The good news for the Boise State football team is that it will play Fresno State again Saturday, and the Broncos get the Bulldogs at home.
But if they want to win their first Mountain West championship since 2014, the Broncos need to show a lot more than they did in the 28-17 loss at Bulldog Stadium.
Boise State, by virtue of four computer polls’ average, was announced as the host for the championship game Sunday.
The Bulldogs, and their fans, may have a gripe after winning the head-to-head matchup. At No. 25 in the AP poll, they could be ranked in the College Football Playoff on Tuesday but still have to travel.
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford said, “We didn’t go into this game thinking if we can win this game, we’ll get home-field advantage.” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin was more than happy to say he wanted to host, but noted, “The opinion of coaches doesn’t really apply in situations like this.”
Though coaches’ opinions may not matter, their work this week will, and the Broncos hope the loss lit a fire underneath them for the 5:45 p.m. MT game Saturday (ESPN).
“Nobody on this team likes losing, so we’re going to prepare this week harder than we did,” Boise State senior wide receiver Cedrick Wilson said.
Here is our report card from the regular-season finale loss:
Sure, the Broncos had 401 yards, but they mustered a season-low 17 points, getting just three between their first drive and a fourth-quarter drive that temporarily cut the lead to one score. Junior quarterback Brett Rypien was solid again, completing 22 of 31 passes for 278 yards. Senior Montell Cozart had 24 rushing yards and a touchdown pass.
Boise State had six drives get into Fresno State territory, but among them was a punt, a missed field goal and a turnover on downs.
“They came out and did what they wanted to do against us and we didn’t execute in certain situations,” said sophomore running back Alexander Mattison, who had 63 rushing yards.
Rypien was sacked twice, including a safety that capped off the scoring in a way fitting of a rough offensive effort. Outside of a 45-yard pass to Wilson on the first play, big plays were in short order, none going more than 22 yards. The Broncos had four offensive penalties in a listless effort.
There also were, depending on how one views it, playcalling blunders or an inability to execute. Mattison and Rypien were stopped on third- and fourth-and-1 runs at the Fresno State 25 with the score tied 7-7 early in the second quarter.
In the fourth quarter, trailing 26-17, Cozart came into the game on third-and-2 and lost 2 yards on a run, bringing on the punt unit with a little more than 5 minutes to play. Mattison, who went over 1,000 yards on the season in the game, had rushed for 22 yards on four carries the previous drive.
“Montell has got a bunch of first downs, too, so don’t second-guess that,” Harsin said. “A 1,000-yard rusher or a quarterback that converts third downs, it’s the same thing. We felt like we had a good play. It’s not like we just made it up. It didn’t work. They played it well.”
It seemed all game long the Boise State defense was poised to make a play, needing a spark, but it just never came. It was in fact Fresno State that made the play on KeeSean Johnson’s 81-yard deep ball catch and run for a touchdown with 8:45 to play.
Quarterback Marcus McMaryion was cool and collected, throwing for a season-high 332 yards, adding 27 yards on the ground. Boise State did not generate a sack and had one tackle for loss.
“He didn’t turn the ball over, he played with poise, he’s a good player and they’re a good team,” Boise State sophomore safety Kekoa Nawahine said. “… All that (effort) was there, but obviously there are things we need to go back, watch and correct.”
The Broncos kept the Bulldogs’ run game in check, allowing 99 yards on 30 attempts, with no rush going longer than 13 yards. But McMaryion averaged 14.4 yards per completion and helped the offense convert 9-of-16 third downs. The Bulldogs came in 99th nationally, converting 35 percent of them.
“We haven’t been great on third down, but there are a lot of times where games have been dictated on what we do on third down,” Tedford said.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
It was not the best effort from the Broncos, but not terrible — a ho-hum showing that permeated all facets of the game. Two of the team’s six penalties came on special teams, and kicker Haden Hoggarth missed a 38-yard attempt in the first quarter for what could’ve been a 10-7 lead.
Neither team had a punt return, and no kickoff return covered more than 25 yards. Fresno State recovered Boise State’s onside-kick attempt after the safety.