We’ve got a new feature this year — and judging by the response on social media, readers have noticed.
After each game, I’ll post my top takeaways. During the game, I’ll solicit takeaways from fans on Twitter and Facebook. We’ll run a select few — and a shorter version of my story — in the newspaper. But the full version will always be in the Bronco Beat blog.
Boise State beat Washington 16-13 in a tense finish Friday night at Albertsons Stadium. You can find our comprehensive, multimedia coverage of the game here and Dave Southorn’s traditional game story here.
1. Maybe this defense will be great: Defensive coordinator Marcel Yates scoffed at the offseason speculation about his group — not because he doesn’t believe in its potential, but because the Broncos needed to prove something first. The defense got off to quite a start Friday by limiting Washington to 179 total yards, 29 rushing yards and 12 first downs. More importantly, the defense carried the Broncos in the second half when the offense failed to score. With the game on the line in the final 2 minutes, end Kamalei Correa sacked quarterback Jake Browning, the Broncos forced a holding penalty and tackle Justin Taimatuia sacked Browning. The result: The Huskies, who were on the Boise State 19-yard line at one point, tried a field goal from the 29. The 46-yard attempt missed barely wide right.
“We just relied on all of our hard work in the offseason,” Boise State senior safety Darian Thompson said. “In the huddle before we would take the field, we were saying thinks like: ‘This is what we work for. We want the game on our shoulders.’ We were able to perform and come through.”
2. Ryan Finley didn’t do much damage with his arm: Finley, the sophomore making his first career start, posted the second-lowest efficiency rating of a first-time Boise State starting quarterback since 2001. He was 16-for-26 for 129 yards with one interception and two sacks. His rating was 95.52. The Broncos’ standout trio of wide receivers combined for 51 yards on six catches, an average of 8.5 yards per catch. Coaches pointed out that the Huskies often dropped eight players into coverage and that Finley was inches away from hitting a long ball for a touchdown — the pass grazed wide receiver Chaz Anderson’s fingertips — but the one-dimensional nature of the passing attack proved costly in the second half. Finley threw for 50 yards after halftime. He wasn’t fazed by the limited production.
“I was really comfortable,” Finley said. “I’ve been practicing for eight months now. I was expecting to be the starter and I was practicing like I would be the starter.”
Where Finley was at his best was as a scrambler. He’s known for his athleticism and he gained 44 yards on nine carries. Most notably, he ducked out of a sack attempt on third-and-9 and ran for 15 yards.
“We saw tonight Ryan run the ball and use his legs,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “You can see the athletic ability he has and I really thought that was some of his better moments. I thought he played really well tonight.”
3. Tailback is no longer a question mark: The Broncos lost the vast majority of their tailback production when Jay Ajayi left early for the NFL. But coaches had raved about Jeremy McNichols since last season, when he was used in a specialty role as a true freshman. Now a full-time tailback, he capitalized on his first start to contribute 113 yards from scrimmage on 27 touches. He showed vision, quickness and toughness. Plus, senior Kelsey Young added 74 yards on 16 touches and junior Devan Demas contributed 20 yards on four touches. Combined, they were responsible for 207 of the team’s 337 yards.
“Those guys did a really nice job running behind an experienced line like that,” Finley said. “That was definitely promising.”
4. Special teams was a surprising flop: The Broncos paid close attention to special teams in the offseason after a disappointing-by-their-standards season in the kicking game in 2014. And then special teams almost lost them the opener. Washington scored all 13 of its points directly from Boise State mistakes with its punt team: a 17-yard punt return that set up a field goal, a 76-yard punt return for a TD and a blocked punt that set up a field goal. The Huskies’ two scoring “drives” netted 21 yards. New kicker Tyler Rausa also had a PAT blocked but his first career field goal — a 24-yarder right before half — provided the winning points.
“We lost the turnover battle, that’s usually not a good thing,” Harsin said. “And we didn’t win the special teams. You’re talking about your team had a lot of grit to win the game when it came down to it. We’ve got to be more balanced. That’s just a matter of watching and learning from what we did in this game.”
AND NOW FOR READERS' TAKES ...
Mike Ridgeway: Good thing coach Pete has bad luck with kickers.
Fernando Cuellar: Offense has been too conservative in the second half. The o-line came out firing on all cylinders in the first half, second half they seem to have run out of gas.
Jesse Wilson: Our defense is awesome, got some holes on the offense.
Shayne Bryant: The first half team stayed in the locker room.
John Walter Penland: Special teams, passing game, and coaching decisions in the red zone were simply unacceptable.
Rick Heller: I would have expected nothing less from Harsin and Pete. Great game and a great battle.
Kevin Prestwich: Praise the big D. We beat the guy who beat Oklahoma, TCU, and Oregon. (Multiple times). Despite the fact that it was close, we should be proud.
Brian Walsh: We can't pass the ball. Going to be tough winning games when we make ourselves one-dimensional.
Jt Belnap: Wow lots of negative comments about the offense. How about 3 different running backs that all produced. Finley had a couple of balls that were on the numbers and dropped by receivers. Plus it was very windy, could have played a factor with less passing attempts.
All Coach Pete ever wanted was a kicker. That's it. Nothing more nothing less. Never had one at BSU Doesn't have one at UDUB #bsutakes— Ty Hawkins (@ty_hawkins) September 5, 2015
Lack of offensive creativity equals lack of trust in Finley. Special teams an abomination. Defense could be great.#bsutakes— Brian Murphy (@murphsturph) September 5, 2015