Boise State finished off the 2017 season Saturday with a 38-28 win over Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl, giving the Broncos their first win of the year over a Power Five team. The Broncos have now beaten at least one of those teams in each of football coach Bryan Harsin’s four seasons.
It gave the Broncos 11 wins for the seventh time in the last 10 seasons, a 12th bowl win and almost certainly will assure a postseason Top 25 ranking.
The victory was representative of the season as a whole, with a defense that led the way and an offense that made plays when it had to.
“You have something to prove every single game, and this is the last game of the season, so it had to be the biggest,” junior linebacker Leighton Vander Esch said.
Here is our report card from the Las Vegas Bowl:
The Broncos were able to move the ball well, racking up 481 yards of offense, nearly half of which came courtesy of senior wide receiver Cedrick Wilson (221 receiving, 4 rushing).
But the offense should have scored many more than its 31 points.
In the red zone, Boise State was 3-of-7. Junior quarterback Brett Rypien threw two interceptions in the end zone and a fumbled Statue of Liberty attempt was run back for a touchdown.
To the offense’s credit, it responded when it was needed, scoring on a nifty 13-yard touchdown by tight end Alec Dhaenens out of the halftime break after Oregon scored two defensive touchdowns in the final minute of the second quarter.
“I thought we did a good job of kind of letting that get past us and came out in the second half and scored on the first drive,” Rypien said. “I was pretty frustrated. I think our whole O-line was pretty frustrated. … I was like, ‘We are going to go out and play four quarters, we’re a second-half team.’ ”
The biggest drive came in the fourth quarter, just as Oregon had cut the lead to 31-21. Rypien made two clutch third-down throws – a 22-yarder to CT Thomas from his own 15, and a 41-yard strike to Wilson to get inside the Ducks’ 10.
“I thought our offense moved the ball up and down the field, and Oregon had a very tough time stopping them,” Harsin said.
Of all the great performances from Boise State’s defense this season, Saturday just may have been the best.
Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, who had thrown three interceptions all season on 170 attempts, was picked off three times in the first half alone. Granted, the Ducks were without senior Royce Freeman, but Oregon had just 47 yards rushing. Herbert was the team’s leading rusher with 17 yards.
Freeman may have made some difference, but let’s not forget this was a defense that also shut down San Diego State, New Mexico and Air Force.
“I thought the defense was dominating,” Harsin said.
The Ducks scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, making it a little interesting, but it took them until 6 minutes, 34 seconds left in the third quarter to get past midfield. With Herbert, they had been averaging 52.1 points per game, were 6-1 when he started and had at least 500 yards of offense in each of those wins.
Boise State cornerback Jalen Walker had to make his first start, as first-team All-Mountain West pick Tyler Horton was out with an injury. Walker finished third on the team with six tackles, one for loss.
“The guys did an unbelievable job preparing and understanding the plan,” defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said. “We saw the run game like triple-option football, we had to be extremely disciplined. ... We took what we were familiar with and applied it. The guys did an unbelievable job executing their responsibilities, especially on the perimeter.”
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus
Kicker Haden Hoggarth, so solid most of the season, missed a field goal for the fourth straight game on a 42-yard attempt in the second quarter but made one from 39 less than 6 minutes later. Punt returner Avery Williams muffed a punt for the first time this season, ironically recovered by safety DeAndre Pierce, who on Thursday remarked how Williams hadn’t done that yet.
Oregon found little return room, five of Joel Velazquez’s seven kickoffs went for touchbacks, Wilson recovered the Ducks’ late onside kick attempt and Velazquez teamed with Quinn Skillin to average 43 yards on five punts.
“I thought special teams made plays and won the field position battle when needed,” Harsin said.