Boise State Football

Boise State-Hawaii report card: Potent offense, opportunistic defense make the grade

The Boise State football team cleared a major hurdle on Saturday in its journey toward becoming the latest Group of Five program to be a thorn in the side of the College Football Playoff selection committee.

Two seasons ago, UCF declared itself the national champion after a perceived snub from the committee. This fall, Boise State is halfway to an unbeaten regular season.

After Saturday’s 59-37 win over Hawaii, the Broncos (6-0) remain the highest-ranked Group of Five school at No. 14 in the latest AP Top 25 poll. They’re joined by No. 19 SMU (6-0), No. 21 Cincinnati (5-1) and No. 24 Appalachian State (5-0).

Here’s a look at how Boise State did in all three phases on Saturday.

Offense: A-

You have to respect the job Boise State’s backup quarterbacks did. After Hank Bachmeier went down in the second quarter, Chase Cord came in and threw three touchdown passes and Jaylon Henderson threw one.

Wide receiver John Hightower (seven catches, 142 yards, two TDs) put together his best performance of the season, and he and fellow receiver CT Thomas (four catches, 53 yards) were the fastest players on the field.

A running game that has struggled to find its rhythm produced 203 yards at 5.2 yards per carry, and freshman running back George Holani found the end zone three times (twice through the air).

On Saturday, Boise State scored 50 points in a game for the first time since Oct. 19, 2018, when it beat Colorado State 56-28. But the real beauty of Saturday’s performance was the creativity with which the Broncos scored those points.

Five different players took a snap and two unconventional looks produced touchdowns. Wide receiver Khalil Shakir took a direct snap and scored the first points of the game, and Hightower handled one and handed off to Robert Mahone on a misdirection play that went for a 13-yard score.

“I think that’s a credit to our players. They’re all intelligent enough to do that so we can have a little bit of fun,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “We can be creative, and everything that we’re trying to get done, it’s how do we get the best players the ball?”

Defense: B-

The Broncos produced a season-high four takeaways, three of which the offense converted into 21 points, but they also gave up a season-high 37 points and 438 yards.

Boise State pestered Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald but didn’t have a sack, and Curtis Weaver was the only Bronco to record a tackle for loss. He finished with two.

The front seven lost contain on McDonald a few times, including a 17-yard touchdown run, and even in the third and fourth quarters, he was finding open receivers down the field. Granted, some of those late completions came against the backups, but the Broncos know they made some mistakes.

“Our goal every week is to get three takeaways, so I think we did a good job of that,” nickel Kekaula Kaniho said. “I wish we would have gotten ... more interceptions with the amount of times they put the ball in the air.”

Special teams: B+

Joel Velazquez averaged 42 yards per punt and flipped the field with a 54-yard boot. He also produced five touchbacks on kickoffs. Special teams and turnovers allowed the Broncos to have an average drive start near midfield.

“We were in good field position and we needed to take advantage of it and we knew that,” Harsin said. “That was one of the things. Hey, we’re here and we need to take advantage of this. We can’t go out there and get into a punt situation or a long field goal or that awkward fourth down like we’ve done this season a few times.”

Kicker Eric Sachse connected on his only field-goal attempt of the night from 38 yards. Hightower’s lone kickoff return went for 34 yards, but the Broncos’ punt returners returned just one for 4 yards.

The Broncos’ kick coverage team also gave up returns of 29 and 37 yards.

Ron Counts is in his first season as the Idaho Statesman’s Boise State football beat writer.

Related stories from Idaho Statesman

Ron Counts is the Boise State beat writer for the Idaho Statesman. He’s a Virginia native and spent that past three years covering University of Virginia.