Not all wins are created equal, and not all of them are pretty.
The Boise State football team earned a 28-14 Mountain Division victory over New Mexico on Thursday at Albertsons Stadium. With the team’s biggest goal a Mountain West title, and considering the 5-5 record in its own division in 2015 and 2016, it was one the Broncos gladly will take.
But it wasn’t until the fourth quarter that they could rest easy as the offense struggled to maintain drives and was aided late by short fields created by the defense and special teams. The team did show some fortitude while dealing with the short turnaround from a 47-44 loss at Washington State that ended at 1 a.m. MT Sunday.
“Proud of our guys. After last week’s game, coming off triple overtime ... we were still prepping all the way up until game time,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.
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Here is our report card for Thursday’s game.
Boise State’s 264 yards were its fewest since Sept. 20, 2012. Yes, there were some short fields and the Broncos converted — three of the four scoring drives were from 58, 46 and 17 yards. But that also magnified the inability to sustain drives so far this season.
A major part of that was a difficulty running the ball. Senior quarterback Montell Cozart was the leading rusher for a second straight game. The Broncos’ running backs had 19 carries for 56 yards and the team was 4-of-11 on third downs.
“We didn’t run the ball very effectively. We didn’t run the ball effectively at all,” Harsin said. “We did some things there at the end, but third down and short yardage, we were just getting hammered. That needs to end.”
Cozart was sharp (15-of-19 for 137 yards), with 47 of those yards on one pass to Cedrick Wilson. Senior tight end Jake Roh was great in the red zone, scoring three touchdowns (one rushing, two receiving).
The much-maligned offensive line yielded one sack, aided by the mobile Cozart. Boise State torched a more experienced UNM defense on the road last year, and could not create big plays Thursday, with only two longer than 18 yards.
“As an offense, we’ve got to continue to pound the ball, we want to be a run-first team, and I feel like tonight we didn’t do that,” Cozart said. “Going into next week, that’s something we’re going to put an emphasis on, with Virginia coming in here (Friday), being able to run the ball, and that’s going to open the pass game for us.”
It wasn’t crazy to think this defense had plenty of question marks going into the season, with only three starters having multiple starts under their belts. But the potential has coalesced right away into one devil of a unit. The Lobos, who had five plays of 40 yards or more their last trip to Boise two years ago, had no plays over 25 yards.
As the offense had its issues, the defense held New Mexico to 198 rushing yards and forced a pair of turnovers, off which the Broncos scored 14 points.
“I think it’s fun, I love playing defense,” junior linebacker Leighton Vander Esch said. “We have the offense’s back. If they need us, we’re going to be there for them every single play, every single drive and game. If we’ve got to step up and take charge, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Vander Esch was a monster, with 13 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception. Sophomore safety DeAndre Pierce is the sort of athletic presence the defense has needed against option teams, and he delivered with 12 tackles, 2.5 for losses. From facing pass-heavy Washington State to New Mexico, the ability to adjust was impressive, even in the game. The Lobos ran for 111 yards in the first quarter, just 87 from then on.
“That’s their bread and butter, they really hit us in the mouth, we were like, ‘Whoa, this is what they’re going to be like, it’s time to step our game up,’ ” Pierce said.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus
As good as the defense was, and as much as it helped the offense, special teams turned the game around late. Joel Velazquez’s 63-yard punt was pinned at the 1 on the first play of the fourth quarter. The defense forced a three-and-out, and Avery Williams’ 29-yard return set up the Broncos at the 17.
“Special teams came up big in the fourth quarter,” Harsin said. “... Created momentum, created some mojo and we were able to put some points on the board.”
The only hiccup was Quinn Skillin’s 15-yard punt in the first quarter, which gave New Mexico the ball at the Boise State 42-yard line. The Lobos scored their first touchdown 10 plays later. Outside of that kick, Skillin and Velazquez averaged 48.6 yards on five other punts.
NO ADDITIONAL PENALTY FOR HATADA HIT
Boise State sophomore defensive end Chase Hatada was ejected from Thursday’s win over New Mexico late in the second quarter for targeting after a late hit on Lobo quarterback Lamar Jordan. The hit knocked Jordan out of the game.
Since the foul happened in the first half, Hatada had to miss the rest of the game, but will be eligible to play Friday against Virginia. The Mountain West will not levy additional penalties.
A statement provided to the Idaho Statesman read: “In accordance with standard Mountain West procedures and consistent with NCAA Playing Rules, the Conference office has reviewed the targeting ejection in last night’s New Mexico at Boise State football game and determined no additional disciplinary measures are warranted.”