Boise State Football

Worst in the nation last year, Boise State football looks to reverse fourth-down woes

Boise State tight end Alec Dhaenens is taken down on a failed fake-punt attempt Sept. 22 against Virginia at Albertsons Stadium. It is one of the 14 times the Broncos have been stopped on 16 fourth-down attempts.
Boise State tight end Alec Dhaenens is taken down on a failed fake-punt attempt Sept. 22 against Virginia at Albertsons Stadium. It is one of the 14 times the Broncos have been stopped on 16 fourth-down attempts. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

Boise State’s football team was really good when the sticks on the sideline read “3.” But as soon as it flipped to a “4” and the Broncos went for it — yikes.

One of the best third-down teams in the nation in 2017, Boise State was dead last on fourth downs. The Broncos converted just 3 of 17 times (17.6 percent).

“We made some mistakes. It’s not good,” offensive line coach Brad Bedell said. “We needed to rise to the occasion and we failed. ... The only way to go is up, I guess. That’s the one thing makes me sick to my stomach, thinking about it. We’ve got to improve on it, and we will.”

The Broncos were 93-of-203 on third downs (45.8 percent), which was No. 9 in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Certainly, the 17 fourth-down attempts is a small sample size, but it really factored in close games or losses — the team was 1-of-10 against Troy, Virginia and at Fresno State.

“We bring it up every single day we can,” running backs coach Lee Marks said. “We were really, really bad on fourth down.”

The three successful conversions came via two Montell Cozart runs and a Brett Rypien pass to Alec Dhaenens that kept the first scoring drive alive in the Las Vegas Bowl. Among the times fourth downs failed were a fake punt, an interception and a safety. Cozart and Dhaenens have graduated.

“We were trying to be aggressive at times and thought we could accomplish some things. ... We were better off as the season went along that we could play some field position and let our defense go out and play,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.

Harsin noted that in 2016, the team was 9-of-17 on fourth downs and finished eight of those drives for touchdowns. So even if the situation doesn’t come up every game, it matters.

“Like turnovers (two) years back, we weren’t very good in that area, so we fixed it,” Harsin said. “We’ll find a way and we’ll be much better than we were last season. And we’ll have to be.”

When running backs had trouble moving the ball on fourth down, quarterbacks couldn’t complete passes and the line couldn’t create much push. Offensive coordinator Zak Hill said there will be a focus when game planning on how to mentally be ready for the high-risk, high-reward fourth-down situations.

There also have been more consequences for not converting fourth downs in the spring and in fall camp, be it push-ups or a little extra running. That’s hopefully a way of motivating players to be mindful of what happens when a fourth down goes wrong.

“As far as the majority, it was just a situation where we did not execute,” Hill said. “It happened to be the trend. I don’t know if it caught on and we couldn’t shake it or what. Being last in the nation is tough to do. But I think we’ve taken some great steps.”

Skillin put on scholarship

Harsin had an open scholarship to use after freshman receiver Cam Thomas did not qualify. He opted to use it on senior punter Quinn Skillin and announced that in a team meeting late last week. Skillin is the 19th walk-on put on scholarship in Harsin’s five seasons.

Skillin averaged 40.4 yards per punt last season, his first with the team. Seven of his 41 punts covered 50 or more yards, and 18 of the 41 were inside the 20-yard line. He joined the team last year as a walk-on after not playing football in 2016. He played at Wagner College in New York his first two seasons.

When Harsin announced Skillin was on scholarship, he was giving him a T-shirt that read, “I crushed every deck this summer,” honoring his work running the stadium steps at Albertsons Stadium. He then turned it around, with the back reading “and all I got was a full scholarship.”

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