The Boise State football team gained a face and a voice Monday as true freshman quarterback Brett Rypien was introduced to the media for the first time since joining the program in January.
Rypien, who has started the past seven games, showed humility, humor, poise — and, critically, leadership — during a 21-minute Q&A session.
The Broncos are 5-2 in Rypien’s starts and 7-3 overall going into Friday’s must-win Mountain West game against Air Force (7:30 p.m., Albertsons Stadium, ESPN2).
“We need to be better as an offense as a whole and I need to be better,” Rypien said. “It starts with me. ... Whether that’s in practice or in the film room, there’s little things that we have to do out there that need to be better in order for us to get wins consistently and just be better on offense consistently.”
Boise State, which lost to New Mexico 31-24 on Saturday, needs to beat Air Force and San Jose State next week and have New Mexico lose one of its final home games against Colorado State and Air Force to win the Mountain Division.
Coach Bryan Harsin said he sent Rypien to the weekly press conference as an extension of the freshman’s growing leadership role. The offense has lost senior left tackle Rees Odhiambo indefinitely (ankle) and could be without senior wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes (ankle) this week.
“This team needs leadership,” Harsin said. “... It’s something I feel and I think our coaches feel that’s very important for us as we move forward and play in these last two games, that we have the leadership to go out there and finish the right way. ... It’s an opportunity for him to expand on his leadership role.”
Rypien leads the Mountain West in passing yards per game by more than 100 yards (he’s at 317.4; Nick Stevens of Colorado State is at 202). Rypien also leads in pass efficiency at 143.01.
He was 41-for-75 for 506 yards and two TDs against New Mexico (the completions and attempts were school records). But he also had three passes bounce off receivers for interceptions, took three sacks and made a few wrong decisions during the attempted rally in the fourth quarter.
He admitted he went outside the scope of the play on a fourth-and-1 overthrow and needs to improve his management of the 2-minute offense.
“Any time you have (638) yards of offense, you know you’re doing some good things, but at the end of the day we have to finish and we can’t have turnovers,” Rypien said. “That starts with me. We’ve got to get better timing with our receivers and we’ve got to work some stuff. I trust those guys to make plays. I trust anybody who’s going to get the ball to make a play. I don’t care who it is, if you’re going to come in and you get open, you’re getting the ball. That’s the mentality I have.”
Rypien still is just 10 months into college. He graduated from Shadle Park High in Spokane in January to enroll early and compete for the starting job. But after Ryan Finley opened a large lead in spring ball, Rypien was on a redshirt track.
After spring ball, Rypien said, he wouldn’t have pictured himself playing.
“When I first knew that I could do some good things at this level was during our second fall scrimmage,” he said. “Our second-team offense went against our first-team defense that first drive and we went down and scored. That’s when I really started to feel comfortable.
“During spring ball, I struggled a lot. My mechanics, I had to fix a lot of things mechanically that I had gotten into bad habits my senior year of high school. Coming into fall camp, I knew that I was just going to have to get better every single day.”
He made his debut in the second half of the Idaho State game Sept. 18 after Finley broke an ankle in the first half. Rypien said he had to “seize” that opportunity.
“When Ryan went down, obviously that was a very tough thing for our offense,” Rypien said. “But those guys looked to me and they knew I had to step up. I was just trying to do everything I could to get the offense going and get in the end zone.”
Highlights of his season have included making his first start at Virginia with his uncle Mark Rypien, the former Super Bowl MVP, in the stands; catching a touchdown pass for the first time; and throwing for a Mountain West freshman record 469 yards at UNLV.
Lowlights have included five turnovers against Utah State and the 55 percent completion percentage against New Mexico, the two games the Broncos have lost with him at quarterback.
“It’s definitely been a whirlwind,” Rypien said. “It’s definitely been up and down for sure. That’s the hardest part about college football is being consistent every single week.”
Williams-Rhodes has an ankle injury and will try to practice this week, Harsin said. ... True freshman WR Akilian Butler broke his collarbone fielding a punt Saturday. He’s out indefinitely. ... Harsin didn’t sound hopeful that senior CB Donte Deayon (knee) will be able to play Friday on Senior Day. Safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner and Finley still are out with their broken ankles, Harsin said. ... Junior WR Thomas Sperbeck was named the Mountain West offensive player of the week. Sperbeck set Boise State records with 20 catches for 281 yards against New Mexico. Those were the highest totals in the nation this season. The 20 catches also set a Mountain West record.
Air Force at Boise State
▪ When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
▪ Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf), Boise
▪ TV: ESPN2 (Jason Benetti, Mike Bellotti, Allison Williams)
▪ Radio: KBOI (670 AM), KTIK (93.1 FM); Bob Behler, Pete Cavender
▪ Records: Boise State is 7-3, 4-2 Mountain West; Air Force is 7-3, 5-1.
▪ Series: Boise State leads 2-1 (Falcons won 28-14 in 2014 in Colorado Springs)
▪ Vegas line: Boise State by 11 1/2