The offensive line entered the season as one of the expected strengths for Boise State’s football team. But after three weeks and multiple injuries, the Broncos are re-creating their starting five on the fly.
Two redshirt freshmen — right tackle Garrett Curran and left guard Kekaniokoa Holomalia-Gonzalez — made their starting debuts Saturday against Portland State. And John Molchon continued his tour along the Broncos’ offensive line, shifting to left tackle, his third starting position in three weeks.
Boise State still dominated the lower-division Vikings, winning 45-10 on the blue turf at Albertsons Stadium. The Broncos ran for 150 yards at 4.8 yards per carry, up from their 3.55-yard average entering the week (99th in the FBS). But Boise State’s troubling pass protection reared its head again against a Big Sky pass rush.
“Guys get dinged up and they’re not out there. That’s part of football,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “... We ran the ball well. But the protection piece … that’s got to improve.”
ESPN revealed a stat during Saturday’s broadcast that Boise State quarterback Hank Bachmeier had absorbed 29 hits entering the week, the most of any quarterback in the country. That number only went up Saturday as the Vikings racked up three sacks, slammed him to the turf countless times and delivered a helmet to his chin before he exited early in the third quarter.
Portland State’s Romeo Gunt was ejected for targeting on the second-quarter hit, which Bachmeier took while delivering a 23-yard TD pass to John Hightower for a 21-10 lead.
Harsin laid some of the blame for Bachmeier’s hits at Bachmeier’s feet as the true freshman hung onto the ball too long and misdiagnosed impending blitzes. But the patchwork offensive line also struggled to handle Portland State’s delayed blitzers, zone blitzes and overloaded rushes, often giving Bachmeier no time to find an outlet.
And once the Vikings realized they could get to Bachmeier, they only dialed up the pressure even further.
“It just adds to the fire when I hear the stat that ESPN came up with,” Harsin said. “I’m not even going to ask. I’m not even going to check it. I’m going to take their word for it because regardless of it, we don’t want our guys back there getting hit.
“But quarterbacks also have to protect themselves, and they should be able to by getting the ball out or changing the protection. And the guys up front, they’ve got to be able to do a better job.
“To me, it’s everybody working together. And right now, we’re not working together very well.”
Boise State entered the season as one of three teams in the country returning all five starting offensive linemen from a year ago. But the Broncos haven’t had the luxury of that full unit since right tackle John Ojukwu went down in the third quarter against Florida State.
Molchon made the battlefield switch from left guard to right tackle in the season opener, then started there the next week against Marshall. But Molchon flipped to left tackle this week with Ezra Cleveland, a potential early entry into this spring’s NFL Draft, on the sideline with a walking boot on his right foot.
That opened the door for two freshmen to see the field and required Boise State to rework its offensive line again.
“Hopefully we get Ezra back, and we’ll see where John Ojukwu is at and if he’s ready to play this next game,” Harsin said. “If not, Curran got some experience. Hopefully, Ezra is back out there and we can probably move Molchon around again somewhere and figure out who that guard is.”