Boise State Football

Three flaws Boise State football must address vs. Portland State — and a score prediction

It’s no surprise the Boise State football program faces a ticket-selling problem in 2019. You could see this ho-hum home schedule coming from years away.

Still, it’s a cause for major concern.

The Broncos’ season-ticket sales have dropped to the lowest level since 2003, when capacity at Albertsons Stadium was 6,000 less and Chris Petersen had yet to become a head coach. Last week’s season opener against Marshall — quite possibly the best opponent on this home schedule — failed to resonate with fans, leading to 4,000-plus empty seats. And the No. 22 Broncos’ early success likely means a string of 8 p.m. or later games are on the way.

There’s a financial implication to the sluggish sales — Boise State (2-0) can’t sustain a trend of declining football ticket revenue when many of its costs are increasing.

There’s also a competitive one — coach Bryan Harsin and players pointed out the role the spirited, packed student section played in last week’s 14-7 win against Marshall. Harsin even delivered pizzas to the student fan group this week.

“The student section was phenomenal,” Harsin said. “... As far as the fans that are here, those are the ones that we care about, they’re in the stadium, they’re in there with us, they’re in there supporting our team. This is really, in my opinion, the best place to be on a Friday or Saturday night in Boise, Idaho, to come out here and support the team.”

Athletic Director Curt Apsey says his staff will review all options to improve season-ticket sales next year.

However, many factors are out of his control. The Mountain West’s schedule rotation gives the Broncos San Jose State, Hawaii and UNLV two out of four years (2019-20) instead of Fresno State, San Diego State and Nevada (2021-22); TV partners pay the Mountain West in part because the conference can fill the late-night time slots; attendance is declining nationwide as the TV experience improves; and full-stadium alcohol sales likely are years away, if at all, in conservative Idaho.

Sales should get a bump from the coming schedules: Florida State and BYU visit in 2020; Oklahoma State in 2021; Michigan State, BYU, Fresno State and San Diego State in 2022; Oregon State in 2023; Houston and Cincinnati in 2024; and Oregon and BYU in 2025.

That won’t help this year, when the opponents remaining on the schedule combined for a 26-35 record last year: Portland State (4-7), Air Force (5-7), Hawaii (8-6), Wyoming (6-6) and New Mexico (3-9).

Sales, instead, are going to depend on how enthusiastic fans are by the historic performances from true freshmen Hank Bachmeier at quarterback and George Holani at running back.

Here are three keys for Boise State against Portland State (8:15 p.m. Saturday, ESPN2) — focused on what the Broncos need to fix:

Three keys

1. Red-zone offense: Boise State could have had a drama-free first two games if not for squandered opportunities. The Broncos are tied for 112th in the nation in red-zone touchdowns — finishing just four of the 12 drives (33.3 percent) that have cracked the opponent’s 20-yard line.

In fact, only five teams have reached the red zone more than the Broncos — and four of them are in the Top 25. Those five are a combined 53-for-66 (80.3 percent) scoring touchdowns.

Boise State senior offensive captain John Molchon said it’s up to the players to learn how to convert their scoring opportunities.

“We’ve got to attack,” Molchon said. “It gets tighter down there and we know we’ve got to do our job. It’s not the playcalling. It’s not anything but ourselves.”

Harsin has emphasized the mentality required to score touchdowns — he says you have to “smell blood.” But playing a true freshman quarterback is a factor, too. One of the qualities that set Kellen Moore apart during his time at Boise State was his ability to throw accurate passes in the tight spaces of the red zone. That comes with experience.

Bachmeier has thrown one touchdown pass in the red zone so far, from 11 yards out. Holani and true sophomore tailback Andrew Van Buren haven’t scored this season.

“It’s got to be inside. It’s got to be part of who you are. And we’re still working to develop that,” Harsin said. “We’ve got guys that want it, but it’s more than just want it. You’ve got to really smell blood. ... That’s what good teams do.”

2. First-half slumber: The Broncos have trailed for 43 minutes, 20 seconds of a possible 60 minutes in the first half this season. They haven’t led at all and haven’t scored a touchdown in the first 25 minutes of a game.

That trend has been more obvious on defense, where the Broncos have skunked Florida State and Marshall after halftime and held the Thundering Herd to zero yards.

“The coaches are giving us the blueprint,” junior cornerback Jalen Walker said. “We just have to go out there and start fast.”

3. Special teams: The Broncos have avoided the costly error on special teams this season but still haven’t shown difference-making ability in that area. The closest they came was an outstanding punt return by Avery Williams against Marshall, but that was wiped out on a penalty for a blind-side block (a new rule this year). They should have a significant athleticism and talent edge against FCS Portland State — a perfect opportunity to build some confidence and momentum on special teams.

Score prediction

Boise State is a 31 1/2-point favorite in Las Vegas with an over/under of 54 total points. The Broncos are 1-1 against the spread this season, and 16-9 in their past 25 games.

This is the Broncos’ first game against an FCS team since a 52-0 cakewalk against Idaho State in 2015. Since 2003, they have won six of eight FCS contests by at least 40 points. The exceptions were 34-16 against UC Davis in 2009 and 21-14 against Portland State in 2005. The average score across those eight games: 48-7.

My pick (1-1 straight up, 0-2 ATS): The Broncos easily would have covered the spread last week if not for a string of mistakes in scoring territory. I’m guessing they’ll hear about that so much this week that they’ll break through. And this defense is dynamic. Boise State 48, Portland State 7

Chadd Cripe is the Idaho Statesman’s assistant editor and sports columnist. Contact him at ccripe@idahostatesman.com and follow @chaddcripe on Twitter.

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