Boise State Football

Boise State football is fun to watch again, a far cry from a year ago

Most everyone wearing blue or orange at Albertsons Stadium on Saturday night likely walked away with the same thought.

That was fun.

The No. 20 Boise State Broncos delivered a vintage rout for their home opener in front of a large and spirited crowd, crushing UConn 62-7 behind a growing collection of offensive playmakers who have made the 2018 offense a joy to watch — an element that has been missing for too long.

Boise State scored 60 points at home for the first time in the tenure of fifth-year coach Bryan Harsin and their most points in a game since 2014. The offense generated 818 yards — obliterating the school record — at 10.5 yards per play.

“It was a fun night,” Harsin said.

And a far cry from a year ago, when the Broncos were plodding through the early portion of their schedule with an offense that was woefully lacking in playmakers. They scored 106 points in regulation in four September games, two of them losses.

This year, they’re 2-0 and already have scored 118 points.

The change has been sparked by the growth of veteran players like wide receivers Sean Modster, A.J. Richardson and Akilian Butler and tailback Alexander Mattison; the emergence of second-year players like wide receiver CT Thomas and tight end John Bates; and the quick integration of impressive newcomers like wide receivers John Hightower and Khalil Shakir and tailback Andrew Van Buren.

Members of the 2018 recruiting class contributed 333 yards rushing and receiving on Saturday — 41 percent of that record-setting output.

“We’ve got a really good freshman class that came in, and some guys that are college ready,” offensive coordinator Zak Hill said. “We’ve got some depth, and that’s a good thing to have.”

Nine different players recorded a play of at least 20 yards from scrimmage against UConn, including five from the group of wide receivers who heard for eight months how many questions there were about the team’s ability to replace record-setting receiver Cedrick Wilson.

“The big question was who was going to be that type of guy, who is going to be the next Ced,” Richardson said. “I think we took it as a group that we don’t think it’s just going to be one guy. We all realized how talented we are.”

The rest of us are starting to realize that, too.

Modster, the offensive star of the opening win at Troy, was outstanding again with six catches. Richardson recorded a 100-yard game, including a 74-yard touchdown. Hightower scored on a 67-yard reception and a 55-yard run. Butler fought his way into the end zone from 24 yards out, Bates made his first TD catch, Thomas contributed a nifty third-down grab, Mattison racked up 115 yards and two scores on just 11 carries and Van Buren added 75 rushing yards to help the Broncos finish strong even with the backups in the game.

All that, and projected No. 1 wide receiver Octavius Evans has yet to play a snap because of an injury.

The Broncos hinted this was coming during fall camp. They’d seen the offense click in practice, and fourth-year starting quarterback Brett Rypien said after the Troy game that the season opener let out the secret of how good the talent is around him.

“With how many guys we have in that (wide receiver) position now, there’s a little bit of competitiveness going on,” Rypien said. “They all want the ball. They want to get in the end zone.”

Three plays illustrated that — and sent the crowd of 34,515 home with moments to remember.

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Boise State wide receiver John Hightower (16) gets a high body slam from teammates after his 61-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter against UConn Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018 at Albertsons Stadium in Boise. Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

Hightower, who ran past the defense on his touchdown catch, snaked through it on his 55-yard run early in the second quarter. The former junior college hurdler lined up at wide receiver near the numbers on the left side of the field. He ran backward at the snap to take a pitch from Rypien and was about 8 yards behind the line of scrimmage as he turned the corner on an outmatched defensive lineman. Hightower ended up outside the numbers on the right side of the field before cutting back all the way to the left sideline and sneaking into the end zone.

At least nine Huskies defenders were close enough to try to stop him — and none were able to touch him. He appeared to cover at least 120 yards on the run.

“John is very special in space,” Richardson said. “He showed Bronco Nation that tonight.”

Richardson’s touchdown came on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, and became the last play of Rypien’s night. The senior made a one-handed catch on a screen pass, stiff-armed a defender and dashed down the sideline.

“I told Brett, ‘You better go over and thank him,’ ” Hill said. “ ’He made a one-handed grab on a 2-yard throw and takes it to the house for you.’ ”

Butler’s score is easy to overlook because it came with the backups on the field. He took a shovel sweep from redshirt freshman quarterback Chase Cord and drove a pile of bodies for about the last 10 yards into the end zone.

Players and coaches attributed plays like that to the way the offense has performed in practice.

“Guys are having to really compete in practice to get some playing time,” Hill said. “I know the wide receiver crew is hungry to step up and be playmakers.”

No one is benefiting more than Rypien, who has thrown for 667 yards and seven touchdowns in about six quarters.

He didn’t get to see Hightower’s touchdown catch — a rare time he took a hit. But he heard it.

“It’s always a really good feeling when you’re on your back and you hear the crowd go wild and you’re like, ‘Yes, I completed it,’ “ Rypien said. “And then he’s in the end zone. I knew he was going to be in the end zone because he’s going to run away from anybody.”

The Broncos have done the same to their first two opponents — giving even the most demanding of fans reason to smile.

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