Just take a look at the final score, factor in the opponent and the long trek to get there — it would seem to be a perfect start for the Boise State football team’s season.
But we are talking about the Broncos here, where a 56-20 win at Troy still seemed it could have been even better.
“It was good from a score standpoint,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said, before noting areas of necessary improvement.
Saturday’s victory was the first time the Broncos scored more than 50 points in a season opener on the road since 2004. The defense caused some havoc, though special teams had some struggles.
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If Boise State can clean up some of its mistakes going into Saturday’s home opener against UConn, it should be an old-fashioned blowout on the Blue. For now, two of three facets get some grades you would be proud to put on the refrigator.
Most of the Broncos’ question marks were given some initial positive answers. Senior quarterback Brett Rypien had one of his most impressive games, completing 20-of-28 passes for 305 yards and four touchdowns without a turnover. He was sacked only once, on the first play from scrimmage.
The receiving corps, having graduated Cedrick Wilson and without sophomore Octavius Evans, stole the show. Senior Sean Modster was outstanding (seven catches for 167 yards and two TDs), while sophomore CT Thomas and junior Akilian Butler also had touchdowns. Junior college transfer John Hightower had a third down catch that kept the first scoring drive alive.
“We’ve all thought that we were capable of doing a lot of things, we have a lot of playmakers on our side of the ball,” Rypien said. “We had a great fall camp, but you never really know going into the first game how it’s going to turn out. It just goes to show if you practice well good things will happen.”
Said Modster: “... We practice so hard and we run our butts off. To see this out here, we’re really happy, we’re really feeling all the emotions and stuff, but it’s no surprise.”
The Broncos rushed for 111 yards, still below last season’s average, though Troy has a stout rush defense. QB Chase Cord’s 44-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter helped the total. Cord’s run was the only offensive score of the second half. Harsin said “I think we got a little bit sluggish in the second half.”
“I would have liked to see us finish a little better on offense,” Rypien said. “… It’s a good week 1 performance for us, we put 50 points up.”
If Troy had not got the ball at midfield on its first scoring drive in the first quarter, the Broncos may have shut out the Trojans in the first half. Boise State’s high-ceiling defense showed why it will be one of the nation’s best, racking up five sacks and creating four turnovers.
Senior cornerback Tyler Horton returned two fumbles for touchdowns, tying the NCAA record in a game since it started tracking in 1992. Troy quarterbacks completed 24-of-34 passes for 255 yards, but starter Kaleb Barker was held in check on the ground, rushing 17 times for 25 yards. Troy was 4-of-15 on third down.
“Overall, defensively, just proud of those guys,” Harsin said. “Those guys have worked really hard and they prepared really hard for this game. We were seeing a new quarterback and he could run, I thought that guy was a good player. The D-line got after him a little bit … secondary was solid, turnovers were created.”
As Boise State built up a big lead, up 42-7 early in the third quarter, Troy answered with two touchdowns to make it 42-20 with most of the Broncos’ defensive starters still in the game.
“We played pretty well, we got the turnovers. we won the turnover battle so that’s pretty good, but then too it was the first game, a lot of miscommunication, a lot of eye violations and a lot of missed tackles,” Horton said. “...We played fast, at the same time we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
SPECIAL TEAMS: D
A strength of the Broncos last season, and key in the 2017 opening win overt Troy, the kicking game struggled Saturday. Most notably, when Horton got a bit too close to Avery Williams’ attempt at returning a punt, leading to it hitting the returner and giving the Trojans the ball back in the first quarter. They made it 7-7 five plays later.
Williams also muffed another punt, though he did recover it. Kicker Haden Hoggarth missed his only field goal attempt in the fourth quarter. Boise State punters averaged 33.5 yards per punt on four attempts. A bright spot was the Broncos’ kickoff coverage unit, keeping the speedy Marcus Jones in check — he averaged 23 yards on seven returns. Jones had three kickoff return TDs in 2017.
“There are still some things, I know on special teams, where we’ve got to get better,” Harsin said. “We had the turnover on special teams, I don’t think we did things in the return game we wanted to. We’ve got to give them a lot of credit for that too, because last year, we had a bunch of returns on them last year. We anticipated they would fix that, and they did.”
NOTE: Boise State and UConn will play at 8:15 p.m. Saturday at Albertsons Stadium. It will be aired on ESPNU. ... The Associated Press rankings will be released at noon Tuesday since games will be played Sunday and Monday.