Don’t let the 80-degree temperatures and wildfire smoke fool you.
The Boise State football season already is half over as the Broncos run into Mountain West Mountain Division rival Utah State on Friday (7 p.m., CBSSN).
The No. 21 Broncos were 5-1 in the first half of the regular season. They might need to be 6-0 in the second half to reach their goals.
Players and coaches are pleased with the growth of the team since fall camp began in August. They also are convinced this team is far from its peak.
In the past four weeks, the Broncos have outscored their opponents 204-24 — a streak that started after the loss at BYU.
“What I’m happy to see is when we struggled early, nobody doubted the plan the coaches put for us,” junior right tackle Mario Yakoo said. “They kept executing and kept believing.”
Here’s a look at the top performers of the first half and some players to watch in the second half:
OFFENSE: Sophomore tailback Jeremy McNichols has scored 14 touchdowns, the most in the nation, including the Broncos’ first six this season. He also leads the team with 681 yards from scrimmage. “He’s definitely playing physical,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “... He’s very explosive.”
DEFENSE: Senior safety Darian Thompson ranks second on the team with 30 tackles, tied for first with four interceptions, tied for third with three pass breakups and also has forced a fumble. He is a team leader whose reliable, physical tackling has helped the Broncos become a top-10 defense.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Junior kicker Tyler Rausa has performed like a Lou Groza Award candidate, hitting all 11 of his field-goal attempts from 51 yards and in. He just needs to refine his long-range game — he has missed from 54 and 55 yards.
First-half breakout performers
OFFENSE: True freshman quarterback Brett Rypien went from redshirt to starter to star in one night. His big-play ability energized the offense and the fan base. He’s the front-runner for All-Mountain West quarterback with an absurd passer rating for someone so young: 175.85. Only one freshman eligible for the NCAA stat leaders has a rating of 152 or higher — Eric Dungey of Syracuse (169.34). “We weren’t really sure going in because he is a true freshman,” senior center Marcus Henry said. “I always thought he’d be a good player and I think everyone else did, too, but he’s really stepped up.”
DEFENSE: Senior tackle Justin Taimatuia was the projected backup nose tackle when fall camp began. He emerged as the starting three-technique tackle instead. He has 11 tackles, one sack, two pass breakups and an interception return for a touchdown.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Rausa, who joined the program in 2013 to compete for the starting job but had to wait two years for his chance.
Second-half breakout possibilities
OFFENSE: True freshman wide receiver Akilian Butler has received more opportunities the past two games. His touchdown run on his first career touch two weeks ago showed his potential; his fumble on his second catch last week might cause coaches to worry about his readiness.
DEFENSE: Redshirt freshman defensive end Jabril Frazier has used his raw talent to cause disruption in the backfield. As he improves his techniques, he should increase his production. He has 11 tackles and 1.5 sacks this year.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Senior wide receiver Terrell Johnson has earned some turns as the Broncos’ kickoff returner. Opportunities are rare — the Broncos have eight returns — but he could provide a spark. He gained 27 yards on his only return this season.
What’s gone right
• The defense lived up to the hype. The Broncos have allowed seven offensive touchdowns this season. Three opposing offenses never found the end zone.
• The offense adjusted. The Broncos got off to a sluggish start and lost their quarterback. A month later, the attack is potent.
• CornerbackJonathan Moxey
improved to solidify the secondary. The junior second-year starter leads the team with eight pass breakups and has added two interceptions. He leads the Mountain West and is tied for sixth nationally with 10 passes defended.
What needs work
• The run game has improved the past two games, but the Broncos average 4.2 yards per carry (down from 4.9 last year) and have struggled with short-yardage situations other than at the goal line.
• The special teams have been solid since a nearly disastrous outing in the opener against Washington but the starting kick returners have longs of 16 yards on punt return and 29 yards on kickoff return.
• Players expressed confidence in the depth at wide receiver before the season. At the midway point, the backups have contributed five catches. The starters have 77.