Final score: Boise State 30, Air Force 19
Records: Boise State is 4-0, 1-0 Mountain West; Air Force is 2-1, 0-1
Why the Broncos won: The Broncos’ defense played a masterful game and bought enough time for the offense to figure out the Falcons’ defense, which has given the Broncos fits for years.
Trailing 13-10 in the second half, the Broncos marched 77 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown, made a fourth-and-1 stop, went 52 yards for another touchdown, and grabbed an interception to pull away 30-13. The Broncos scored 20 consecutive points.
“We did not back off one bit on a short week, and it was difficult, to be honest on that. I thought coach (Jeff) Schmedding and the defensive staff did a really good job and their preparation in the offseason showed up,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.
Main takeaway: The Broncos overcame a ton of adversity to post a 4-0 record through September — the second time in eight years they’ve made it through August/September unscathed. They erased an 18-point deficit in the opener at Florida State, a game that was in danger of being canceled and was moved to a new location on 48 hours’ notice; they returned home for a short week and survived a sloppy offensive performance against a tough Marshall team; and after dispatching FCS Portland State, they had to deal with Air Force’s triple option on another short week.
Boise State also has played without one of its most important defensive players, safety DeAndre Pierce, and starting right tackle John Ojukwu for the past three games.
“It means a lot,” junior tailback Robert Mahone said. “... We’re just going to keep building on that chemistry and we’re going to keep going out there and giving our best for each other.”
Now the Broncos can get some rest during the bye week after this frantic opening stretch, give true freshman quarterback Hank Bachmeier time to digest what he’s learned in a whirlwind month and maybe get some players healed before returning to the field. They already are No. 20 in the polls and could climb even higher before they play at UNLV in two weeks. And they’ll face only one top-80 opponent (per SP+ rankings) in their next six games: Oct. 19 at BYU.
Not that Harsin intends to let his players relax. There’s a lot to fix, he said after the Air Force win, and the Broncos could have finished the game in better fashion.
But he expects this team to respond to the prodding.
“They don’t take a challenge as a threat,” Harsin said. “They take it as an opportunity.”
The Broncos are 4-0 for the first time since 2016, when they reached 7-0 before crumbling down the stretch with losses to Wyoming, Air Force and Baylor. That was the only time they’ve been 4-0 since the 2008-11 Kellen Moore teams started that way every season.
The Broncos certainly are in the thick of the New Year’s Six debate — although they’re stuck behind UCF as long as the Knights are undefeated.
It all sets up for an October and November of hype, debate and fun around the Boise State football program — and Harsin hinted at that Friday night as he thanked one of the largest crowds in school history and asked the fans to show up again for the three remaining home games.
“I hope that Bronco Nation is hearing me on this and everybody involved that helped make that happen, that they are excited, as excited as I am, about what we showed tonight on national television,” Harsin said.
Player of the game: Senior Sonatane Lui made an insane 16 tackles from his nose tackle spot. Most importantly, he teamed with David Moa on the fourth-and-1 stop that gave the Broncos the ball back, leading 17-13 early in the fourth quarter.
“Coach Harsin always says the most physical team wins,” Lui said. “That’s all that was going through my head was, you know, be physical ... this is the most physical play we’re going to have to make.”
Play of the game: Boise State wide receiver John Hightower made a 14-yard grab at the Air Force 10-yard line on third-and-11 with Boise State leading 17-13. Two Air Force defenders were in the area and at least one of them, if not both, had a chance to catch the ball as it caromed around the three bodies. But Hightower corralled the ball falling to the ground and Boise State scored on the next play.
“It was a great catch, concentration,” junior tailback Robert Mahone said. “Two Air Force defenders tipped it and it fell right in his hands.”
What’s next: Boise State has a bye next week and plays Oct. 5 at UNLV.