Unbeaten, yet far from flawless.
The first 30 minutes Saturday at Reser Stadium had the makings of a classic Boise State rout: trickery, a laughable difference in yardage, and fans louder than the home faithful.
But nothing comes quite so easy for the Broncos these days.
Though they won 38-24, a scoreless second half for the offense provided a few uneasy moments along the way.
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“The first half to the second half, two different things, you want to be consistent with it, and it certainly wasn’t,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “... that starts with me, starts with the offensive staff, making sure we can do those things.”
With the win, the Broncos (3-0) improved to 10-3 against Pac-12 teams since 2006 and won for the first time in five games against Oregon State (1-2) outside of Boise.
Boise State’s offense has mustered 24 second-half points, but 76 in the first two quarters of the Broncos’ trio of games.
The Broncos had four three-and-outs and 8 total yards after a fantastic first half in which the Broncos held a 435-67 yardage advantage and a 31-7 halftime lead. Junior running back Jeremy McNichols’ 70-yard scoring run with 2:37 left in the second quarter outgained the Beavers on its own.
“We’re definitely struggling in the second half right now,” senior receiver Thomas Sperbeck said. “I think the defenses are doing a good job mixing up their coverages, we’re not getting the same looks we are in the first half. We still have plays we can check to and run in those situations.”
As the offense had difficulty putting together drives in the second half, the Broncos’ defense did what it has done well all season, stepping up when things got toughest.
Oregon State, which replaced junior Darell Garretson in favor of freshman Conor Blount at quarterback in the second half, marched 82 yards on 13 plays its second drive of the third quarter, capping it off with a 1-yard Ryan Nall touchdown run, then sprung a surprise onside kick on the Broncos. The Beavers turned it into a 41-yard Garrett Owens field goal to cut the lead to 31-17. After another punt, the defense stuffed Nall on a fourth-and-1 at the Broncos’ 46. Opponents are 2-of-8 on fourth downs this season against Boise State.
The Beavers managed 27 yards on each of their next two drives, but the Broncos forced punts both times. Needing to make a play, the Broncos got it in senior middle linebacker Darren Lee, who stripped receiver Seth Collins at the Broncos’ 19-yard line, turned upfield and went unabated for the touchdown with 3:33 to play.
“It gives confidence ... it was a great battle, we just had to keep that mentality and bow up, and we did really well,” Lee said. “There’s times we’ve put them in tough spots, that’s how the game goes.”
Naturally, the 21-point lead wasn’t safe, as the Beavers’ Victor Bolden took the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown.
But behind McNichols, the Broncos salted it away after recovering the onside kick, carrying four straight times for 26 yards to get the clock under a minute, keeping Oregon State away for good. Coming off the bye week, McNichols rushed for career-highs of 208 yards and four touchdowns.
“It felt good ... I had a long time to really study them, so when I came into this game I felt really confident,” McNichols said.
Simply taking Boise State’s first half, and it would have been a fine game in itself. Sperbeck had 104 yards receiving at the half, the same amount he finished with, giving him 11 career 100-yard games, second-most in Boise State history.
In the first 9 minutes alone, the Broncos ran the famed Statue of Liberty play with McNichols (gaining 16 yards), ran Sperbeck and McNichols out of the Wildcat, had a 28-yard run by sophomore receiver Akilian Butler on a reverse, and junior receiver Cedrick Wilson threw an absolute dart to junior tight end Alec Dhaenens for 23 yards on a trick play.
“It was an absolute beatdown in the first half first half but the kids fought and battled back and did some good things,” Oregon State coach Gary Andersen said.
Taking an imperfect team with a perfect record back home, the Broncos begin Mountain West play Saturday at Albertsons Stadium against Utah State, the first of four teams remaining on the schedule that beat them last year.
“There’s stuff out there that you can go ‘that’s not the standard.’ I’m happy that we’re undefeated, but I also know that we have a lot of work to do,” Harsin said.
OSU—Victor Bolden 99 kickoff return (Garrett Owens kick), 3:21. Drive: none. Boise State 38, Oregon State 24.
BSU—Darren Lee 19 fumble return (Tyler Rausa kick), 3:33. Key plays: After a short pass from quarterback Conor Blount to receiver Seth Collins, Lee held him up and stripped the ball, running it back untouched for the score. Drive: none. Boise State 38, Oregon State 17.
OSU—Garrett Owens 41 field goal, 5:14. Key plays: The Beavers got the ball in prime position after springing an onside kick on the Broncos. Quarterback Conor Blount hit receiver Victor Bolden for 26 yards on the drive’s first play. Drive: 5 plays, 29 yards, 1:23 elapsed. Boise State 31, Oregon State 17.
OSU—Ryan Nall 1 run (Garrett Owens kick), 6:38. Key plays: The Beavers converted two third-and-1s with runs of 4 and 13 yards. Quarterback Conor Blount, who replaced starter Darell Garretson, was 5-of-6 for 40 yards on the drive. Drive: 13 plays, 82 yards, 4:55 elapsed. Boise State 31, Oregon State 14.
Boise State outgained Oregon State 435-67 in the first half behind a balanced attack (215 rushing, 220 passing). Running back Jeremy McNichols racked up 146 rushing yards and 18 receiving yards, scoring four touchdowns in the first two quarters alone. He was taken off the field late in the second quarter after being hit hard on a screen, but ran off under his own power, appearing to have had his wind knocked out.
BSU—Tyler Rausa 29 field goal, 0:00. Key plays: Quarterback Brett Rypien scrambled out of the pocket and hit receiver Thomas Sperbeck for 31 yards down to the Oregon State 46 on a third-and-10. Two plays later, they connected again for 27 yards to get to the 8. Drive: 8 plays, 80 yards, 1:23 elapsed. Boise State 31, Oregon State 7.
BSU—Jeremy McNichols 70 run (Tyler Rausa kick), 2:37. Key plays: McNichols had a 25-yard run on the drive’s first play, but a chop block on BSU and offsides on OSU made the down be replayed. McNichols broke outside to the left and went up the sideline for his fourth TD of the day. Drive: 1 play,70 yards, 0:33 elapsed. Boise State 28, Oregon State 7.
BSU—Jeremy McNichols 6 pass from Brett Rypien (Tyler Rausa kick), 6:56. Key plays: Rypien completed passes of 13, 20 and 26 yards on the drive, and flipped it to McNichols on the shovel pass on third-and-goal for the score. Drive: 11 plays, 90 yards, 4:03 elapsed. Boise State 21, Oregon State 7.
Boise State outgained Oregon State 165-47 and used its usual bag of tricks, including a receiver pass, the Statue of Liberty play, a reverse and two Wildcat plays to keep the Beavers on their heels.
BSU—Jeremy McNichols 6 run (Tyler Rausa kick), 5:23. Key plays: Receiver Cedrick Wilson hit tight end Alec Dhaenens on a 23-yard pass to get into Beaver territory. On the lone third down of the drive, McNichols bounced outside and dove to the pylon to get the score. Drive: 10 plays, 73 yards, 3:07 elapsed. Boise State 14, Oregon State 7.
OSU—Ryan Nall 14 run (Garrett Owens kick), 11:22. Key plays: The Beavers got the ball in Boise State territory thanks to a 59-yard kickoff return by Victor Bolden. Boise State’s Jabril Frazier was called for pass interference on a trick play to give OSU the ball at the 14, and Nall scored on the next play. Drive: 3 plays, 41 yards, 0:57 elapsed. Boise State 7, Oregon State 7.
BSU—Jeremy McNichols 5 run (Tyler Rausa kick), 12:29. Key plays: Sophomore receiver Akilian Butler scooted for 28 yards on a reverse to the Oregon State 34, and junior tight end Alec Dhaenens had a 9-yard catch on a third-and-6 to the OSU 21. Drive: 9 plays, 75 yards, 2:31 elapsed. Boise State 7, Oregon State 0.
Click here for a gallery of photos from the Broncos’ win over the Beavers.
Here is some reading material before the game begins, our stories this week:
Fellow Boise State reporter Michael Katz is in charge of our live chat. Check that out below, along with tweets from myself, Michael and the Boise State football account.