It wasn’t even halftime last Saturday night before Boise State football fans on Twitter were calling for the removal of offensive line coach Brad Bedell.
An hour or so later, the Broncos were plowing through the San Jose Spartans on the ground for a 52-42, comeback victory. They rushed for 236 yards in the second half after just 17 in the first half.
The half-to-half transformation would have been remarkable if it hadn’t been so predictable. The Broncos run the ball best in the fourth quarter with a lead — exactly when it’s supposed to be most difficult to run the ball.
It’s an unexplainable phenomenon that can’t be dismissed as happenstance because it’s happened so consistently going into Saturday’s home game against Wyoming (8:15 p.m., ESPN).
“I give our leadership a lot of credit for that,” Bedell said of his veteran offensive line. “... They understand that once we’re in that situation, it’s really on us, we’re the leadership. We have to take this team and get first downs. And they really accept that and they buy into that. That’s what’s so awesome. ... We’ve finished a lot of games that way. I’m proud of those guys for that. We need to start faster.”
The Broncos have rushed for 498 yards in the fourth quarter this season — 154 more than the third quarter, which is their next-best quarter. They average 5.1 yards per carry in the fourth — significantly better than the 4.6 in the third. Their longest run was a 46-yarder in the fourth quarter — 11 yards longer than the best in any other quarter. And they have rushed for eight touchdowns in the final quarter — compared to 10 in the first three quarters combined.
In the last three wins, Andrew Van Buren (6 yards vs. UNLV) and George Holani (40 vs. Hawaii and 8 vs. San Jose State) have rushed for insurance touchdowns in the final 2 minutes. The Broncos netted 130 yards on the ground in the fourth quarter at San Jose State.
“That’s what you preach on,” Van Buren said. “When you’ve got less than 4 minutes left in the game and you know you’ve got to run the ball — everyone in the stadium knows you’ve got to run the ball — it’s just a matter of who wants it more, and it shows that we want it.”
The Broncos still need to develop consistency in the run game, which has produced 4.4 yards per carry — a number that ranks 66th in the nation. Holani, a true freshman, leads the team with 589 rushing yards and will need a strong finish to extend the program’s streak of 10 straight seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher.
Bedell, who returned all five starters on the offensive line this season with three seniors in the group, has stressed faster starts in practice and has told the linemen they need to adjust to the defense on the field from play to play rather than between series.
“If we can get that fixed right there, I think we’ll be in great shape and start faster,” Bedell said.
The Broncos’ run game faces a significant test against Wyoming, which ranks 14th in rushing yards allowed (98.4 per game) and ninth in yards per carry allowed (2.8).
The only team with similar stats the Broncos have encountered this season was Air Force. Boise State rushed for a season-low 95 yards in that game, but tailback Robert Mahone sealed the win with a pair of 10-yard touchdown scampers in, of course, the fourth quarter.
Boise State has averaged 3.7 yards per carry over the past two meetings with Wyoming — nearly identical performances of 46 carries for 161 yards last year and 43 carries for 166 yards the year before.
“It’s a physical, run-stopping defense. That’s what they want to do,” Boise State offensive coordinator Zak Hill said. “And so we’ve got to be physical right back.”
Boise State is a 15-point favorite in Las Vegas with an over/under of 48 total points. The Broncos are 20-11 against the spread in their past 31 games.
Wyoming is 9-4 ATS in its past 13 games but hasn’t won a game outright as a road underdog in two years (Air Force, 2017).
My pick (6-2 straight up, 4-4 ATS): The Broncos’ defense has been outstanding at home, where the team hasn’t played in almost a month. That group will be fired up — and should be back to full strength in the secondary with the expected return of safety Kekoa Nawahine. Quarterback Hank Bachmeier will need to handle a larger role this week with Wyoming’s focus on the run. If he’s efficient, the Broncos should pull away in the second half. Boise State 30, Wyoming 10
Wyoming perspective, from Davis Potter of the Casper Star-Tribune (opponent view is 2-4, 2-4): “Losing QB Sean Chambers to an injury for the rest of the season is a major blow to Wyoming’s offense given how dynamic of a runner he was. In a matchup of one of the Mountain West’s top offenses versus one of the top defenses, I think the line-of-scrimmage battle along with which Tyler Vander Waal shows up will go a long way in deciding this one. Vander Waal has had an up-and-down start to his Wyoming career, but he’s a strong-armed QB who has shown flashes (namely the fourth-quarter comeback he led against Air Force last season). The Cowboys’ only two losses have come on the road by a combined seven points, and I fully expect the defense to keep Wyoming in this one. But I think more offensive firepower for Boise at home ultimately wins out.” Boise State 27, Wyoming 17
Betting expert Lee Sterling of Paramount Sports, who appears weekly on KTIK (5-2, 4-3): “Boise would be wise to throw the football. Wyoming hasn’t really played anyone since the Missouri and San Diego State games. ... Every opponent has thrown for at least 200 yards on them. I think that’s the mode you want to travel against this Wyoming defense.” Boise State 31, Wyoming 13
Chadd Cripe is the Idaho Statesman’s assistant editor and sports columnist. Contact him at email@example.com and follow @chaddcripe on Twitter.