guys take advantage of it, and he did.”
While the overall offensive output wasn’t eye-popping, the package as a whole led to fewer critical mistakes, no quarterback sacks and an elevated sense of confidence with the reigning Mountain West champion Aztecs on the horizon.
“We only had like seven explosive plays (against BYU),” Rypien said. “We were physical for sure, but we definitely want to take a step forward this week and move the ball down the field a little bit more and hopefully put up some more points.”
Boise State at No. 19 San Diego State
When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: SDCCU Stadium (54,000, grass), San Diego
TV: CBS Sports Network (Carter Blackburn, Aaron Taylor, Jenny Dell)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: BSU 3-2, 1-0 (beat BYU 24-7); San Diego State 6-0, 2-0 (beat UNLV 41-10)
Series: Tied 2-2 (Boise State won 38-29 on Nov. 15, 2014, in last meeting)
Vegas line: San Diego State by 6
Kickoff weather: High 60s, clear