The Boise State football team has been here before, coach Bryan Harsin said Saturday after another frustrating loss at Albertsons Stadium.
And that’s the problem.
Yes, the Broncos overcame their early-season struggles in 2014 and 2017 to win Mountain West championships.
But for a program built on zero- and one-loss seasons, putting two games in the loss column by mid-October almost every year drains the enthusiasm from the fan base and brings on an annual debate about whether Harsin and his staff are properly preparing their team.
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The Broncos fell to 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the Mountain West with the 19-13 loss to San Diego State on Saturday.
With Utah State (4-1, 1-0) rolling and benefiting from a schedule that doesn’t include San Diego State or Fresno State, the Broncos might have to win the rest of their conference games to reach the Mountain West championship game.
That’s a lot to ask from a team that hasn’t shown consistency from half to half, let alone game to game, this season. The offensive output Saturday (229 yards) was the worst at home in 20 years — dating back to before the Broncos’ first conference championship at the FBS level.
“I still think we have a really good team,” said Harsin, whose four home losses match the program’s total in the previous 15 years. “I still think we have a lot to play for. Everything we want to accomplish is in front of us. It’s more difficult now. ... We’ve been in this situation before and we’ve done some really good things.”
That’s great spin, but the team that took the Blue on Saturday didn’t look capable of great things. The Broncos were outplayed in every facet by a team that didn’t have its starting quarterback or running back and had shown a susceptibility to the big play in the passing game.
Boise State senior quarterback Brett Rypien, the star of the team for four games, made poor decisions and poor throws. Tailback Alexander Mattison hesitated too often on his runs. The wide receivers missed several catchable throws. The offensive line hasn’t been good enough all season. The defense, which kept the Broncos in the game most of the day, allowed a run of 50 yards or more in the second half for the third straight game. And the special teams made costly mistakes again, with a fumbled punt snap, an illegal block that wiped out great field position and a missed PAT.
Through 56 minutes, the only points the Broncos scored came courtesy of a 4-yard touchdown drive after San Diego State muffed a punt. And even that took three plays.
“There were a lot of things uncharacteristic today,” Harsin said. “And I say that, maybe that’s not true. ... We were exposed in the loss in certain areas. You’ve got to find ways to fix it. Otherwise, it’s going to continue to keep happening.”
You could say the same about the Broncos’ program — and the problem is, in fact, repeating itself.
The Broncos slipped to 3-2 for the third time in Harsin’s five seasons at the helm (and fourth time in the past six seasons overall). They sustained their second loss in 2015 on Oct. 16. The only time they’ve gone deeper into the season with one loss or fewer under Harsin was 2016, when they started 10-1 but finished 10-3.
After both of the Broncos’ losses this season — the other was a 44-21 debacle at Oklahoma State that included two blocked punts — Harsin has tried to shift blame from the players to the coaching staff.
Are the Broncos failing to pick up blitzes and open holes in the run game because their linemen aren’t good enough? Or are they ill-prepared for what they’re seeing?
Are the special teams gaffes mental errors by college students? Or are the players not being taught well enough?
Either way, it’s on Harsin — who built this coaching staff and nearly the entire roster.
The Broncos rightfully believed they had New Year’s Six potential this season. Less than halfway through the schedule, that’s a long shot at best.
“It’s humbling,” senior defensive end Durrant Miles said. “And football is that way, always. ... There’s a lot of execution that we need to clean up.”
That was the case three weeks ago, after the Oklahoma State game. A bye week, a feel-good win at Wyoming and the enhanced focus of preparing for San Diego State should have provided plenty of opportunity for repairs.
Instead, this team looks just as flawed now as it did in Stillwater.
“We don’t really look at our record,” senior cornerback Tyler Horton said. “... We’ve just got to prepare each week and make sure we get after it, and have this loss on the back of our tongue — because it ain’t a good taste.”
Chadd Cripe is the Idaho Statesman’s sports columnist. Contact him at email@example.com and follow @chaddcripe on Twitter.