Boise State coach Bryan Harsin on facing Marshall on a short week
The Boise State football team will play Friday night on less than a week’s rest for the 11th time during coach Bryan Harsin’s tenure.
And this will be one of the biggest challenges.
The Broncos endured the second-longest trip home of any of those short weeks, flying from Tallahassee, Florida, to Boise into the early hours of Sunday. They played a long, physically demanding game last week. And they’ll encounter a Marshall team that is better than many of the opponents the Broncos have faced on short rest in recent years.
The Broncos are well aware of the challenges and potential pitfalls — and offensive coordinator Zak Hill said coaches prodded the players during Tuesday’s practice, the first of game week.
“You’ve got to kind of push them a little bit,” Hill said. “ ’Game’s coming fellas, game’s coming.’ It’s a little bit of that urgency and almost a little bit of that paranoid feeling. We don’t have a whole offseason to prepare for this game.”
The Broncos are 8-2 under Harsin on short weeks, with seven straight wins. However, they also are 3-6 against the point spread in those weeks — a sure sign that they have struggled to meet expectations in those situations. Plus, the losses they do have were two of the ugliest moments in Boise State’s FBS era — a 52-26 loss that featured eight turnovers in 2015 at Utah State, and a 37-30 setback to Air Force in 2015 that was the second home loss in seven days.
Boise State’s season-opening win at Florida State lasted 4 hours and included 170 plays from scrimmage (108 by the Boise State offense) in the Florida heat and humidity (85 degrees and 68 percent humidity at kickoff). The Broncos lost at least three starters during that game, with no updates on their status this week: right tackle John Ojukwu, wide receiver CT Thomas and safety DeAndre Pierce.
Marshall, meanwhile, breezed into the season with a blowout of VMI.
“I thought (Wednesday’s) practice we were fast, and that was good to see,” Harsin said before Thursday’s practice. “... I think they’ve handled it well, but we’re not going to know until we go out and play on Friday just how the second game affects us. If they’re not studying football at night ... then that puts us behind when we go play. That will show up on Friday night if we didn’t do the work.”
Here are three keys to the game and three score predictions to the game that begins at 7 p.m. at Albertsons Stadium (ESPN2):
1. Ball security: Boise State got away with a no-no last week. The Broncos lost the turnover battle 3-2, and they recovered two of their own fumbles in situations that could have swung the outcome the other way. Four of the five fumbles came from the backfield, with two from quarterback Hank Bachmeier and one each from running backs Andrew Van Buren and George Holani. Bachmeier and Holani are true freshmen, and Van Buren is a true sophomore, putting the ball in highly inexperienced hands on a frequent basis.
Harsin mentioned ball security, tackling and field position as three areas that must improve this week.
“That’s going to come back and bite us if we don’t do a better job in those areas,” he said.
2. Protect Bachmeier: Bachmeier was sacked five times and hit — often hard — a bunch more. His helmet popped off twice. Pressure caused both of his turnovers, a fumble in the pocket and an interception on an overthrown pass.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen a kid take as many hits as he did and get back up and put his helmet back on and, ‘Let’s roll,’ so that was impressive,” Hill said.
The pressure came from a combination of breakdowns, including Bachmeier holding the ball too long at times and running backs missing assignments. But the veteran offensive line played a role, too.
“It’s a fact that the quarterback got hit too much,” offensive line coach Brad Bedell said. “I take that very personal. That has to be fixed this week.”
3. Third-down dominance: Boise State delivered an incredible whipping on third down at Florida State. The Broncos were 10-for-19 on third down themselves, and the Seminoles were a miserable 1-for-12.
Marshall has the benefit of studying Bachmeier and new Boise State defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding in ways that Florida State couldn’t. If the Broncos aren’t able to replicate their third-down success, they’ll need to be better on first and second downs.
Boise State is a 12-point favorite in Las Vegas with an over/under of 57 total points. The Broncos are 16-8 against the spread in their past 24 games.
Marshall is 4-9 in its past 13 games ATS.
My pick (0-1 straight up, 0-1 ATS): There are alarm bells everywhere with the short week — but if the Broncos’ offensive line can replicate what it did last week (214 rushing yards), Bachmeier can show growth at quarterback and the defense plays with aggression in the first quarter, the Broncos should roll. This is a talented Boise State team that is building depth quickly, and Marshall had some issues on the road last year. Boise State 40, Marshall 19
Marshall perspective, from Chuck Landon of The Herald-Dispatch (opponent view is 0-1, 1-0): Boise State is accustomed to playing on the big stage. The No. 24 Broncos proved that last week by defeating a Power Five opponent for the fifth time in the last six seasons. But Marshall? Not so much. The last time the Thundering Herd played a ranked team was in 2016 with No. 3 Louisville coasting to a 59-28 win in Huntington, West Virginia. Also that season, Marshall lost at Pittsburgh, 43-27. In 2018, Marshall lost to N.C. State, 37-20, for the second consecutive season in a home-and-home series. Long story short, Marshall is 0-7 vs. ranked opponents under 10th-year coach Doc Holliday and hasn’t been comfortable on the big stage. It appears unlikely that will change against Boise State. Boise State 37, Marshall 17
Betting expert Lee Sterling of Paramount Sports, who appears weekly on KTIK (0-1, 0-1): “(Marshall has) a lot of tough kids, and I saw them ... last year (when) they played down here at FIU. They were an underdog, and they love these type of settings here. Now, obviously, Boise’s probably a little more talented, but the emotional let down and travel fatigue could affect Boise here in this game.” Boise State 30, Marshall 21
Chadd Cripe is the Idaho Statesman’s assistant editor and sports columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @chaddcripe on Twitter.