Boise State defensive coordinator Andy Avalos and wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau saw the end of the Texas-West Virginia game Saturday while they were waiting for the Broncos’ late-night kickoff against BYU. That game was decided on West Virginia’s two-point attempt.
“What would you have done?” Kiesau asked Avalos.
Little did Avalos know, he’d face nearly that same scenario himself by the end of the night. And he did what he told Kiesau he would do — bring pressure from the wide side of the field to prevent the quarterback from rolling right and use the defensive line to prevent a quarterback draw.
The result inside Albertsons Stadium was much better for Avalos than what he watched on TV. Boise State sacked BYU quarterback Zach Wilson on the game’s final play, which started at the Broncos’ 2-yard line, to preserve a 21-16 win.
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On TV, West Virginia scored on a quarterback run to beat Texas.
“In situations like this, you’re just really happy that it worked out for the players,” Avalos said in an interview with the Idaho Statesman. “We’ve been on the other side of the fence, too, and we know what that’s like. Hopefully this can propel us forward to do things we need to do to continue to develop down the stretch and play our best football yet.”
The Broncos’ defense has endured a challenging season with seven starters missing at least one game. Leading tackler Riley Whimpey, a linebacker, left Saturday’s game with an injury, too.
The result has been inconsistent play — that was evident against BYU as well — but a grittiness that has allowed the Broncos to win seven of their first nine games anyway.
On Saturday, BYU had possession of the ball inside the Boise State 30-yard line on eight of 10 drives. That netted the Cougars one touchdown, three field goals, a missed field goal, two lost fumbles and that goal-line stop on the last play of the game for 16 points. Four times, the Cougars drove to at least the 7-yard line without scoring a touchdown.
“The guys ... they’re resilient,” Avalos said. “They played with tremendous guts, and their mental toughness — I don’t think it even wavered in their mind whether they were going to stop them or not.”
The Broncos finished with seven sacks and three fumble recoveries to offset 388 yards from a BYU offense that snapped a string of six straight touchdown-less quarters in the third quarter. Wilson, a true freshman who was committed to Boise State less than a year ago, showed why both programs wanted him with 90 yards in rushing gains and a 67 percent completion rate without an interception.
But he also showed what happens when a true freshman steps into the starting lineup midseason. Many of those sacks were avoidable, including the one on the final play.
“Your natural reaction when someone is in your face is to get out of the way,” Wilson said after the game, according to The Salt Lake Tribune, “so there were moments when I should have thrown it away.”
The first of what figures to be four tense battles between the Broncos and Wilson came down to the final seconds, as happened in three of the previous four meetings between these teams in Boise.
BYU took possession on its own 17-yard line with 2 minutes, 5 seconds on the clock and needing a touchdown to win. As the Broncos defense prepared to take the field, coaches reminded players that the Cougars like to run screens when backed up.
Sure enough, Wilson dumped a screen pass to running back Matt Hadley — and he weaved through the Broncos for 59 yards.
“We blew right past it,” Avalos said.
Four plays later, the Cougars faced second-and-2 at the Boise State 5. Hadley carried twice for no gain, and Boise State called timeout. It was fourth-and-2 at the 5 — presenting the Cougars with the chance to get a first down without scoring, but there was only 15 seconds left.
Wilson, who scored on a 4-yard run on a draw in the third quarter, tried the play again. At least a couple of Broncos anticipated that play and adjusted their positioning, Avalos said. The Broncos nearly stuffed it, but instead Wilson was able to evade tacklers enough to gain 3 yards. He quickly spiked the ball to stop the clock.
It was second-and-goal at the 2. Seven seconds left.
The ball was on the left hash marks, which leads many offenses to roll the quarterback to the right near the goal line. That offers a chance to run for the touchdown or make a natural throw for a right-handed quarterback.
Boise State let BYU come to the line of scrimmage, then called its last timeout. Avalos’ call dictated that linebacker Desmond Williams blitz off the left side of the defense, which kept Wilson from moving to his right. Defensive lineman Curtis Weaver quickly burst up the middle, which left Wilson little time to make a decision.
The Cougars, perhaps expecting a blitz, had kept eight players in to block and sent out only two receivers — one wide left and one wide right. They were covered.
So Wilson tried to escape up the middle. Linebacker Tyson Maeva made first contact and true freshman tackle Scale Igiehon — making his first start — plowed into Wilson’s legs to end the game.
Wilson was 4 yards short.
“There will be plenty of stuff we’ve got to clean up,” Avalos said, “but we’ve got to enjoy and celebrate what we were able to do tonight.”
For Avalos, that celebration was slightly delayed. Three weeks earlier at Nevada, the Broncos thought they had won the game only to watch the officials add time to the clock.
Avalos, watching from the sixth floor of the Stueckle Sky Center, checked the clock and the referee multiple times before relaxing. Safeties coach Gabe Franklin had to tell him, “Dude, it’s over,” Avalos said.
On the field below, the Broncos dashed across the field almost all the way from their sideline to the BYU sideline to celebrate the victory.
“It was fun just watching the guys celebrate on the field and watching their enjoyment,” Avalos said. “They work really hard. We ask a lot of them. The standard is really, really high, and they came through tonight.”
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Chadd Cripe is the Idaho Statesman’s sports columnist. Contact him at email@example.com and follow @chaddcripe on Twitter.