Bronco Beat

Grading Boise State football midway through the regular season

It is hard to believe, but the regular season is already halfway done.

The No. 14 Boise State football team has passed every test thus far, taking a 6-0 record into Thursday’s game against BYU at Albertsons Stadium (8:15 p.m., ESPN). As good as the Broncos have been, there’s still room for improvement, if taken in the positive way, is a scary thought for the remaining six teams on the schedule.

Here’s a look at each group, what it has accomplished so far and my grade.

OFFENSE: B+

The Broncos are averaging 35.3 points and 466.7 yards per game, both in the top 40 nationally. After a few early hiccups, sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien has been great in recent weeks, not throwing an interception his last 112 pass attempts. On the season, he is 112-of-180 for 1,622 yards with 12 touchdowns to three interceptions. He’s 14th in the FBS with a pass efficiency rating of 156.6.

Boise State’s tandem of senior Thomas Sperbeck and junior Cedrick Wilson have been outstanding as Rypien’s top receivers. Sperbeck has 38 catches for 701 yards and six touchdowns, Wilson has 23 catches for 432 yards and five touchdowns, all in the first five games. Senior Chaz Anderson stepped up (18 for 221). Outside of that trio, receivers have four total receptions.

Junior running back Jeremy McNichols is certainly on his way to first-team All-Mountain West honors with 775 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, plus 263 receiving yards and another three scores. Most years, he would be a front-runner for Offensive Player of the Year, but San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey leads the nation in rushing. McNichols wasn’t a preseason all-conference pick ... but at least this reporter voted for him.

A big part of the offense’s success has been the offensive line, which has paved the way for McNichols and has allowed only six sacks. Last season, the group allowed 31 sacks, the most in 16 years.

“I’ve been proud of them,” co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Scott Huff said. “... there’s obviously a thousand things we need to fix and correct, but there’s a thousand things they’ve been doing really well.”

The Broncos have at times found themselves failing to get in a groove, such as not scoring until less than a minute before halftime Saturday, or not getting an offensive score the second half Sept. 24 at Oregon State, or two late turnovers in a 31-28 win over Washington State on Sept. 10.

DEFENSE: A-

Boise State’s biggest questions coming into this season were on the defensive side of the ball, and the Broncos have thus far answered them with gusto. Allowing 19.3 points per game, it’s a big part of why Boise State did not trail all season until the first quarter Saturday, the last team in the nation to do so.

Up front, the defensive line, which returned just one total start from last season, has been impressive. Sophomore defensive tackle David Moa leads the team with 5.5 sacks, and senior defensive end Sam McCaskill has been a terror (five sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss). The Broncos are giving up fewer than 100 yards per game on the ground outside of the 386 yards No. 2-ranked rush offense New Mexico had Oct. 7.

Linebackers are the team’s top three tacklers: senior Ben Weaver is tops with 46, and seniors Darren Lee and Tanner Vallejo have 36 apiece. It’s a group that entered the season among the team’s deepest, and it has been tested. Junior Joe Martarano, a starter in the season opener Sept. 3, missed the next two games and has played in a backup role in two more since, with Lee stepping in more than admirably. Vallejo missed the second half Sept. 24 and all of Oct. 1, with junior Blake Whitlock, a walk-on this summer, filling in.

On the back end, the defensive backs, having lost Darian Thompson and Donte Deayon after last season, have just two interceptions. However, the Broncos have allowed just two pass plays over 40 yards and gave up 14 such plays last year. Junior safety Cameron Hartsfield is a first-time starter this season and has 35 tackles. Sophomore cornerback Tyler Horton and senior cornerback Raymond Ford have the two interceptions. The group got a boost last week when sophomore safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner made his debut and should bolster the group even furter.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-

There have been some very good moments, but also some frustrating moments from the Broncos’ special teamers. Senior punter Sean Wale has been excellent, currently 13th nationally with a 45.0-yard punt average. Senior kicker Tyler Rausa is 3-of-4 on field goals, making his last three, but has not needed to attempt one the last three games. McCaskill blocked a field goal against Washington State.

Opponents, however, were 3-for-3 on onside kicks this season, including consecutive ones Saturday by Colorado State, before Wilson corralled the third. Teams have scored 17 points off those three. Sophomore punt returner Akilian Butler has muffed two returns, losing one, and has twice had fair catches inside the 5. Oregon State also had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

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Fellow Statesman Boise State reporter Michael Katz and I will host our weekly live chat at 1 p.m. Wednesday at IdahoStatesman.com.

Check out our fan’s guide to Thursday night’s game here.

BYU at No. 14 Boise State

  • When: 8:15 p.m. MT Thursday
  • Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf)
  • TV: ESPN (Jason Benetti, Kelly Stauffer, Paul Carcaterra)
  • Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
  • Records: BYU 4-3 overall; Boise State 6-0, 3-0 Mountain West
  • Kickoff weather: Mid-50s, partly cloudy with light winds
  • Vegas line: Boise State is favored by 7 points
  • Series: Boise State leads 4-2 (BYU won last season 35-24 in Provo)
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