This was always going to be the day we found out how good the 2018 Boise State football team could be.
The answer was downright ugly.
The No. 17 Broncos’ offensive line was overmatched, the defense couldn’t create a spark and the special teams were an abomination in a 44-21 loss at No. 24 Oklahoma State.
The Broncos (2-1) won’t face a team with Oklahoma State’s talent level again at least until bowl season — particularly on the defensive line. But the problems that arose Saturday must be addressed during the bye week as the Broncos get ready for Mountain West play, which begins Sept. 29 at Wyoming.
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“(Oklahoma State) played smart, they played fast and we needed to be more physical and faster than we played,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.
The offensive line allowed seven sacks, with four coming in the first half, and forced quarterback Brett Rypien to unload many passes earlier than he would have liked. More importantly, the group couldn’t create running space for tailback Alexander Mattison, who had 14 carries for 53 yards (3.8 yards per carry) and often was under duress from the moment he got the ball.
The lack of a running game made it easier for the Cowboys to tee off on Rypien, who still managed to throw for 380 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
Oklahoma State spent much of the game playing with two deep safeties to limit the Broncos’ big-play passing attack.
“We’ve got to be able to run on that,” Rypien said.
The Boise State defense, notably missing senior captain Tyler Horton (leg injury), repeatedly allowed big plays when the Broncos were on the verge of a potential momentum-changing stop.
The Cowboys were 7-for-13 on third down, including an 8-yard quarterback keeper on the first scoring drive, a 35-yard completion on the third scoring drive and an 11-yard completion on the most important drive of the second half — a touchdown march after Boise State pulled within 20-14. Combine those missed opportunities with an empty Turnover Throne, and the Broncos didn’t do enough on defense to win a big game.
“Those opportunities were there, and we didn’t take advantage of it,” Harsin said.
And the special teams will bear much of the blame for the game’s lopsided nature — as they should. The Broncos’ punt team allowed two blocked punts — one returned for a touchdown and one that set up a 7-yard TD drive. They also missed a field goal, as Boise State dominated the first quarter but didn’t get any points out of it.
Neither punt play ever had a chance.
“Flat out, we got beat up front,” Harsin said.
Rypien provided reason for optimism with his mostly terrific play and the receivers stepped up again, with John Hightower’s diving touchdown catch and A.J. Richardson’s one-handed touchdown snag along the sideline two of the top plays of the season so far.
But as the Broncos face opponents like San Diego State, Fresno State and BYU, they won’t be able to get away with the numerous mistakes they made Saturday, either.
How good is this Boise State team? We still don’t know — but we know this isn’t a Top 25 team right now.
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