The Boise State football team’s special teams units don’t have to wait till next year to make amends.
Three weeks of bowl preparation is plenty of time for corrections — and special teams coach Kent Riddle is hopeful he’s addressed some of what’s ailed the Broncos this season.
Most painfully, Boise State lost the Mountain West championship game to Fresno State in overtime after missing a field goal and having a potential game-winning PAT blocked in regulation.
“We certainly tried to address it during the year,” Riddle said last week, as the Broncos readied for their trip to the First Responder Bowl in Dallas and a matchup with Boston College on Wednesday. “It’s good to have a little more time to sit back and really focus on it and get to the root of the problems — and especially the way we finished. There’s no excuse for an extra point, not making it. To have that really define the finish of your season is hard. So yeah, there’s been a tremendous amount of focus on getting it right.”
In Dallas, the Broncos will meet a similarly frustrated group of special-teamers. Boise State ranks 120th in Football Outsiders’ special teams efficiency rankings; Boston College is 117th. Boston College opponents have scored four touchdowns on Eagles punts; however, the Eagles have answered with three touchdowns on opponents’ punts.
Boise State (10-3) also has made some big plays on special teams this year, including two blocked kicks, two touchdown returns and a stuffed fake punt. The Broncos’ inability to avoid blunders — and inefficiency on field goals (12-for-20) — were key factors in the loss at Oklahoma State and the Mountain West title game.
“We have high standards here, and obviously we didn’t meet those standards, and it cost us an opportunity to achieve our goal,” Riddle said. “... There’s tremendous urgency to (improve) right now and make sure that carries over into the offseason.”
Like head coach Bryan Harsin, Riddle said the blocked PAT was a result of sluggish timing by the kicking operation and not a breakdown in protection. Haden Hoggarth previously was 57-for-57 on PATs this season.
The snapper, holder and kicker are expected to get the kick off in about 1.3 seconds (with a max of 1.34 seconds), which makes it nearly impossible for the edge rusher to block the kick.
On the key kick against Fresno State, in a 13-13 game with 8:01 left in regulation, Hoggarth was slow, Riddle said. He clocked the kick at 1.42 seconds, which allowed Fresno State’s Matt Boateng just enough time to block it.
The snowy field conditions and the Broncos’ season-long struggles with snaps and holds likely contributed to Hoggarth taking more time than usual, Riddle said.
“All that stuff works together for a guy to operate with confidence,” Riddle said.
He says the team probably didn’t have the “same urgency” this year on special teams as last year, when the Broncos were coming off a disappointing 2016 in the kicking game and were using many new players. The Broncos excelled on special teams in 2017 and returned many of the key contributors.
“You probably take some things for granted,” Riddle said. “... You think, ‘Well, we understand that.’ No, we don’t.”
That starts with the specialists, he said. They need to practice with precision in order to perform at the expected level on game days. That didn’t happen.
“Ultimately, that falls back on me,” Riddle said. “... Maybe that’s the biggest thing is for every guy on our team to understand that every little detail is the difference in the game.”
The Broncos hope to recruit a scholarship kicker to succeed Hoggarth as they fill out the 2019 class. Joel Velazquez, the kickoff specialist and No. 2 punter, likely will be the punter. Long snapper Daniel Cantrell returns and holder/punter Quinn Skillin exits. The Broncos will be loaded with talented return specialists.
And Riddle — the target of much fan frustration — likely will be back, too. He boasts a track record of success and a recent run of inconsistency. He has coached the best kicker (Jones), best punt returner (Chris Carr), No. 2 punter (Sean Wale) and No. 2 kickoff returner (David Mikell) in school history. He was the Broncos’ special teams coach from 2001 to 2005 under Dan Hawkins and since 2014 under Harsin, who also hired Riddle at Arkansas State in 2013.
Harsin has emphasized that the special teams gaffes are a program-wide failure, and Riddle signed a new two-year contract earlier this year.
That doesn’t mean Riddle isn’t feeling the heat. He is — from the inside.
“I know what my responsibilities are, and when this team doesn’t win a conference championship because of something I’m in charge of, yeah, it hurts, and I want to do everything I can to fix it,” he said, “and I think we can do that. But the proof’s on the field, and you’re only as good as your last one, and our last one was not good. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure, but that pressure comes first and foremost from myself and, secondly, answering to the guys in this building.
“... If anybody was patting me on the back saying, ‘You’re OK,’ I’d say, ‘No, I’m not.’ ”
Kent Riddle’s special teams rankings
Here’s how Kent Riddle’s teams have fared in the special teams rankings from Football Outsiders (FO) and ESPN since 2011.