Boise State Football

Boise State-BYU report card: Broncos struggle in all three phases in loss to Cougars

Based on a long list of photo finishes and momentum-swinging moments in its previous nine games against BYU, the Boise State football team knew to expect something out of the ordinary in Saturday’s rivalry game.

Still, the Cougars managed to catch the Broncos off guard with a pair of trick plays, and BYU earned its third win in the series and first since 2015. All three of Boise State’s losses in the series have come on the road.

“I don’t think that was something for me that was going to be a surprise whatsoever. I knew they would have something like this in a game like this, and they did,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “They just did it better. They executed it well.”

The offense struggled to create explosive plays in the passing game. On defense, the Broncos struggled to get off the field early and couldn’t stop BYU on fourth-and-inches late to give themselves one last chance at the win.

Here’s a look Boise State’s report card from Saturday’s 28-25 loss. Boise State is off this week before playing Nov. 2 at San Jose State.

Offense: C

You have to give the offensive coaches credit. In the wind and rain, the plan was clearly to lean on the running game, and they stuck to it even after Robert Mahone went down. The problem is they did so at their own peril.

Freshman George Holani couldn’t break free for a big play on the ground, and unlike in past weeks, explosive plays in the passing game weren’t there to make up for it. The Broncos’ longest run of the day covered 16 yards.

“I don’t think we ran the ball as effectively as we hoped that we would,” Harsin said. “We didn’t have the rush yards that we thought we would be able to get, and especially coming into a team like BYU and on the road, you want to be able to run the ball and do it more effectively.”

Quarterback Chase Cord’s longest completion was his 32-yard touchdown to Octavius Evans, and he completed a 20-yard pass to tight end John Bates on the game’s opening possession. But John Hightower, who had five touchdown catches through six games, caught just two passes for 11 yards. He combined with CT Thomas, Khalil Shakir and Akilian Butler to catch just five passes for 36 yards.

The coaches tried to keep the receivers involved and even gave all four at least one carry, but Boise State’s inability to soften the defense with deep shots made life difficult on third down and left Cord forcing a couple of throws into crowds. What was already a two-interception day for him could have been much worse.

“There were certainly opportunities. I think there were more catches out there than the stats show,” Harsin said. “There were different ways, too, that we combated how (BYU) was going to play those guys.”

Boise State defensive tackle David Moa celebrates a sack in the first half against BYU on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, in Provo, Utah. Tyler Tate AP

Defense: B-

The Broncos allowed 145 rushing yards but got gashed on a pair of long touchdown runs, and when the defense needed to come up with a stop on fourth-and-1 with the game on the line, it couldn’t.

“(BYU) got their biggest guys out there. We got our best guys out there, too,” Boise State defensive tackle David Moa said. “... They just got better push.”

The front seven got some pressure on BYU quarterback Baylor Romney but more often than not, the Broncos got there a half-second after he released the ball. And in the secondary, the Broncos were uncharacteristically undisciplined. Safety DeAndre Pierce spent a lot of time trying to get guys lined up right, and on more than one occasion, a defensive back was jumping up and down and pleading for help seconds before the snap.

The defense did a good job of holding BYU to 4-of-13 on third down, but the Cougars opened the game with a 16-play scoring drive, which included two conversions from third-and-12. The Cougars also went 2-for-2 on fourth-down conversions, one of which turned into a 27-yard touchdown pass to tight end Matt Bushman.

“We just needed to come out and play fast. We’ve been talking about it all season, and we just didn’t,” Moa said. “We got them in third-down situations, third-and-long situations as well. They did some things we hadn’t seen, but then they went back to their fundamentals and techniques, and that’s how they capitalized.”

Special teams: C

Kicker Eric Sachse had made nine straight field goals inside 42 yards but his missed 36-yarder in the third quarter proved costly. Despite the wet field and the fact he was kicking into the wind, Harsin felt good about sending the field-goal unit out. But the snap was high and the kick sailed wide left.

“We got (the snap) down and we just missed it, and that became a difference, right?” Harsin said. “We were in a really good position to feel like ‘All right, we can go get points on the board here,’ and we didn’t do it. And it really wasn’t anything to do with them as much as it was with us. Just our execution.”

Punter Joel Velazquez was back to his inconsistent ways. Early in the second quarter, he had a punt cover 38 yards and give the Cougars the ball at their own 43-yard line. In the fourth, he had one cover 21 yards, which gave BYU the ball 2 yards shy of midfield.

Ron Counts is in his first season as the Idaho Statesman’s Boise State football reporter. Contact him at and follow @Ron_BroncoBeat on Twitter.

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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.