It’s Week 10 of our new feature: BSU Takes.
After each game, I post my top takeaways. During the game, I 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 with many contributions from fans.
New Mexico beat Boise State 31-24 on Saturday at Albertsons Stadium. You can find our comprehensive, multimedia coverage of the game here and Dave Southorn’s traditional game story here.
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1. Boise State’s wide receivers (other than Thomas Sperbeck) played a miserable game. Dropped passes might have been the single biggest factor in the Broncos’ loss Saturday night — and it started with the opening drive.
On second-and-4 at the New Mexico 9-yard line on the opening drive, quarterback Brett Rypien delivered a perfect strike on an out route to senior wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes. He should have made the catch and turned upfield for the touchdown. Instead, he made his move too quickly and forgot to catch the ball. On the next play, Rypien threw to junior wide receiver Chaz Anderson at the goal line. A defender was able to poke the ball away from Anderson and the pass was intercepted.
On the first play of the second quarter, Anderson dropped another pass on third-and-10 that almost certainly would have resulted in a first down and likely would have ended in a 15-yard touchdown. The Broncos kicked a field goal instead.
On the first drive of the second half, Rypien hit freshman wide receiver A.J. Richardson. The ball bounced off of him for another interception that set up a New Mexico field goal.
Early in the fourth quarter, Rypien fired to another freshman receiver — Sean Modster. That ball bounced off Modster for an interception that set up a touchdown that allowed the Lobos to pull ahead 31-17.
Throw in a fumbled pitch by tailback Jeremy McNichols inside the New Mexico 5-yard line, and that’s four Boise State turnovers all on dropped balls.
Many other less-notable passes hit receivers in the hands and fell to the turf, too.
“It looks like we were trying to catch a lot with our body, and that’s on the wide receiver group,” said Sperbeck, who set school records with 20 catches for 281 yards. “Brett’s putting the ball there. We just need to bring them in.”
Rypien, who has mostly been terrific since making his debut in September against Idaho State, wasn’t sharp either. He missed many throws that he usually makes and never connected on the deep balls that have been such an important part of his arsenal all season.
Most of the long throws were just out of reach of his receivers, including one that went out the back of the end zone on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter.
Rypien set school records with 41 completions and 75 attempts, throwing for 506 yards and two touchdowns. But his efficiency rating was 111.96 — 41 points below his season rating.
“We were just a little off,” Sperbeck said. “We just need to hit those shots like we do in practice. One play it’s me, the other play it’s him. We just need to connect.”
2. The Broncos’ defense made plays when it had to, but not consistently. The defense opened the game with three straight tackles for loss, grabbed an interception late in the first half to keep the deficit manageable, forced a field goal after a turnover early in the third quarter and recovered a fumble when the Lobos were driving to allow the Broncos to tie the game. The group also delivered two three-and-outs late in the game to give the offense a chance to complete the comeback.
All those positives, though, were undone by a series of big plays: a 74-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, a 40-yard run that set up a touchdown in the second quarter, an 81-yard pass play that set up a touchdown in the fourth quarter (on second-and-17, no less) and a 30-yard pass play that set up another touchdown in the fourth quarter (on first-and-15).
Those four plays accounted for 225 of New Mexico’s 413 yards and led to all four touchdowns.
“That’s that offense,” senior linebacker Tyler Gray said. “They really live off of those explosive plays. You’ve got to have everybody doing their job. It usually comes down to your eyes.”
3. The business-like Broncos are gone. For years, Boise State was known for its ability to deliver solid if not outstanding performances on a weekly basis. Deficits were rare; large deficits almost unheard of.
But over the past three seasons, they have become erratic like most other teams in college football.
New Mexico led by 11 points at halftime and by 14 points before Boise State scored its first touchdown.
That marked the ninth time in the past 37 games that the Broncos have either fallen into a significant hole in the first half or before scoring their first touchdown of the game. They lost 38-6 to Washington, fell behind 31-6 to BYU and trailed 38-6 against Oregon State in 2013; they fought for three quarters before digging a 28-6 hole against Ole Miss, stumbled into a 28-0 hole against Air Force, trailed 28-14 in the first quarter against New Mexico and stared at a 20-0 deficit in the first half against San Diego State in 2014; and they trailed 45-10 at halftime this year at Utah State.
And remember, for five years before that — from 2008 through 2012 — the Broncos never trailed by more than eight points. Not once.
The Broncos were coming off a bye week this time and made mistakes that left fans wondering about their preparation (see below).
“Rusty? No,” senior safety Darian Thompson said. “I don’t believe rust is the word. I do believe we had a great two weeks of practice. I guess when the lights came on, we weren’t ready to perform.”
New Mexico certainly was. The Lobos made a laundry list of mistakes — 16 penalties for 135 yards, no third-down conversions, two turnovers — and still managed to take a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter against one of the nation’s most dominant home teams.
“I know that we get everybody’s best game,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “Whatever the A-game is of every team, we get it. Now that’s no excuse. We have to have our A-game. We expect to bring our A-game every game as well. ... Why we fall behind? It would probably be turnovers, more than anything. ... One thing we can’t do is not give credit to the teams that we play and how they prepare. Everybody wants to do that and just assume they’re not very good. They’re a good team.”
Chad Scott: I don’t understand the call to go to the endzone on 4th and 1. We have one of the best backs in the conference. Take the 1st down. That and the receivers had butter on their hands or something. Plus the defensive backs were burned big time because they were anticipating run too much.
Michael Hicks: There seems to be a lot of underlying issues developing with this team. No real leaders, very mistake prone and a coaching staff that can’t seem to properly motivate and teach the needed fundamentals to be a dominate team. The talent is there, the execution and motivation is lacking. Time to earn your paycheck coaching staff!!
Brian Walsh: Tired of beating ourselves. Not the Bronco way.
Clint Colby: 101-5. Please if your a real Boise State Fan try and be grateful.
Josh Waters: Other than Sperbeck, receivers did virtually nothing after Williams-Rhodes got hurt (except tip passes to New Mexico). On 2nd and 20 and 2nd and 17 Broncos should have been ready for a pass. Boise wins when it runs and throws. It established the run in the third, then totally abandoned it in the fourth quarter. Right now, Boise State beats itself.