Boise State Football

Three keys — and three score predictions — for Boise State’s trip to Las Vegas

Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin said he heard another coach utter this line recently.

It’s one that dates back to at least John Madden — and it sums up where the No. 16 Broncos are right now with a 4-0 record and numerous flaws.

“Based off what I’ve seen from our football team, we’ve won games, but ... I think the wins, somebody said it’s like deodorant, right? It just kind of covers up the stuff that stinks,” Harsin said.

“... I saw it the other day and I’m like, ‘That’s exactly it.’ Because there’s a bunch of things that stink, and if you don’t correct them or address them, then they’re going to come back and get you.”

That was Harsin’s message to the Broncos during their bye last week as they prepared for a three-game stretch before the next bye: Saturday at woeful UNLV, Oct. 12 vs. resurgent Hawaii and Oct. 19 at rival BYU.

It’s a stretch where the Broncos need more than just three wins. They need to play with better execution and more dominance if they want to make a run at a New Year’s Six bowl berth.

While the Broncos are faring well with human voters, their cold spells on offense and lackluster special teams have contributed to a No. 50 ranking in the ESPN SP+ rankings that do a solid job of predicting success. That puts the Broncos behind No. 14 UCF, No. 25 Memphis, No. 37 SMU, No. 38 Cincinnati, No. 41 Utah State, No. 43 Appalachian State and No. 45 Temple among Group of Five teams.

Those rankings don’t matter — but they’re an indication that the College Football Playoff selection committee will have plenty of ways to nitpick the Broncos if they don’t start producing complete performances.

Here are three areas where the Broncos need to show improvement this week — in addition to protecting quarterback Hank Bachmeier, who has endured 65 hits in four games:

Three Keys

1. Running game: Top tailbacks Robert Mahone and George Holani have averaged 127.5 rushing yards per game and 5.26 yards per carry — strong numbers. But the Broncos haven’t established the run in the last three games until the fourth quarter.

Yes, they’ve played three straight opponents who make a point of controlling the run game. But for this team to become consistent on offense, it needs to get the run game going earlier.

The Broncos rushed for a modest 155 yards against Marshall but killed the last 7 minutes, 36 seconds off the clock. They rushed for 150 against Portland State. And they sputtered to 95 yards against Air Force — although the running game produced 57 yards and two touchdowns on the last nine plays.

“We’ve finished games well, and so that’s what I’ve been most proud of with our run game,” offensive coordinator Zak Hill said. “... We know we can run it. We need to do a better job of it. At this place, Boise State, it’s about running the football, controlling the game.”

2. What about the first half? The Broncos’ opponent has scored first in every game, and Boise State has held a halftime lead just once — against Portland State of the Football Championship Subdivision.

The Broncos have been outscored 38-20 in the first quarter and have a narrow edge of 64-58 in the first half. But in the second half, the Broncos hold a dominant 61-9 scoring margin.

The Marshall (14-7) and Air Force (30-19) games were closer than they should have been largely because of missed opportunities on offense.

Too many players, Harsin said, aren’t committing enough time to preparation during the week. He even reached out to some of them on Monday morning, when players don’t have practice or class, to ask whether they were watching video.

“We need to prepare as a team a whole lot better,” Harsin said.

3. Punting: The Broncos are averaging 35.9 yards per punt — the fifth-worst average in the country. Junior Joel Velazquez, who has a strong leg and has shown it on kickoffs, has been wildly inconsistent punting. He had kicks that went 29 and 20 yards in the Air Force game.

“Joel’s extremely talented,” Harsin said. “Joel’s got a great leg. He’s very powerful. And I know what he’s capable of doing. We just have to be consistent there.”

Three Predictions

Boise State is a 22-point favorite in Las Vegas with an over/under of 57 1/2 total points. The Broncos are 18-9 against the spread in their past 27 games.

UNLV is 4-2-1 ATS in the past seven games but failed to cover by 25 points against Arkansas State and 28 points against Wyoming this season.

My pick (3-1 straight up, 2-2 ATS): With Harsin giving the Broncos an extra push or two during the bye week, the offensive line perhaps returning to full strength, the expected boost from fans and family members traveling to Las Vegas and the likely improvement in protection, the Broncos are going to roll. Boise State 48, UNLV 13

UNLV perspective, from Bruce Marshall of The Gold Sheet (opponent view is 1-2, 1-2): “We suppose things could get worse for UNLV (maybe Adam Schiff shows up at practice this week with a subpoena). But with the possibility that QB Armani Rogers (leg) is out again, the odds that under-fire Tony Sanchez even makes it to Halloween are starting to dwindle. Boise has kicked on and is not likely to meet much resistance from Rebs’ non-D that allowed 53 to Wyo’s throwback, 1970s-style Nebraska offense.” Boise State 44, UNLV 13

Betting expert Lee Sterling of Paramount Sports, who appears weekly on KTIK (2-1, 1-2): “When I go against UNLV, the only way I’ve really lost games is sometimes they have these windstorms ... and they come out of nowhere. So that’s happened to me, believe it or not, in two games in the last decade.” Boise State 45, UNLV 13

Chadd Cripe is the Idaho Statesman’s assistant editor and sports columnist. Contact him at ccripe@idahostatesman.com and follow @chaddcripe on Twitter.

Related stories from Idaho Statesman

  Comments