In terms of achieving the team’s ultimate goal — a Mountain West Conference championship — Saturday’s football game against Air Force did not mean much for Boise State.
But if any opponent was to motivate the Broncos with the Mountain Division already in hand, it was the Falcons.
Even in July, junior quarterback Brett Rypien said of outside noise saying the Broncos were on the decline: “We never lost sight of what’s made us good, but when you lose close games, don’t win the Mountain West, lose to Air Force three straight times, you hear it more.”
So, suffice it to say, the 44-19 win meant a lot.
“It felt awesome. I felt like it was just a great team effort the whole week. ... We hadn’t been able to the last three years,” Rypien said Saturday.
Boise State, which is No. 25 in the College Football Playoff rankings, made its first appearance in the USA Today Coaches’ and Associated Press polls Sunday. The Broncos are No. 24 in the coaches’ poll and No. 25 in the AP, making it 16 straight seasons appearing in the AP Top 25.
Now, Boise State gets to face Fresno State in back-to-back weeks — Saturday in Fresno and, in all likelihood, Dec. 2 in Boise in the Mountain West championship.
“The goal at the end of the day isn’t just to win the division, it was to win the Mountain West conference championship. It feels good we are able to put ourselves in that position,” sophomore safety Kekoa Nawahine said. “That will be an interesting dynamic. I’ve never really played a team twice in a row.”
Here is our report card from the Broncos’ win in the regular-season home finale:
It says plenty about the Broncos’ standard, and their potential, when they lament leaving points on the field despite scoring 44 of them and not punting until the fourth quarter.
Boise State put up 428 yards on 55 plays (7.8 yards per play) but settled for three field goals on drives that ended at the Falcons’ 5-, 11-, and 4-yard lines. The Broncos had 90 rushing yards, their second-fewest of the season, and coach Bryan Harsin was not enthralled by five offensive penalties.
“We didn’t run the ball as effectively as we wanted to,” Harsin said. “The penalties, that’s something we just haven’t had.”
Rypien said he had hoped to score more red-zone touchdowns, but he was sharp once again, completing 16-of-22 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns. He has 12 touchdowns to one interception with 1,149 yards in the last four games. Eight players caught passes, the offense did not turn the ball over, Rypien was never sacked and the Broncos scored on seven of their nine possessions.
Air Force’s 181 rushing yards were the fewest Boise State has allowed in six meetings with the Falcons, and 130 yards less than their season average. On Air Force’s two touchdown drives, they had 155 yards of offense, and they had 141 yards on their other nine possessions.
“There was some really good tackling out there,” Harsin said. “They’re going to put you in space and they aren’t easy to bring down, but there was some really good tackling tonight from our defense.”
The Broncos forced three turnovers and had four sacks against a team that attempted only 13 passes.
Saturday was a strong bounce-back for the Broncos after being gashed in the first half of their previous game at Colorado State, sparked by a fumble recovery by sophomore nose tackle Sonatane Lui on the second play of the game. Junior cornerback Tyler Horton’s 21-yard fumble return for a touchdown was the team’s third defensive score of the season.
“For us to go out there and get the win and hold them to those yards, it just shows that we really bought in,” Horton said.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus
Boise State kicker Haden Hoggarth hit three short field goals but was well short on a 52-yard attempt in the second quarter. Still, he remains among the nation’s most efficient kickers, hitting 15-of-17 on the season. Six of Joel Velazquez’s nine kickoffs went for touchbacks.
The Broncos tried to ice Air Force kicker Luke Strebel at the end of the first half, calling three consecutive timeouts. It backfired, as Strebel missed as the last timeout was called, but made the 45-yarder. Neither team was able to do much in the return game, with 0 punt-return yards and no kickoff return longer than 27 yards.
Senior wide receiver Cedrick Wilson, who recovered the Broncos’ onside kick attempt late at Colorado State, nabbed Air Force’s attempt in the fourth quarter to snuff out any hope of a comeback.