Boise State Football

Boise State-Air Force report card: Grading the Broncos’ win in Mountain West opener

This team still is capable of so much more.

Boise State beat Air Force 30-19 on Friday night at Albertsons Stadium — the best Air Force team the Broncos have played in recent years, coach Bryan Harsin and senior nose tackle Sonatane Lui agreed — but the Broncos left feeling unsatisfied.

“We probably left a lot of things out there that might have created a different score,” Harsin said, “might have made it more one-sided than it was.”

The Broncos will try to work out some of the kinks during a bye week before playing Oct. 5 at UNLV (8:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network). Here’s how we graded the win against Air Force.

OFFENSE: B

The Broncos’ early-game struggles continued, as did their inability to run the ball consistently in the annual matchup with Air Force. They were 5-of-11 on third down, which isn’t bad, but is a step back from the efficiency they’d shown.

But the Broncos didn’t commit a turnover — for the third consecutive year against Air Force, all wins — and quarterback Hank Bachmeier and his receivers made some clutch plays in long-yardage situations. Bachmeier was 7-for-8 in the second half, including an absolute dart to Akilian Butler on fourth-and-10 trailing 13-10, a well-timed throw to tight end John Bates for a touchdown and a 14-yard pass to John Hightower on third-and-11.

Junior wide receiver CT Thomas made five catches for 119 yards, including a TD and a spectacular diving grab. Bachmeier, who threw for 263 yards, improved his quarterback rating for the third straight game.

The run game was bottled up most of the night but junior tailback Robert Mahone clinched the win with a pair of 10-yard touchdown runs in the fourth quarter. He finished with 13 carries for 73 yards.

“That’s what we’re all about, finishing running the ball,” Mahone said.

DEFENSE: A-

The Broncos held the Falcons to 19 points, matching their best previous effort (19 points in 2017). They allowed 242 rushing yards but didn’t get hurt by the big-play passing attack and limited explosive plays overall. Air Force’s longest play covered 31 yards and came in the closing minutes, trailing 30-13.

The defense also contributed two huge plays in the fourth quarter — a fourth-and-1 stop near midfield protecting a 17-13 lead, and an interception and 50-yard return by Kekaula Kaniho. Both plays led to touchdowns.

The only real flaw was the breezy touchdown drive the Broncos allowed late in the game — a seven-play, 75-yard march that ended with Geraud Sanders’ 31-yard touchdown catch. That was the first touchdown allowed by the Broncos in the second half this season — and earlier they allowed a field goal for the first second-half points against them this year.

“We don’t want to give up that score at the end,” Harsin said. “... I certainly am not going to just walk away and say that we finished as well as we could have.”

SPECIAL TEAMS: D

If the Broncos had lost, special teams would have been at the top of the list of culprits. Punter/kickoff specialist Joel Velazquez’s struggles continued — he averaged 33 yards per punt and hit one kickoff out of bounds. Eric Sachse made a 40-yard field goal — he’s 7-for-7 inside 42 yards — but had a PAT blocked. And a week after Hightower scored a touchdown, he managed just 33 yards on two kickoff returns.

The other plus besides Sachse was cornerback Avery Williams blocking a PAT late in the game.

“That was a disappointing performance tonight on special teams,” Harsin said. “... We spent so much time and still we’re not seeing the results that we want to see yet. ... If we’ve got to tear it all apart and start over, we’ll do that.”

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