Boise State Football

Who has the edge and players to watch as Boise State takes on Portland State

Bryan Harsin on Kellen Moore’s debut, fumbles, tight ends, Hank’s playbook

Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin addressed Kellen Moore's debut as Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator, his team's fumbling problem, the production of the Broncos' tight ends and the size of quarterback Hank Bachmeier's playbook.
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Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin addressed Kellen Moore's debut as Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator, his team's fumbling problem, the production of the Broncos' tight ends and the size of quarterback Hank Bachmeier's playbook.

WHO HAS THE EDGE?

When the Broncos run the ball

The Broncos have made it clear they want to run the ball to utilize the veteran offensive line and take some pressure off true freshman quarterback Hank Bachmeier — and they’ve accomplished that so far with 184.5 yards per game. Junior tailback Robert Mahone missed most of last week’s game with a shoulder injury but coach Bryan Harsin has indicated that wasn’t a serious ailment, so getting him back could provide a spark alongside true freshman George Holani (200 yards from scrimmage in two games).

Run defense was a weakness for the Vikings last season (5.3 yards per carry allowed) and again in the season-opening loss to Arkansas (4.9) but the defense as a whole is improving. Arkansas only scored 20 points.

Edge: Boise State

When the Broncos pass the ball

Bachmeier’s efficiency has improved half to half and game to game, which is a promising trend. He needs to protect the ball better — he has two interceptions and three fumbles (two lost) — and occasionally get rid of the ball sooner to save himself from some hits. He gets a boost from the talent around him — a group that includes sophomore receiver Khalil Shakir (13 catches, 173 yards), junior tight end John Bates (eight, 114), junior receiver CT Thomas (five, 103 in one game) and senior receiver John Hightower (47-yard TD last week).

That playmaking depth spells trouble for a Portland State defense that ranked 99th in pass efficiency last season.

Edge: Boise State

When the Vikings run the ball

Portland State managed just 75 rushing yards against Arkansas with quarterback Davis Alexander doing most of the damage. He had 14 of the team’s 28 carries. The Vikings bounced back with 300 rushing yards against Division II Simon Fraser, but the Arkansas defense is a better gauge for what they’ll face from Boise State.

The Broncos have made some big mistakes in spurts on run defense this season — particularly in the first quarter — but have a talented set of defensive linemen who likely will be too much for the Vikings to handle.

Edge: Boise State

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Portland State quarterback Davis Alexander has thrown for 373 yards and run for 50 this season. Craven Whitlow Courtesy of Portland State

When the Vikings pass the ball

Alexander’s ability to scramble and create improvised offense probably is Portland State’s best chance to score against the Broncos. He is 28-for-46 for 373 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions this season. The Vikings often line up in empty backfields, which gives Alexander room to move and five targets to scan.

“Their quarterback is a real pain, I’ll put it that way,” said first-year Boise State defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding, who coached against Portland State annually at Eastern Washington. “... He’s tough to catch and he extends plays and they do a really good job with the scramble drills.”

Boise State’s pass defense has benefited from strong pressure (seven sacks) but that’s more difficult to create against Portland State’s style. Last week, Schmedding relied on cornerbacks Jalen Walker and Avery Williams to play man coverage against Marshall’s run-heavy attack — and the Herd only managed 56 passing yards.

“That was a big challenge for those guys, and they stepped up big time,” Schmedding said. “I was really, really happy with (Walker) and Avery last game.”

Edge: Boise State

Special teams

Perhaps the best test Boise State will receive in this game is on special teams, where the Vikings have blocked six kicks since the start of last season and have a punt returner averaging 10.2 yards (Beau Kelly). Punter Seth Vernon (41.3-yard average) and kicker Cody Williams (2-for-2 on field goals) are off to solid starts, too.

Boise State needs to show that it can create a spark on special teams. The highlight so far is new kicker Eric Sachse going 5-for-5 on field goals at Florida State, but he followed that by coming up way short on a 49-yard attempt against Marshall. Punter Joel Velazquez is averaging just 37.9 yards per punt.

Edge: Portland State

PLAYERS TO WATCH

BOISE STATE

Riley Smith, QB/WR/TE

Originally recruited as a quarterback, the Broncos are looking for creative ways to get the 6-4, 214-pound redshirt freshman on the field. He’s lined up for one snap in each of the Broncos’ first two games, both times at receiver. Smith could follow the path of current senior tight end Garrett Collingham, who joined Boise State as a walk-on quarterback in 2015.

“Riley Smith can run. He’s gonna do some things at wide receiver, tight end, weapon, whatever you want to call him,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “We’ll get this guy hopefully more in the game plan and he can help us, which just tells me what kind of teammate we recruited.”

Sonatane Lui, NT

By cutting weight in the offseason, Lui has become a more mobile and dangerous threat on the defensive line. The 6-1, 283-pound senior from Sandy, Utah, has 1.5 sacks and three tackles for loss through two games, both of which are single-season career highs.

“I feel a lot quicker. I feel able to move around and shed off blocks a little easier,” Lui said. “I think for me personally, maintaining my strength with getting lighter was a big benefit for me and the way I play. I just feel really good. I feel not as tired chasing anything down.”

Zeke Noa, MLB

The 5-11, 242-pound sophomore from Spring Valley, California, made the switch from weakside linebacker to middle linebacker this season, and he’s picking it up quickly. Noa led the Broncos in tackles in last week’s victory against Marshall, collecting seven total tackles, one short of tying his single-game career high. His 11 tackles are tied for the team lead.

“Zeke coming in, being a big-bodied linebacker like him, he reads things well, he has great instincts and he just makes plays around the ball,” Lui said. “I think that’s something that him and (weakside linebacker) Riley (Whimpey) both have, and so them being able to interchangeably move in the middle is really good for our defense as a whole.”

PORTLAND STATE

Kenton Bartlett, DT

The only Idahoan on the Portland State roster is eager to play in front of the hometown crowd in his senior season. Bartlett, a 6-3, 270-pound 2016 Centennial High graduate, leads the Vikings’ defense with three sacks in two games. He is a former 5A Southern Idaho Conference Defensive Player of the Year and All-Idaho first-teamer.

“We’re excited and we’re well prepared,” Bartlett said. “... We play against big teams every year. A couple years ago, we played BYU tough, and Arkansas, we played them tough, so we’re expecting to go in to win the game, honestly. Boise State’s a tough football team, but we’re going in with the mindset to win the football game, just like any other game.”

Davis Koetter, WR

The son of former Boise State coach Dirk Koetter (1998-2000) set single-game career highs for receptions (4), yards (107) and receiving touchdowns (2) in Portland State’s win over Simon Fraser last week. The 6-2, 195-pound sophomore ranks second on the team with 125 all-purpose yards. He originally joined the Vikings as a quarterback.

“They’ve usually had a pretty explosive offense. They challenge you in a lot of different ways,” Boise State defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding said. “You’re gonna get more personnel sets. You’re gonna get more formations and you’re gonna get some unique formations. You’ve always gotta have the antenna up for trick plays.”

Charlie Taumoepeau, TE

A second-team All-American last year, the 6-3, 245-pound senior has 88 career receptions for 1,496 yards and 10 touchdowns. Taumoepeau was named a preseason All-American by four news outlets and is on the Walter Payton Award watch list. The NFL prospect had 255 yards and four TDs against FBS opponents Nevada and Oregon last season.

“They have a lot of empty looks, a lot of plays that they run are out of no tailback in the backfield,” Lui said. “I think that’s something that we’ve never really faced before, at least since I’ve been here. … It will be something that we need to game plan and get ready for.”

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Boise State nickelback Kekaula Kaniho (28) tackles Marshall running back Tyler King (3) in the home opener at Albertsons Stadium Friday, Sept. 6, 2019 in Boise. Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

BOISE STATE DEPTH CHART

Quarterback

19 Hank Bachmeier, 6-1, 202 (Fr.)

10 Chase Cord, 6-2, 208 (RSo.)

9 Jaylon Henderson, 6-1, 210 (RSr.)

Running back

34 Robert Mahone, 5-10, 218 (RJr.)

21 Andrew Van Buren, 6-0, 223 (So.)

24 George Holani, 5-11, 192 (Fr.)

Wide receiver

16 John Hightower, 6-2, 172 (Sr.)

1 Octavius Evans, 6-1, 209 (Jr.)

Wide receiver

6 CT Thomas, 5-8, 182 (Jr.) OR

2 Khalil Shakir, 6-0, 186 (So.)

Wide receiver

7 Akilian Butler, 5-10, 182 (RSr.)

82 Stefan Cobbs, 6-0, 178 (RFr.)

18 Billy Bowens, 6-1, 187 (RFr.)

Tight end

85 John Bates, 6-6, 255 (RJr.)

5 Garrett Collingham, 6-4, 242 (RSr.)

47 Matt Pistone, 6-3, 246 (RSr.)

88 Tyneil Hopper, 6-2, 231 (RFr.)

Left tackle

76 Ezra Cleveland, 6-6, 310 (RJr.)

73 Nick Crabtree, 6-7, 295 (RJr.)

Left guard

77 John Molchon, 6-5, 318 (RSr.)

72 Dallas Holliday, 6-3, 306 (RFr.)

Center

67 Garrett Larson, 6-4, 303 (RSr.)

55 Kekaniokoa Holomalia-Gonzalez, 6-2, 293 (RFr.)

Right guard

79 Eric Quevedo, 6-4, 302 (RSr.)

68 Jake Stetz, 6-2, 294 (RSo.)

Right tackle

70 John Ojukwu, 6-6, 300 (RSo.)

69 Garrett Curran, 6-5, 292 (RFr.)

Defensive end

93 Chase Hatada, 6-3, 262 (Sr.)

54 Matt Locher, 6-2, 270 (RSr.) OR

40 Jabari Watson, 6-1, 269 (RJr.)

Nose tackle

98 Sonatane Lui, 6-1, 283 (Sr.)

57 Emmanuel Fesili, 6-2, 312 (Sr.) OR

90 Scale Igiehon, 6-2, 306 (So.)

Defensive tackle

55 David Moa, 6-3, 296 (6YSr.)

62 Scott Matlock, 6-4, 283 (RFr.)

STUD end

99 Curtis Weaver, 6-3, 265 (RJr.)

38 Demetri Washington, 6-3, 254 (RFr.)

Weak-side linebacker

44 Riley Whimpey, 6-1, 233 (Jr.)

48 Bruno DeRose, 5-11, 223 (RJr.) OR

3 Brandon Hawkins, 6-2, 217 (RFr.)

Middle linebacker

7 Ezekiel Noa, 5-11, 242 (RSo.)

25 Benton Wickersham, 6-2, 230 (Jr.)

Nickel/strong-side LB

28 Kekaula Kaniho, 5-10, 182 (Jr.)

20 Roman Kafentzis, 6-1, 212 (RSo.)

Cornerback

26 Avery Williams, 5-9, 198 (RJr.)

8 Markel Reed, 6-0, 176 (Fr.)

Cornerback

15 Jalen Walker, 6-0, 179 (RJr.)

22 Tyric LeBeauf, 6-2, 180 (RFr.)

Boundary Safety

10 Kekoa Nawahine, 6-2, 207 (Sr.)

33 JL Skinner, 6-4, 213 (Fr.)

Field Safety

4 DeAndre Pierce, 5-11, 180 (RJr.)

21 Tyreque Jones, 6-2, 201 (RSo.) OR

5 Evan Tyler, 6-2, 195 (RSr.)

Kicker

36 Eric Sachse, 5-10, 198 (RSr.)

46 Joel Velazquez, 6-0, 225 (RJr.)

Kick returner

16 John Hightower, 6-2, 172 (Sr.)

26 Avery Williams, 5-9, 198 (RJr.)

Punter

46 Joel Velazquez, 6-0, 225 (RJr.)

36 Eric Sachse, 5-10, 198 (RSr.)

Punt returner

26 Avery Williams, 5-9, 198 (RJr.)

2 Khalil Shakir, 6-0, 186 (So.)

PORTLAND STATE DEPTH CHART

Quarterback

6 Davis Alexander, 5-11, 195 (Jr.)

10 Jalani Eason, 5-11, 185 (Jr.)

15 Dante Chachere, 6-3, 170 (Fr.)

Running back

21 Carlos Martin, 5-11, 210 (Sr.)

25 Sirgeo Hoffman, 6-0, 215 (Sr.)

4 Evyn Holtz, 5-9, 190 (Jr.)

Wide receiver

81 Mataio Talalemotu, 6-1, 180 (So.)

82 George McCorley, 6-2, 200 (So.)

87 Jacob Bystry, 6-0, 180 (Sr.)

Wide receiver

13 Beau Kelly, 5-9, 165 (So.)

5 Easton Trakel, 5-9, 180 (Jr.)

2 Antwone Williams, 5-8, 170 (Jr.)

Wide receiver

80 Emmanuel Daigbe, 6-1, 210 (Jr.)

7 Davis Koetter, 6-2, 195 (So.)

Tight end

89 Charlie Taumoepeau, 6-3, 245 (Sr.)

88 Malik Thirdgill, 6-4, 250 (So.)

93 Jackson Davis, 6-1, 240 (Sr.)

Left tackle

77 Korbin Sorensen, 6-6, 305 (Jr.)

62 Spencer Reed, 6-3, 270 (Sr.)

Left guard

64 Larry Brister, 6-2, 285 (Sr.)

73 John Krahn, 6-10, 410 (Jr.)

75 Alex Rockwell, 6-3, 270 (So.)

Center

65 Garrett Stauffer, 6-3, 290 (Sr.)

61 Shiloh Ta’ase, 6-3, 290 (Fr.)

68 Zach Phillipo, 6-2, 280 (Fr.)

Right guard

72 Babak Ghadaksaz, 6-2, 290 (Jr.)

74 Tyson Pauling, 6-5, 310 (So.)

76 Tommy Laverde, 6-5, 290 (Jr.)

Right tackle

70 Daniel Giannosa, 6-9, 280 (Jr.)

60 Brady Brick, 6-5, 290 (So.)

RUSH

54 Jake Porter, 6-4, 250 (So.)

99 Shawn Richard, 6-1, 230 (Sr.)

91 Jayson Pace, 6-1, 240 (So.)

LT

95 Semise Kofe, 6-2, 315 (Jr.)

55 Boogie Davis, 6-3, 255 (So.)

RT

51 Kenton Bartlett, 6-3, 270 (Sr.)

98 Anthony Del Toro, 6-2, 300 (Sr.)

Defensive end

53 Noah Yunker, 6-4, 255 (Jr.)

90 Jarryn Bush, 6-1, 265 (So.)

22 James Thomas, 6-1, 245 (Fr.)

Middle linebacker

47 Robert Holt, 6-2, 215 (So.)

44 Zack Mandera, 6-1, 220 (Fr.)

56 Dylan Hanley, 6-2, 225 (Jr.)

Weakside linebacker

26 Nicolas Ah Sam, 6-1, 250 (Jr.)

45 Moses Finau, 6-1, 240 (So.)

Rover

1 Romeo Gunt, 5-10, 190 (Sr.)

33 David Joseph, 6-1, 200 (Fr.)

SAM

14 Anthony Adams, 6-0, 180 (So.)

20 Greg Oliver, 5-10, 165 (Fr.)

34 Ty Apana-Purcell, 5-9, 185 (Jr.)

Free safety

29 Ryan Lesch, 6-1, 200 (Sr.)

3 Sam Inos, 5-11, 195 (Jr.)

16 KJ Walker, 6-0, 180 (Jr.)

Cornerback

23 Montre Brown, 6-1, 185 (Sr.)

28 Arin Mannery, 6-0, 180 (Jr.)

20 Greg Oliver, 5-10, 165 (Fr.)

Cornerback

8 Maxwell Howell, 6-2, 195 (Sr.)

27 Deon Crayon, 6-2, 180 (Sr.)

40 Benton Hoge, 5-10, 180 (Fr.)

Kicker

57 Cody Williams, 5-10, 190 (So.)

97 Ward Bonnin, 6-1, 210 (So.)

Kick returner

4 Evyn Holtz, 5-9, 190 (Jr.)

87 Jacob Bystry, 6-0, 180 (Sr.)

13 Beau Kelly, 5-9, 165 (So.)

Punter

96 Seth Vernon, 6-5, 230 (Jr.) OR

97 Ward Bonnin, 6-1, 210 (So.)

Punt returner

13 Beau Kelly, 5-9, 165 (So.)

81 Mataio Talalemotu, 6-1, 180 (So.)

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