If the first game was an indication of what lies in store for the Boise State football team, this could be a special group.
At the very least, the Broncos had plenty to smile about to start the 2018 season with a 56-20 win over Troy at Veterans Memorial Stadium in front of a record 29,612 fans. It was just about as good of a beginning as they could imagine.
“Not any better,” senior wide receiver Sean Modster said.
It was the first time Boise State scored more than 50 points in a season opener since 2007. Its offense that started slow last season came out on absolute fire, but cooled off down the stretch. The defense, chock full of veterans, was just about as good as advertised though Troy was able to cut into the lead late.
No. 22 Boise State (1-0) scored 35 consecutive points after the Trojans answered the Broncos’ first touchdown with one of their own to get a cushion, which proved to be plenty.
The Broncos diced up a Trojans defense that was very good a season ago at preventing big plays. Troy (0-1), which had won 21 games the last two seasons, did not allow a play of more than 50 yards in 2017. Boise State had two on Saturday — touchdown passes of 53 and 54 yards from senior Brett Rypien to receivers CT Thomas and Modster, respectively.
“I feel like that was probably the best team we played since Clemson in 2016,” said Troy coach Neal Brown, speaking of a team that won the national championship. “Boise is a quality team, they were ready to play, and their quarterback was lights out.”
Rypien, who did not throw a touchdown until October last season, was electric, throwing more touchdowns (four) than incompletions (three) in the first half. He finished 20-of-28 passing for 305 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, connecting with eight different targets. Harsin called the touchdown throws “elite.”
“I think it meant a lot, just for our whole offensive unit,” Rypien said. “... We have answers on the field. It was nice to air it out a little bit in the first half.”
The senior quarterback was 13-of-23 for 160 yards with an interception against Troy last year, but said “we left some plays out there on the field last year,” noting the Trojans’ defense offered similar looks this time.
Minus expected starter Octavius Evans, the Broncos’ receivers stepped up in a big way. Rypien said the group had been “lying in the weeds,” but the secret is out. They combined for 16 receptions and all four passing scores.
Modster more than doubled his career high with 167 receiving yards on seven receptions, scoring twice. It was the most receiving yards by an opponent in Brown’s 39 games at the helm.
“Sean played unbelievable,” Rypien said.
When the Broncos and Trojans met at Albertsons Stadium 364 days earlier, Boise State earned a closer than it seemed 24-13 win. The passing game struggled, and a punt return touchdown provided a major spark.
It was the polar opposite for those two facets Saturday, with Rypien’s huge performance, and Troy’s lone threat to make it a game coming on a punt return blunder. Rypien and Modster connected on a 20-yard touchdown on the Broncos’ first drive, and the defense forced a second straight three-and-out.
However, cornerback Tyler Horton blocked Troy’s Jawon McDowell into returner Avery Williams’ catch radius. As Horton and McDowell bumped him, the punt hit Williams and Troy recovered at the Troy 48. The Trojans followed with a five-play touchdown drive.
“I felt pretty bad at the moment like, ‘Man, I just got my teammate pretty killed in this thing,’ but then (it was) onto the next play,” Horton said. “It wasn’t, ‘I got to make up for it,’ but in a sense just making sure my brother was OK.”
Boise State responded swiftly with a four-play drive capped by Rypien’s 53-yard strike to Thomas to take the lead for good. And Horton more than made up for his special teams error, as the Broncos scored again 3 minutes later on a 7-yard Alexander Mattison run, set up by an interception by senior linebacker Tony Lashley, an Idaho transfer. Horton deflected the screen pass into Lashley’s waiting arms.
Horton scored on fumble returns of 55 and 11 yards in the second half. The two fumble returns for touchdowns were tied with four others for the most since the NCAA began keeping track in 1992.
Boise State introduced a prop for its sideline Saturday, a throne for whoever creates a turnover to sit upon, and it got plenty of use as the Broncos had four turnovers.
“I had to get real comfortable in that seat, got to make sure I see that throne a lot this year,” Horton said.
About 2,000 miles from home in unfamiliar territory, in humid weather against a team seeking revenge, in front of a full house, the Broncos were unfazed — and though it wasn’t perfect, there were a lot of big positives to take away.
Boise State will open its home slate at 8:15 p.m. Saturday when it hosts UConn at Albertsons Stadium.
“The environment wasn’t that bad tonight, but they were ready” Harsin said. “I think mentally, they came out here like ‘we’re good,’ and they went out and played that way.”