The Boise State football team’s game against Portland State on Saturday was a chance to work on some of the issues that arose the first two weeks of the season — and, for the most part, the Broncos showed improvement.
They reached the end zone four of the first five times they were in scoring territory. The first TD came on a new wrinkle, bringing backup quarterback Chase Cord on for a running play at the 7-yard line.
They started much better, too — Portland State scored first, but Boise State held a first-half lead for the first time all season and was up 28-10 at the break.
And the special teams made a huge play with John Hightower returning a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown moments after Portland State took a 3-0 lead.
The test will be more difficult Friday night when Air Force (2-0) comes to town fresh off its upset of Colorado. That game begins at 7 p.m. and airs on ESPN2.
Here are our grades for the No. 20 Broncos’ performance in the 45-10 win against Portland State:
The Broncos got strong performances from two quarterbacks: True freshman starter Hank Bachmeier was 16-for-25 for 238 yards and two touchdowns, and Cord was 5-for-10 for 103 yards and two touchdowns along with 36 rushing yards and a TD.
The depth of the receiving corps showed again with five guys making multiple catches and three scoring touchdowns.
But the coaches all but abandoned the run game — Robert Mahone and George Holani combined for 12 carries for 102 yards — and Bachmeier took a physical pounding for the third straight game. Coach Bryan Harsin said after the game that Bachmeier needs to do more to protect himself, including taking the short throws that are designed to beat the blitz.
“When you have pressure, there’s a pressure answer, and that’s where you’re supposed to go,” Harsin said. “If you hang on for the long ball, then at some point they’re going to get to you.”
The Broncos played without starting offensive tackles Ezra Cleveland and John Ojukwu, who are injured, which created an offensive line that only had two guys in the spots where they started the season opener. The offense still managed 491 yards and a season-high point total.
One moment that clearly frustrated Harsin: the lackluster opening drive of the second half, which lasted five plays and covered 6 yards. The Broncos also lost the turnover battle because of a Bachmeier interception.
Portland State drove 61 yards for a field goal and 75 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter — sound familiar? Then the first-team defense limited the Vikings to one drive of more than five plays the rest of its time on the field — sound familiar?
It’s a repeating storyline for this defense, which takes a few drives to figure out what the offense is doing and then turns completely dominant. The Vikings went backward on three consecutive possessions in the second and third quarters.
The Broncos allowed 244 yards and once again dominated on third down, where the Vikings were 3-for-14 and opponents are 6-for-35 on the season.
“Defense settled in and did a really good job,” Harsin said.
STUD end Curtis Weaver was the highlight with four sacks to tie a school record, and sophomore safety Tyreque Jones (five tackles, one sack) played well as he continues to fill in for injured starter DeAndre Pierce.
The biggest defensive flaw: Zero turnovers forced.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
Hightower’s kickoff return did more than give the Broncos the lead. It changed field position later in the game, with the Broncos getting the ball at their own 44-yard line and own 41 because the Vikings didn’t want to kick the ball near Hightower again. That also should have an effect on future opponents’ kickoffs.
“We had game-changing special teams happen, finally,” Harsin said.
Punter Joel Velazquez continued to struggle, averaging 35 yards per punt, while Portland State’s Seth Vernon pounded the ball with an average of 44.1 yards. Velazquez also missed a 51-yard field goal (he had plenty of leg) as the Broncos experimented with a different approach after starter Eric Sachse came up way short on a long attempt against Marshall. Sachse did make a 33-yard field goal in this game.