Boise State Football

Boise State’s season-long flaws prove costly against meticulously prepared BYU

The flaws were so apparent that Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin was asked about them on a weekly basis, even as his team compiled a 6-0 start.

Some of them he brought up himself, like repeatedly suggesting that his team needed to prepare better.

He even joked that wins are like deodorant — they cover up what stinks.

And on Saturday night, for the first three quarters anyway, the No. 14 Broncos stunk.

A spirited fourth quarter allowed them to pull within 28-25 of BYU, but the Broncos ran out of time and absorbed their third loss in the past four visits to LaVell Edwards Stadium.

BYU (3-4) got better quarterback play, won the turnover battle, showed more discipline on defense and even used the creativity that is Boise State’s hallmark to deliver all of the Cougars’ biggest blows. It was an across-the-board victory that was more sweeping than the score indicated.

“We’ve always talked about putting a complete game together,” BYU linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi told reporters after the game. “For some reason, it hasn’t happened. I think tonight, it did, and it showed.”

Boise State (6-1) has spoken of that same goal — to play a complete game — and continually comes up short. The Broncos trailed by 18 points at Florida State, scored only 14 points against Marshall, trailed Air Force in the third quarter and allowed 37 points to Hawaii. The warning signs were apparent, even with the 6-0 start.

The offense has some entertaining playmakers but goes through large swaths of games looking punchless — like the 42-minute, 46-second stretch between touchdowns on Saturday night. Some of that is the inexperience at quarterback, with true freshman Hank Bachmeier starting the first six games and sophomore Chase Cord subbing against BYU. A major part is the inconsistent run game, which couldn’t take full advantage of three straight opponents ranked 90th or worse in run defense.

BYU was allowing 4.79 yards per carry. Boise State managed 174 yards on 40 carries, for 4.35.

“I don’t think we ran the ball as effectively as we hoped that we would in the game,” Harsin said, “and we didn’t have the rush yards that we thought we would be able to get.”

[Related: Trick plays doom Broncos; Cord inconsistent in first start; Holani steps up; Instant Analysis: Broncos outclassed in all phases; scoring summary]

The Broncos’ defense is solid but has just 10 takeaways in seven games — and didn’t sniff one against a BYU team led by third-string quarterback Baylor Romney. The Broncos had survived with limited turnovers because of their ability to make a big play when needed (they were in the top 10 in third- and fourth-down defense) and avoid major breakdowns. But on Saturday, they got beaten badly by two trick plays, were out-executed on two fourth-and-1s and allowed a touchdown drive that included two third-and-12s.

“Fundamentals and techniques,” senior defensive tackle David Moa said. “Fundamentals and techniques.”

The special teams are more sound than last year but rarely are better than the opponent’s. The Broncos started drives on average at their own 24-yard line against BYU. A missed field goal, on a play that included a high snap, was a critical mistake from kicker Eric Sachse, who was 9-for-9 from inside 42 yards previously.

“Sachse would say it, and I’d say it, too — we’ve got to make that,” Harsin said of the 36-yarder.

And there are some confounding coaching decisions, like leaving third-string quarterback Jaylon Henderson in the game on third-and-7 at the BYU 21-yard line late in the first half. One ugly pass later — the Broncos were lucky it wasn’t intercepted — Boise State settled for a field goal instead of a touchdown.

Harsin, who has drawn fans’ ire at times for the way he uses multiple quarterbacks, said it was his decision to give Henderson that play. The athletic Henderson had come on to run the ball on second-and-6 and lost a yard.

“I think it was a good play and I think we had a good look at it,” Harsin said of the third-down throw, “and we just didn’t execute it. But he’s more than capable of doing that.”

BYU’s coaches, on the other hand, put a meticulously prepared team on the field and gave the players a creative plan that at times made the Broncos look silly. The defense limited Boise State’s top receiver, Khalil Shakir, to one catch and most explosive receiver, John Hightower, to 11 yards. The offense scored touchdowns that covered a total of 112 yards on a fake fumbled snap, a reverse flea flicker and a speed option with flawless execution. And the offense and defense merged for the game-clinching quarterback sneak — with a defensive back playing quarterback, a nose tackle playing fullback pushing the pile and a defensive end at tight end.

“We made some pretty bold moves this game,” BYU tight end Matt Bushman told reporters, “and it paid off.”

It’s a credit to the Broncos that they fought back with 15 fourth-quarter points and were close to getting the ball back to try to win the game. You can’t question this team’s heart.

Seven games in, you can question whether the team we see in flashes is actually what the 2019 Broncos could become — or just a tease.

To win the Mountain West, they’ll need to figure out how to put together complete performances. They even could overcome this loss to contend for a New Year’s Six bowl berth if the teams that benefited from the Broncos’ stumble falter themselves.

That talk will have to wait, though. First, the Broncos need to regroup.

“We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and start over,” junior wide receiver CT Thomas said, “start all the way over.”

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

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