Once a year, Bryan Harsin’s Boise State football team delivers a spectacular dud.
At least that’s out of the way now.
The Broncos, who were ranked No. 17 but fell to No. 24 in the AP Top 25, got walloped 44-21 by Oklahoma State on Saturday afternoon at Boone Pickens Stadium — a game that exposed flaws in all three phases and certainly dampened the mood going into the bye week.
“We did not come out here and play the way I think we’re capable of playing,” Harsin said. “That goes back to me and making sure we’re ready.”
It’s the sixth straight year that the Broncos have lost a game by more than two touchdowns, the last five under Harsin. They went seven seasons without such a defeat from 2006 to 2012.
Each of the blowout losses under Harsin have been head-scratchers: three quarters without a touchdown in his debut as head coach in 2014 against Ole Miss (35-13); eight turnovers in 2015 at Utah State (52-26); a lethargic performance in the 2016 Cactus Bowl against scandal-plagued Baylor (31-12); a second-half debacle in a 2017 home game against mediocre Virginia (42-23); and now two blocked punts and an overmatched offensive line against Oklahoma State (44-21), which rose from No. 24 to No. 15 in the Top 25.
The Broncos followed the Ole Miss and Virginia losses with Mountain West titles and significant bowl victories. This team seems capable of doing that, too — but it’s clear that talk of an undefeated season and a Top 20 ranking were premature.
“We all have to evaluate ourselves and say, ‘why?’ ” Harsin said, “and be open and honest about it. ... We got beat on some plays and we got beat in this game. You’ve got to drop the ego and say: ‘All right, why did I get beat? How did I get beat? And how do I get better?’ Because I’m going to face somebody equally as good if not better at that position or maybe even as a team, and we have to find a better way to respond than we did today.
“I’m disappointed right now with a loss and I’m also excited in a way to get back to work. I want to see how we accept this challenge.”
The Broncos get next week off, as they did last year after the Virginia game. They’ll return to face a middle portion of the schedule that looks much more daunting today than it did a week ago. They’ll visit Wyoming on Sept. 29, then face San Diego State (beat No. 23 Arizona State on Saturday), Nevada (beat Oregon State of the Pac-12), Colorado State, Air Force (Broncos are 0-2 in Colorado Springs), BYU (won at No. 6 Wisconsin) and Fresno State (won by 24 at UCLA).
If the Broncos play the way they did in Stillwater, they’ll lose at least one of those games — and quite possibly more.
That’s why senior quarterback Brett Rypien tried to turn the page quickly to what’s next rather than wallow in the disappointment of knowing he’ll leave Boise State without an undefeated season.
“This is one game,” Rypien said. “This is not the end of our season. That was really the message to the guys in (the locker room).”
That’s one area where Harsin has excelled. The 2014 team lost two games early in the season but ended up in the Fiesta Bowl. The 2015 team dropped back-to-back November home games but delivered one of the most dominant performances in school history in the Poinsettia Bowl. The 2017 team won nine of its last 10 games after the Virginia debacle, including a road win against a ranked team, a Mountain West title and a bowl win against Oregon.
You knew the turn-off-the-TV-in-disgust game was coming. But you also can be confident there’s a comeback brewing when it’s over.
Rypien and his receivers will be a handful for every team on the schedule. The defense did an acceptable job containing Oklahoma State’s high-powered offense, but couldn’t provide a much-needed spark, and will cause havoc for lesser foes. The offensive line won’t have to deal with Big 12 athletes again during the regular season.
The Broncos still should be the Mountain West favorites. They still have a solid shot at a New Year’s Six bowl.
But there are problems that need fixing. Oklahoma State made that clear to all of us — starting with the indignity of blocking two punts.
“Football ... it’ll humble you,” Harsin said. “Things can change in a hurry.”