Boise State football players tried to tell us in the summer: There’s something special about this year’s locker room.
It’s time to believe.
The Broncos are 4-0 after a four-game stretch during which they started the second half with a lead just once, played on two short weeks, had one game moved 160 miles across Florida and 7 hours earlier in the day, lost the starting right tackle and the guy who was the defensive glue to injuries, started a true freshman quarterback for the first time in the program’s FBS history, broke in three new defensive coaches and opened the year by falling into a seemingly insurmountable, 31-13 chasm at Florida State.
All that, and 4-0.
“It’s been full of adversity, for sure,” junior safety/nickel Kekaula Kaniho said.
And resilience, too.
That’s what coach Bryan Harsin — who might have the best team of his six-year tenure — likes.
The No. 20 Broncos are far from perfect in every way but their record. Harsin will spend a good chunk of the bye week reminding his players of that, particularly the lackluster special teams.
But this group, he says, has embraced coaches’ critiques as a way to improve. That’s one reason the Broncos have been so good in the second half — outscoring opponents 61-9, including a run of 20 straight points Friday night to beat Air Force 30-19.
“There’s still plenty to work on,” Harsin said. “That’s the thing about our guys — they don’t take that as a threat. They don’t take adversity as a threat. They don’t take a challenge as a threat. They take it as an opportunity. And that’s what I’ve learned about this team.”
Players emphasized during the summer that this team would have more accountability within the locker room, with players pushing players — a player-driven approach they said would lead to a more disciplined team.
That theme showed up Friday night, on the critical fourth-and-1 stop by the Broncos early in the fourth quarter. The defensive players spoke before the snap about the need to stop the interior run game that had been problematic all night, senior nose tackle Sonatane Lui said. That message was on his mind as he attacked his double team, watched the running back slam into the back of the offensive line and grabbed onto the ball carrier to help make the tackle.
“I think the biggest thing is a lot of our guys are really good at not losing two plays in a row,” Lui said.
That shows poise, which has been instrumental in the Broncos thriving during a manic 23-day stretch from the morning they left for Florida till the end of the Air Force game.
And Harsin hopes his team continues to embrace poise’s football sibling, too — paranoia.
How do you make sure you’re prepared for every possibility against an overmatched opponent like Portland State? With a healthy dose of fear that the one stone you forget to turn is going to ruin you.
“Something that I learned as a young coach, poised and paranoid,” Harsin said. “It’s like, ‘Well, it makes a whole lot of sense, doesn’t it?’ And, to me, that’s how you have to be in this game.“
Poised? That’s true freshman quarterback Hank Bachmeier going 7-for-8 in the second half to lead the Broncos’ comeback against Air Force, including a fourth-and-10 conversion. That’s wide receiver John Hightower catching a batted ball as he fell to the ground to set up the touchdown that gave the Broncos their first two-score lead over an FBS team all season. That’s Kaniho clinching the victory with an interception and 50-yard return to set up another touchdown.
Paranoid? That’s the Broncos’ challenge now. They have a bye week — the time when it will be tempting to relax, to revel in this 4-0 start, to listen to the hype that’s going to come their way. Then they have a string of opponents they’ll be projected to thump, from UNLV (Oct. 5) through New Mexico (Nov. 16) with BYU (Oct. 19) as the lone exception.
Can the Broncos maintain this intense focus through that? Can they handle success? Can they deflect adulation?
It takes a special team to do that. And it starts within the walls of the locker room.
“I feel like after every game we just get closer and closer,” 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.”
Chadd Cripe is the Idaho Statesman’s assistant editor and sports columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @chaddcripe on Twitter.