Bronco Beat

Game recap: Boise State crushes Northern Illinois 55-7 in Poinsettia Bowl

Boise State celebrates a 55-7 Poinsettia Bowl win over Northern Illinois on Wednesday at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
Boise State celebrates a 55-7 Poinsettia Bowl win over Northern Illinois on Wednesday at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.


Boise State dominated from start to finish Wednesday at the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego, taking less than a minute to get on the board, and never trailed in a 55-7 hammering of the Northern Illinois Huskies.

The Broncos (9-4) held a 654-33 advantage in total yardage, with the defense allowing the second-fewest yards in school history, and the least since Oct. 19, 1968, against Whitworth, when they allowed 30 yards.

Freshman quarterback Brett Rypien was the game’s offensive MVP after he completed 29-of-39 passes for 377 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Junior defensive end Kamalei Correa, who is expected to leave for the NFL Draft, was the defensive MVP after he had two sacks and forced a fumble.

The 654 yards of offense were ninth-most in a single game in school history. Sophomore running back Jeremy McNichols scored three touchdowns, rushing for 93 yards and adding 96 yards receiving, both team highs.


SAN DIEGO — At least now the Boise State football team gets eight months to figure out how to replace the unique talents of wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes.

The Broncos clearly missed the 5-foot-6 playmaker when he was sidelined for most of the last three regular-season games with a high ankle sprain.

And they clearly enjoyed having him back Wednesday, when Williams-Rhodes was the key to the offense in a 55-7 win against Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl.

Williams-Rhodes contributed eight catches for 94 yards and three carries for 34 yards. That success allowed the Broncos to use him as a decoy other times, including on tight end Alec Dhaenens' 18-yard touchdown catch.

The Broncos were 1-2 without Williams-Rhodes and the offense never clicked during that stretch.

"He's huge. He's able to do so many different things for us," offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz said. "He exposed the middle of the field. He was able to beat a couple of blitzes. He gives us a different dynamic on the reverses. He's a really special player."

This was the healthiest Williams-Rhodes has felt since the Oct. 31 game at UNLV, he said, but he still isn't all the way back from the high ankle sprain he sustained in the first half of the Nov. 14 game against New Mexico.

He passed Austin Pettis on the Boise State all-time receptions chart to finish second with 233.

"I just felt I was back in my role," Williams-Rhodes said. "... They were able to go back to the stuff we were doing before and we executed that stuff well." 















BSU—Jeremy McNichols 29 run (Tyler Rausa kick), 14:02. Key plays: Quarterback Brett Rypien hit McNichols on a streak down the right side of the field for 39 yards — the first deep ball the Broncos had hit since October. McNichols jogged into the end zone through a mammoth hole on the next play. Drive: 3 plays, 75 yards, :58. Boise State 7, Northern Illinois 0

BSU—McNichols 4 pass from Rypien (Rausa kick), 7:38. Key plays: Wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck broke a tackle attempt for a 23-yard gain on the first play. McNichols added a 23-yard catch and 11-yard run. The drive was set up by a fumble recovery by linebacker Tyler Gray. Drive: 7 plays, 67 yards, 2:18. Boise State 14, Northern Illinois 0

BSU—McNichols 1 run (Rausa kick), 3:28. Key plays: Rypien dropped a beautiful throw over an underneath defender to tight end Jake Roh for a 22-yard gain. Wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes broke a tackle to gain 21 yards on third-and-3 from the NIU 24-yard line. Drive: 7 plays, 53 yards, 2:36. Boise State 21, Northern Illinois 0


BSU—Rausa 20 field goal, 9:44. Key plays: Gray stripped wide receiver Aregeros Turner and cornerback Jonathan Moxey recovered on the NIU 15. A holding penalty on first-and-goal at the 5 stalled the drive. Drive: 7 plays, 12 yards, 3:01. Boise State 24, Northern Illinois 0

NIU—Aregeros Turner 96 kickoff return (Christian Hagan kick), 9:32. Boise State 24, Northern Illinois 7

BSU—Chaz Anderson 16 pass from Rypien (Rausa kick), 1:51. Key plays: Defensive end Kamalei Correa stripped quarterback Ryan Graham and Gray crawled to the loose football at the Boise State 40. Williams-Rhodes gained 22 yards on an end-around and McNichols fought and reached to gain a yard on third-and-1. Drive: 8 plays, 60 yards, 3:35. Boise State 31, Northern Illinois 7


BSU—Rausa 27 field goal, 7:30. Key plays: Williams-Rhodes dominated the drive with a 12-yard catch, a 10-yard run and an 11-yard catch. Drive: 12 plays, 51 yards, 4:49. Boise State 34, Northern Illinois 7

BSU—Alec Dhaenens 18 pass from Rypien (Rausa kick), 3:29. Key plays: Sperbeck and Anderson also had 18-yard catches. Drive: 6 plays, 62 yards, 2:06. Boise State 41, Northern Illinois 7


BSU—Kelsey Young 24 run (Rausa kick), 14:52. Key plays: Rypien hit Williams-Rhodes for 13 yards and McNichols for 18. Drive: 5 plays, 61 yards, 2:07. Boise State 48, Northern Illinois 7

BSU—Tommy Stuart 1 run (Rausa kick), 9:52. Key plays: Ryan Wolpin busted a 49-yard run. Stuart, the backup QB, had a 9-yard run. Drive: 7 plays, 69 yards, 4:06. Boise State 55, Northern Illinois 7

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First quarter: Boise State jumped out to a 21-0 lead. The Broncos got the ball to start the game and only needed three plays to score. Tailback Jeremy McNichols made a 39-yard catch and dashed 29 yards for the TD on the next play. Northern Illinois drove the ball well on the ensuing possession but quarterback Ryan Graham fumbled a shotgun snap on third down at the Boise State 26-yard line. Linebacker Tyler Gray recovered. The Broncos went 67 yards in seven plays after that, capped by McNichols’ 4-yard TD catch. And moments later, they drove right down the field again with McNichols scoring on a 1-yard run. In-game analysis: The Broncos came ready to play for this one, particularly on offense. That unit hadn’t played this crisply all season. The defense struggled on the opening possession but seemed to get a better bead on the Huskies’ attack after that, forcing two three-and-outs.

Second quarter: The Broncos went into halftime with a 31-7 lead but missed opportunities to really blow the game open. A fake field goal was wiped out by a penalty and the Broncos failed on a conventional fourth-and-2 and they settled for a 20-yard field goal after Gray and cornerback Jonathan Moxey combined on a turnover. Northern Illinois got on the board with Aregeros Turner’s 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The Huskies forced a Rypien fumble and seemed to switch momentum but defensive end Kamalei Correa stripped QB Ryan Graham and Gray recovered. The offense capitalized with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Rypien to wide receiver Chaz Anderson. The Broncos could have scored again before halftime but Rypien and wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck miscommunicated and Rypien threw an interception as a result. In-game analysis: The Broncos’ special teams have had a so-so year and it showed again with the kickoff return for a touchdown. Rypien was sharp most of the game but two second-quarter turnovers show that he’s still a true freshman. Halftime stats: Boise State outgained Northern Illinois 360-36 (10 to 1). The Huskies had 21 carries for 1 yard, which included three sacks for minus-27 yards. McNichols had 154 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. Williams-Rhodes added 80 yards from scrimmage. Gray had seven tackles, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. Tyler Horn had 1.5 sacks.

Third quarter: The Broncos added 10 points and set up another touchdown that occurred on the first play of the fourth quarter while the defense continued to dominate. In-game analysis: The Broncos’ thorough domination of the game was reminiscent of the 2010 MAAC Bowl vs. Utah.

Fourth quarter: The Broncos turned the game over to their backups and still dominated.

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Gray states case for NFL

Boise State senior linebacker Tyler Gray spent most of his career as a co-starter in the shadow of more highly touted linebackers.

On Wednesday, he might have been the defensive star of the Poinsettia Bowl.

Gray led the Broncos with seven tackles. He also forced a fumble and recovered two fumbles, contributing to all of the turnovers committed by Northern Illinois.

“You’re not on the field all the time,” he said. “When you do get out there, you have to make it count. And that’s what I’ve been able to do.”

Gray (6-foot-4, 232 pounds) ends his career with 191 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, five sacks, six forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries, 11 pass breakups and three interceptions.

He made his 17th career start Wednesday in a three-linebacker alignment.

“Just to see that kid come along and take the next step, I’m proud of him,” defensive coordinator Marcel Yates said. “I know he wanted to play at the next level and between (linebackers coach Andy Avalos) and myself, I sat him down and said, ‘Hey, if you want to have the opportunity to play at the next level ... .’ He had to play good these last few games, and I think he did.”

Broncos strike quickly

Boise State sophomore tailback Jeremy McNichols made a 39-yard catch on the second play from scrimmage and followed with a 29-yard romp up the middle into the end zone.

The touchdown came 58 seconds into the game — the fastest in Poinsettia Bowl history and the second-fastest in Boise State’s bowl history. The only time the Broncos scored faster in a bowl was when Doug Martin returned the opening kickoff for a TD in the 2011 MAACO Bowl against Arizona State.

McNichols extended his Mountain West record to 12 straight games with a rushing touchdown — every game in which he appeared this year.

He added two more first-quarter touchdowns to tie Kenneth Dixon of Louisiana Tech for the national lead with 26. Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry of Alabama has 23 and could play two more games.

McNichols finished with 93 rushing yards and 96 receiving yards but his streak of seven straight 100-yard rushing performances ended.

“It was good, but it was a team effort — starting with the offensive line,” McNichols said of his showing.

Record year for Rausa

Boise State junior kicker Tyler Rausa broke the Mountain West single-season scoring record for kickers with his second PAT in the Poinsettia Bowl. He finished with 135 points.

He broke the school’s single-season record for field goals made with a 27-yarder in the third quarter, his second field goal of the game. Rausa made 25 this season. Tyler Jones made 24 in 2004, when he was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award.

A tie for Sperbeck

Boise State junior wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck collected six catches for 78 yards — tying the school record for receptions in a season with 88. Matt Miller set the record in 2013.

Sperbeck established a school record with 1,412 receiving yards on the season. He caught eight touchdown passes.

Correa’s decision pending

Boise State junior defensive end Kamalei Correa recorded two sacks, four tackles and a forced fumble to earn defensive MVP honors in the Poinsettia Bowl.

The Idaho Statesman reported Tuesday night that Correa will leave early for the NFL but he said he needs to speak with his family before making a final decision.

Quick hits

Boise State wore blue pants, white jerseys and blue helmets. ... Boise State’s single-game captains were tailback Jack Fields and defensive tackle Justin Taimatuia. ... The officials were from the Sun Belt. ... Linebacker Darren Lee carried the Hammer. ... Northern Illinois won the coin toss and deferred. ... Official attendance: 21,501. ... The Boise State senior class collected its 40th win, the 14th straight class to win that many games. The 2016 seniors need 11 wins to hit that mark. ... The Broncos are 11-5 in bowl games.

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Game breakdown