Boise State Football

To reach sky-high goals and expectations, Boise State must start strong

Boise State coordinators Zak Hill, Andy Avalos look to Troy, wrap fan fest

Boise State offensive coordinator Zak Hill and defensive coordinator Andy Avalos discuss the end of fall camp and look ahead to Troy on Aug. 25, 2018.
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Boise State offensive coordinator Zak Hill and defensive coordinator Andy Avalos discuss the end of fall camp and look ahead to Troy on Aug. 25, 2018.

Start fast, finish strong — it is a mantra not unique to Boise State, though one you cannot help but hear plenty as the Broncos stand at the edge of the 2018 football season.

That has not always been so easy to accomplish recently. Five of Boise State’s 12 losses have come in the first month of the season in Bryan Harsin’s four years at the helm, and five others have come Nov. 14 or later.

As the Broncos embark on another season of high hopes and expectations, it’s clear that starting well is vital.

Boise State has three of its first four games on the road in September — against teams (Troy, Oklahoma State, Wyoming) that won a combined 29 games in 2017, including three bowl games.

“If that doesn’t have our players’ attention and other things do, then we’ll be in trouble,” Harsin said.

It has been more than a decade since Boise State was being floated as a favorite to earn a New Year’s Six bowl berth. Back then, there was an almost repulsion to thinking about such things in August. But times change, and avoiding it completely is impossible.

“I don’t think we block it out entirely. ... What we understand is whatever expectations are put on us from the outside, we can’t control that, good or bad,” Harsin said. “People can say you’re going to be great, people can say you’re going to suck. Neither one’s true in our minds, don’t pay attention to that. At the end of the year, that’s when you decide whether you had a good season or a bad season.”

Senior cornerback Tyler Horton said he’s enjoying his final season, but he’s only human, thinking about playing his last game in another Fiesta Bowl.

“To go out like that would be good, of course,” he said.

Winning a second straight Mountain West championship is a goal that is written in the team’s meeting room.

“The highest expectations and the highest standards that are put on us are from our coaches and ourselves,” senior defensive end Durrant Miles said. “... That goal of not only performing our best day in and day out, but also with a larger goal in mind, like a Mountain West conference championship and hopefully a big bowl game.”

Many major publications have Boise State as the Group of Five favorite, nabbing a spot in Jan. 1’s Fiesta Bowl — CBS Sports (vs. Stanford), The Athletic (vs. Michigan), Athlon (vs. Wisconsin) and The Associated Press (vs. Ohio State), to name a few.

But what sunk the Broncos’ hopes last year, other than Central Florida going undefeated, was a 2-2 September that saw the offense rush for just 117 yards per game and did not include a touchdown pass from quarterback Brett Rypien.

With four returning starters on the offensive line, there is hope the offense can hit the ground running. And Rypien knows it’s pivotal, saying in the spring a big goal is “being able to be productive from Game 1.”

“Our preparation, practice habits, I think that’s something that definitely improved over fall camp,” Rypien said.

Offensive coordinator Zak Hill said a focus was “to not be uptight” preparing for the opener, getting into game-like situations or tough field position.

What certainly will help an offense that lost its No. 1 receiver (Cedrick Wilson) and top two tight ends (Jake Roh and Alec Dhaenens) is a stout rushing attack. The Broncos’ 143.5 ypg on the ground was their worst output in 20 seasons.

But junior Alexander Mattison is healthy this fall camp, which he was not a year ago. Harsin said of Mattison, who rushed for 1,086 yards last season, “he’s been as good as I’ve seen him.”

Some new names will need to step up in the passing game. Hill said he wants sophomore tight end John Bates to be “an absolute dude,” while freshmen Khalil Shakir and Billy Bowens, and junior college transfer John Hightower have stepped up at receiver.

On defense, the Broncos — at least on paper — should be one of the nation’s stingiest teams. Ten of the top 11 tacklers return from a unit that finished in the top 25 nationally in total defense, rush defense and takeaways. Of course, the one top tackler missing is the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, Leighton Vander Esch, but experience abounds elsewhere.

“Returning so many guys, we have a lot of confidence going into the season. I haven’t felt it like this in my time here,” Miles said.

Look for the Broncos to mix in quite a few linebackers to make up for Vander Esch’s void: senior Blake Whitlock, sophomore Riley Whimpey, junior Bruno DeRose and Idaho transfer Tony Lashley.

Boise State will return all three starters on the defensive line, a big help for the STUD ends (Jabril Frazier, Curtis Weaver and Sam Whitney), who had 18 sacks combined. All four starters in the defensive backfield return, and that doesn’t include part-time starter Kekaula Kaniho, a nickel who had two defensive touchdowns as a true freshman.

A major focus for the defense in fall camp was building “dependable depth,” which would let those starters get a breather to stay fresh and add the ability to give an opposing offense even more looks.

“We’ve been able to create some roles for some guys. ... We feel pretty solid about what we’ve been able to get done with that,” defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said.

Both of Boise State’s punters, one right-footed and one left-footed, are back, as is field goal kicker Haden Hoggarth. Sophomore Avery Williams, who had two punt returns for touchdowns in 2017, including one in the opener against Troy, could be one of the nation’s best returners.

“Last year, we had a lot of new guys starting out for us, and look what we did,” said Hoggarth, who was awarded a scholarship Saturday. “With a year under our belts, I think we’re going to be pretty impressive.”

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART

Quarterback

4 Brett Rypien, 6-2, 203 (Sr.)

10 Chase Cord, 6-2, 202 (RFr.)

Running back

22 Alexander Mattison, 5-11, 219 (Jr.)

34 Robert Mahone, 5-10, 210 (So.)

Wide receiver

82 Octavius Evans, 6-1, 201 (So.)

16 John Hightower, 6-2, 183 (Jr.)

Wide receiver

8 Sean Modster, 5-11, 190 (Sr.)

6 CT Thomas, 5-8, 172 (So.)

Wide receiver

7 A.J. Richardson, 6-0, 213 (Sr.)

2 Khalil Shakir, 6-0, 196 (Fr.)

Tight end

85 John Bates, 6-6, 247 (So.)

86 Chase Blakley, 6-4, 240 (Sr.)

Left tackle

76 Ezra Cleveland, 6-6, 310 (So.)

69 Austin Dixon, 6-6, 289 (So.)

Left guard

77 John Molchon, 6-5, 314 (Jr.)

67 Garrett Larson, 6-4, 296 (Jr.)

Center

67 Garrett Larson, 6-4, 296 (Jr.)

71 Donte Harrington, 6-2, 302 (So.)

Right guard

79 Eric Quevedo, 6-4, 292 (Jr.)

66 Isiah Moore, 6-4, 282 (Jr.)

Right tackle

78 Andres Preciado, 6-6, 293 (Sr.)

70 John Ojukwu, 6-6, 297 (RFr.)

Defensive end

91 Durrant Miles, 6-6, 256 (Sr.)

93 Chase Hatada, 6-3, 271 (Jr.)

Nose tackle

98 Sonatane Lui, 6-1, 316 (Jr.)

57 Emmanuel Fesili, 6-2, 316 (Jr.)

Defensive tackle

55 David Moa, 6-3, 279 (Sr.)

54 Matt Locher, 6-2, 271 (Jr.)

STUD end

8 Jabril Frazier, 6-4, 236 (Sr.)

99 Curtis Weaver, 6-3, 266 (So.)

Weakside linebacker

44 Riley Whimpey, 6-1, 207 (So.)

36 Blake Whitlock, 6-2, 222 (Sr.)

Middle linebacker

58 Tyson Maeva, 6-0, 228 (Jr.)

33 Tony Lashley, 6-1, 236 (Sr.)

Nickel/strongside LB

28 Kekaula Kaniho, 5-10, 185 (So.)

9 Desmond Williams, 5-11, 205 (So.)

Cornerback

14 Tyler Horton, 5-11, 185 (Sr.)

15 Jalen Walker, 6-0, 177 (So.)

Cornerback

26 Avery Williams, 5-9, 193 (So.)

18 Jermani Brown, 5-9, 168 (RFr.)

Safety

10 Kekoa Nawahine, 6-2, 205 (Jr.)

32 Jordan Happle, 5-11, 195 (So.)

Safety

4 DeAndre Pierce, 5-11, 174 (Jr.)

21 Tyreque Jones, 6-2, 196 (RFr.)

Kicker

96 Haden Hoggarth, 6-0, 190 (Sr.)

46 Joel Velazquez, 6-0, 227 (So.)

Kick returner

34 Robert Mahone, 5-10, 210 (So.)

Punter

49 Quinn Skillin, 6-4, 187 (Sr.)

46 Joel Velazquez, 6-0, 227 (So.)

Punt returner

26 Avery Williams, 5-9, 193 (So.)

2018 SCHEDULE

Saturday, Sept. 1: at Troy, 4 p.m. (ESPNews)

Saturday, Sept. 8: vs. UConn, 8:15 p.m. (ESPN2 or ESPNU)

Saturday, Sept. 15: at Oklahoma State, 1:30 p.m. (ABC/ESPN/ESPN2/ESPNU)

Saturday, Sept. 29: at Wyoming, 5 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

Saturday, Oct. 6: vs. San Diego State (ESPN Networks)

Saturday, Oct. 13: at Nevada, 8:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

Friday, Oct. 19: vs. Colorado State, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)

Saturday, Oct. 27: at Air Force, 5 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

Saturday, Nov. 3: vs. BYU (ESPN Networks)

Friday, Nov. 9: vs. Fresno State, 8:15 p.m. (ESPN2)

Friday, Nov. 16: at New Mexico, 7 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

Saturday, Nov. 24: vs. Utah State (ESPN Networks)

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