Bronco Beat

Game recap: Air Force hands Boise State football another home loss

AIR FORCE 37, BOISE STATE 30

Air Force sent Boise State back to the bad ol’ days on Friday night by handing the Broncos their second straight home loss.

Boise State, which lost to New Mexico last week, dropped consecutive home games for the first time since 1997, two straight games played at home for the first time since 1993 and home games in back-to-back weeks for the first time since 1989.

The Broncos also lost a home Friday game for the first time in school history — they had been 14-0 — and lost on Senior Day for the first time since 1998.

Before the New Mexico game, Boise State had lost at home three times in 14 years.

“It bothers me tremendously,” junior linebacker Ben Weaver said of the home losses. “It bothers me most just because these seniors don’t get to play here again.”

The loss eliminated Boise State (7-4 overall, 4-3 Mountain West) from contention in the Mountain Division.

Air Force (8-3, 6-1) can win the division with a New Mexico loss on Saturday or by beating the Lobos next week.

The Broncos actually were in great shape early. Tailback Jeremy McNichols busted an 83-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage and Air Force fumbled on its first play. The Broncos settled for a field goal and 10-0 lead.

Air Force went on a 34-3 run after that to take a 34-13 lead in the third quarter. The Falcons repeatedly got receivers wide open behind the Broncos’ defense, including a 67-yard touchdown pass from Karson Roberts to wide receiver Jalen Robinette and a 51-yard touchdown pass from Roberts to tight end Garrett Griffin.

“We have defenders to cover the wide receivers,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “We didn’t forget about them by any means. It looked like we did, but we didn’t.”

Boise State stormed back into the game late as the Broncos improved their coverage and Roberts started throwing interceptions. Boise State wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck scored on a 34-yard reception and backup quarterback Tommy Stuart scored on a 2-yard run out of the wildcat to make it 34-27 with 5:35 to play.

But Air Force was able to drive down and kick a field goal on the ensuing possession to seal the win.

The Broncos lost despite a plus-four turnover margin. They didn’t commit a turnover.

Air Force averaged 8.7 yards per play. Boise State averaged 4.7.

“There’s a problem in execution,” Harsin said. “There’s a problem in going out there and just doing your job. There’s a simple answer — it’s on the tape. That’s really the key ingredient.”

Boise State finishes the regular season next Friday at San Jose State. The Broncos will have a bowl game after that.

“I feel like we just need to focus up for these next two games coming up,” junior safety Chanceller James said. “The past is in the past. Yeah, we just lost that game. Yeah, we lost the game before on The Blue. That’s a big thing. That goes to heart. Sitting up here right now, I’m about to be in tears, but we’ve got two more games. We’re going to wake it up, we’re going to go out and win these two games and be a dominant team at the end of the day.”

Dave Southorn’s full game story

Game stats

NOTABLE QUOTES

Bryan Harsin

— On how to explain losing at home twice in a row for the first time since 1997: “We’re certainly not trying to set a record by any means. Execution.”

— On Air Force’s wide-open receivers in the first two and a half quarters and improved coverage after that: “If I knew how they were wide open in the first half we would have worked on that more. It comes down to doing your job in those situations. The key ingredient in the second half, do your job. We have defenders to cover the wide receivers. We didn’t forget about them by any means. It looked like we did, but we didn’t. In the second half we made a couple changes. We did a better job that way. But you put yourself in a really bad situation when you’ve got a couple wide open and that doesn’t look good. That’s hard when you have somebody that wide open down the field.”

— On the reliance on WR Thomas Sperbeck: “It’s not a one-man game. I thought (tight end) Jake Roh, on the fourth-down catch, that was a spectacular catch. That was a guy making a play. ... Thomas continues to be that guy and make plays for us. We need more guys to do that. We had some dropped balls again tonight, which hurt us. It hurts momentum. In offensive football you’re creating momentum every single play. When there’s a dropped ball, that puts you back. We made some plays tonight. We didn’t do it consistently enough.”

— On the pass game (23-for-48 for 237 yards, one TD, six sacks): “The consistency in the pass game — to me it’s a combination of sometimes it’s not always a great throw but you’ve got to make the catch. Sometimes the guy’s not getting wide open and the quarterback gives you a great ball when it’s tight coverage. To me it’s truly just consistency that way. We had some protection in there, too — he was having to move. They were going to bring pressure, we knew that, we felt like we had the concepts to beat that. You have to be able to make some of those catches, make some of those throws.”

— On Ray Ford’s interception and return: “That was a great play. My initial thought when he intercepted it was, ‘Get down.’ He had a chance for an even bigger play and made it. ... You’re trying to get momentum. He made a play. We had a few interceptions in there. That was a big one.”

— On motivation going forward: “I’ve never really been into that. You play the game regardless. We’ll find out about this team. I don’t think it’s ever what are we playing for. You only get so many opportunities and your career at some point is going to be done, probably a lot sooner than most want it. If we’re convincing guys to have to play, that’s a problem. And I haven’t seen that yet. Be curious to see if that shows up this week.”

— On the team: “There’s a problem in execution. There’s a problem in going out there and doing our jobs is what it comes down to. There’s a simple answer and it’s on the tape and that’s really the key ingredient. If there was a chemistry or a culture problem, then that would be different. So it’s not about that. But it is about how we’re attacking each opponent each week. ... We’re not sneaking up on anybody. We just have to go out there and be more consistent.”

LB Ben Weaver

— On how to explain two straight losses at home: “Wish I could tell you. If we know, I think things would have turned out differently. We’re going out there, we’re playing hard, we’re playing fast, we’re practicing hard. I think it’s just coming down to execution and we’re not doing that too well right now. ... Our coaches are excellent. Our players are excellent. We work hard in the weight room. We work hard at practice.”

— On losing to two triple-option teams: “When you think of the triple option, you think about run, so it’s a high emphasis on practicing the run. That’s what those teams are good at. They lull you to sleep by running, running, running, and then one play over the top it’s a 60-yard touchdown. It’s a very disciplined game and it humbles you very quickly and it really shows how disciplined you are. When you see there’s however many passing yards, it’s usually off of big plays. It’s not like they’re driving the field on us because of passing plays. There’s such a huge emphasis on the run that sometimes you forget to see your keys and just be disciplined.”

— On the improved pass coverage: “As the game goes on you make corrections and see what they do and you get cheats. When something happens once, you try to make sure it doesn’t happen again. We do a really good job about that, coming to the sideline and our coaches do an excellent job of getting us right.”

— On Ford’s interception: “Ray made a superb play. It was definitely game-changing for us. We definitely needed it — in the red zone, in the end zone — and the return was even better.”

— On the home losses: “It bothers me tremendously. It bothers me most just because these seniors don’t get to play here again. You go out there on senior night and you always try to play for someone beside yourself. We tried to play for them tonight.”

— On Air Force’s final drive: “It was us vs. them and we needed to win and they drove on us and were able to score. I don’t know how else to put it. We should have stopped them.”

RB Jeremy McNichols

— On the game: “We just didn’t execute. Plain and simple.”

— On the offense: “We’re just not executing. We’ve just got to continue to play together. This one really hurts for the seniors because that’s who we were playing for tonight.”

S Chanceller James

— On defending the pass: “It all goes down to people doing their job. Coaches coach us every day on every play, going back to the Patriots in the Super Bowl, when Macolm Butler picked off that interception, he did it in practice, he saw the play in practice and they caught the ball on him, so in the game he knew what to do. It goes down to that, you know? We see the play in practice and on defense we have a job to do. When people don’t do their job, that’s why the receivers are wide open.”

— On injuries: “We had some guys go down, but we don’t need to make any excuses. Like I said, bottom line is we just need to do our job, next man up is supposed to do his job. Anybody, no matter who goes down, there shouldn’t be any fall off. We’re a blue-collar team and we need to play like a blue-collar team.”

— On needing a spark: “We have fiery people out there, fiery players out there. They had some good play calls, some play calls we hadn’t seen before. Some play calls, as players we need to be smarter to understand what play’s coming at that time. If you’re not doing your job, that’s what’s going to happen. We’re going to lose. It’s not a spark. It’s not God coming down from heaven and helping us out — even though he can do that. It’s not that. As players, you’re supposed to play. Coaches coach and when they tell you what to do, you do it. We didn’t have that on a couple plays.”

— On preparing: “Played well against it in practice. They came out with some stuff we hadn’t seen before, we adjusted to it at halftime. They had a good third quarter, thought we had a good first and fourth quarter, second quarter we battled. That’s a good team, they deserve to be where they’re at. It’s not like they did something different, how they ran it. We’d seen everything before. I don’t know how to explain it — you’ve just got to do your job.”

— On turning around after the first half: “We’ve just got to rally the troops. When adversity hits, it’s not time to fall back, it’s time for one man or another man to stand up and make a play. We did that in the fourth, wish we could’ve started earlier. That’s the bottom line.”

— On forcing possible fumbles: “The refs are out there to manage the game, make the right call. We can’t blame anything on them. We should never put the call in the refs’ hands. If it’s a fumble and he says it’s not, it’s not a fumble. We need to go out there and create a fumble for it to be a fumble.”

— On losing at home: “I feel like we just need to focus up for these next two games coming up. The past is in the past. Yeah, we just lost that game. Yeah, we lost the game before on The Blue. That’s a big thing. That goes to heart. Sitting up here right now, I’m about to be in tears, but we’ve got two more games. We’re going to wake it up, we’re going to go out and win these two games and be a dominant team at the end of the day.”

Air Force DB Roland Ladipo

— On the win: “Unbelievable feeling. To be able to come to Boise State, they’re unbelievable here. They don’t lose here. To win like that and hold them off at the end, it feels great.”

— On the 10-0 deficit: “Holding them to a field goal was monumental. The first play of the game they got up on us and we were able to calm down, cool our souls, and figure out what we were able to do and just go out and execute.”

SCORING SUMMARY

AIR FORCE

3

21

10

3

37

BOISE STATE

13

0

7

10

30

FIRST QUARTER

BSU— Jeremy McNichols 83 run (Tyler Rausa kick), 14:45. Key play: McNichols busted through a hole on the right side of the line on the Broncos’ first play and outran the defense to the end zone. Drive: 1 play, 83 yards, :15. Boise State 7, Air Force 0

BSU— Rausa 37 field goal, 13:40. Key plays: Linebacker Tanner Vallejo forced a fumble on Air Force’s first play and linebacker Ben Weaver recovered. On third-and-8, tight end Holden Huff dropped a pass. Drive: 4 plays, 2 yards, :52. Boise State 10, Air Force 0

AFA— Luke Strebel 18 field goal, 6:50. Key plays: Jacobi Owens broke a 59-yard run up the middle on the first play of the drive. The Broncos stuffed three straight plays inside the 3-yard line. The third-down play looked like a fumble recovered by Boise State but wasn’t reviewed. Drive: 7 plays, 70 yards, 3:30. Boise State 10, Air Force 3

BSU— Rausa 45 field goal, :56. Key plays: Quarterback Brett Rypien scrambled for 4 yards on third-and-3, hit tight end Jake Roh for 18 yards on third-and-3 and found wide receiver Chaz Anderson for 12 yards on third-and-10. The drive stalled when back-to-back run plays netted minus-2 yards. Drive: 13 plays, 49 yards, 5:54. Boise State 13, Air Force 3

SECOND QUARTER

AFA— Karson Roberts 1 run (Strebel kick), 14:15. Key plays: Roberts kept for gains of 12 and 12 yards, then hit wide-open tight end Garrett Griffin for 38 yards over the middle. Drive: 6 plays, 75 yards, 1:41. Boise State 13, Air Force 10

AFA— Jalen Robinette 67 pass from Roberts (Strebel kick), 6:42. Key play: Robinette slipped behind the defense for the easy touchdown. Drive: 2 plays, 72 yards, :46. Air Force 17, Boise State 13

AFA— Timothy McVey 48 run (Strebel kick), 2:34. Key plays: Garrett Brown made a 17-yard catch. The TD came on a toss play to the right and McVey darted through a wide lane in the defense. Drive: 5 plays, 81 yards, 2:06. Air Force 24, Boise State 13

THIRD QUARTER

AFA— Griffin 51 pass from Roberts (Strebel kick), 13:18. Key plays: Griffin was wide open for an 18-yard reception on the first play of the drive and all alone again for the TD on third-and-4. Drive: 4 plays, 75 yards, 1:42. Air Force 31, Boise State 13

AFA— Strebel 32 field goal, 8:27. Key plays: McVey ran free down the right sideline and Roberts hit him for a 56-yard gain. The Falcons tried a reverse on third down but cornerback Donte Deayon stuffed it. Drive: 8 plays, 80 yards, 4:04. Air Force 34, Boise State 13

BSU— Thomas Sperbeck 34 pass from Rypien (Rausa kick), :53. Key plays: Cornerback Ray Ford intercepted Air Force in the end zone and returned it to the Boise State 39-yard line. Sperbeck made a 15-yard catch on fourth-and-10. Drive: 6 plays, 61 yards, :49. Air Force 34, Boise State 20

FOURTH QUARTER

BSU— Tommy Stuart 2 run (Rausa kick), 5:35. Key plays: Weaver set up the Broncos with great field position with an interception. Sperbeck made a 13-yard catch and Anderson made a 15-yard grab on third-and-4. Drive: 8 plays, 52 yards, 2:51. Air Force 34, Boise State 27

AFA— Strebel 45 field goal, 2:11. Key play: Owens had a 15-yard run. Drive: 9 plays, 47 yards, 3:24. Air Force 37, Boise State 27

BSU— Rausa 45 field goal, :11. Key plays: Roh made a 19-yard catch on fourth-and-1 and Sean Modster made a 17-yard grab on second-and-15. Drive: 10 plays, 37 yards, 1:53. Air Force 37, Boise State 30

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QUARTERS SUMMARY

First quarter: The Broncos got off to an inspired spot after making the rare decision to take the ball to start the game when they won the coin toss. Sophomore tailback Jeremy McNichols busted an 83-yard touchdown run up the middle on the first play from scrimmage. On Air Force’s first play, linebacker Tanner Vallejo hit quarterback Karson Roberts in the backfield and forced a fumble. Linebacker Ben Weaver recovered. But the Broncos settled for a field goal after the turnover and again on a promising drive late in the quarter that included three third-down conversions. Meanwhile, Air Force drove to the 1-yard line and was stuffed on three straight plays before settling for a field goal of its own. In-game analysis: The Broncos certainly came out ready to play. But the passing game struggled to find a rhythm against Air Force’s blitzing. The first pass was dropped, the second was nearly intercepted and the first deep ball was overthrown.

Second quarter: Air Force outscored Boise State 21-0 in the quarter as the Broncos seemed baffled by the Falcons’ option attack. Quarterback Karson Roberts hit tight end Garrett Griffin for 38 yards to the 1-yard line to set up a touchdown, found wide receiver Jalen Robinette behind the defense for a 67-yard touchdown and pitched to running back Timothy McVey for a 48-yard touchdown run. Boise State’s best scoring opportunity ended on a sack and a blocked field goal. Quarterback Brett Rypien was unable to find open receivers against Air Force’s combination of heavy blitzing and man coverage. In-game analysis: For the second straight week, Rypien and his receivers were unable to hit the long throws to the outside that busted the Virginia and UNLV blitzes early in the season. The Broncos likely are going to need a new approach in the third quarter. The defense is playing with two backup safeties and it shows. Halftime stats: Air Force outgained Boise State 348-189. The Falcons averaged 11.2 yards per play to the Broncos’ 4.7. Boise State was 4-for-11 on third down. Air Force was 0-for-3. Rypien was 9-for-21 for 60 yards. Sperbeck had three catches for 9 yards. McNichols had 10 carries for 133 yards, with 83 coming on the TD run. Roberts was 5-for-7 for 143 yards and a TD for Air Force. The Falcons rushed for 205 yards on 24 carries (8.5 per carry).

Third quarter: Cornerback Ray Ford, normally a backup, turned the whole game around with an over-the-shoulder interception in the end zone. He spun around and weaved through Air Force players all the way to the Boise State 39-yard line. Moments later, wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck made a 15-yard catch on fourth-and-10. Rypien hit Sperbeck on the next play for a 34-yard touchdown.

Fourth quarter: Weaver intercepted Roberts with 8:26 left in the game to give the Broncos some hope, down 34-20. They drove down and scored on backup QB Tommy Stuart’s 2-yard run out of the wildcat. But the Broncos needed a stop on the ensuing possession to have a chance to tie. Instead, Air Force marched down and kicked a 45-yard field goal to seal the win.

• • • 

NOTEBOOK

Sperbeck breaks school record

Boise State junior wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck broke the school record for receiving yards in a season with a 7-yard catch in the first quarter Friday night against Air Force.

Sperbeck entered the game just 5 yards short of Titus Young’s record set in 2010.

Young gained 1,215 yards on 71 catches when he set the record. He caught nine TD passes and averaged 17.1 yards per catch.

Sperbeck has 76 catches for 1,289 yards and eight touchdowns this season. He averages 16.96 yards per catch.

Thompson, Williams-Rhodes out

Boise State senior safety Darian Thompson (concussion) and senior wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes (ankle) didn’t play against Air Force on Senior Day.

Also, senior defensive tackle Justin Taimatuia didn’t start but played in the second half. He is banged up and didn’t practice much during the week, coach Bryan Harsin said. Junior Elliot Hoyte replaced him.

Thompson, the Mountain West record-holder with 19 career interceptions, has only missed two starts in the past three seasons — both against Air Force.

Williams-Rhodes injured an ankle in the first half last week against New Mexico and didn’t return to the game. He ranks third in school history with 205 career catches.

The Broncos also are without senior left tackle Rees Odhiambo (ankle), sophomore safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner (ankle) and sophomore quarterback Ryan Finley (ankle).

On the plus side, senior cornerback Donte Deayon started after missing three games. He had knee surgery.

McNichols breaks MW record

Boise State sophomore tailback Jeremy McNichols busted an 83-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage, the third-longest run in school history.

The play gave McNichols a rushing TD in 10 straight games, breaking the Mountain West record that he tied last week. McNichols has played in 10 games this season.

Quick hits

The Broncos wore all blue. ... Twenty seniors were honored before their final regular-season home game. ... Deayon, senior defensive end Tyler Horn and senior linebacker Tyler Gray were single-game captains. ... Senior long snapper Kevin Keane carried the Hammer. ... Boise State won the coin toss and took the ball, which is unusual for the Broncos. ... Air Force blocked Tyler Rausa’s 44-yard field-goal attempt in the second quarter. It was the Falcons’ 12th blocked kick in the past three seasons, the second-most in the nation. Eleven of those have been scoring kicks. ... Attendance: 30,332.

• • • 

Our coverage plan is a little different this year. I’ll be spending 100 percent of my time on our live/digital coverage of the game — so I’ll be even more active than usual updating this blog and interacting with fans on Facebook and Twitter (@IDS_BroncoBeat).

Late in the game, we’ll be collecting fans’ brief takeaways from the game. We’ll run the best ones in Sunday’s paper and in the blog post with my takeaways from the game. To participate, tweet with the hashtag #bsutake, respond to the Facebook post soliciting opinions or email sports@idahostatesman.com.

• • • 

LINKS

Boise State’s Tyler Horn: From awkward to awesome

Boise State to honor 20 seniors

Game breakdown

Boise State players to watch

Air Force players to watch

Key matchup

Bowl projections: Boise State vs. Cal

Air Force teases Boise State in tweet, then deletes it

Defense hopes to avoid costly breakdowns

Offense must finish drives

Boise State leads MW in TV bonuses

Brett Rypien speaks

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