The lights will be turned on at Albertsons Stadium one more time in 2017 for the Boise State Broncos football team.
Hosting the Mountain West Conference championship game for the second time in school history is a silver lining for an otherwise disappointing weekend for the Broncos.
Their foe will once again be the Fresno State Bulldogs. Boise State beat this very program in 2014 to claim their first Mountain West title. A Fiesta Bowl victory followed as the first year for head coach Bryan Harsin was a success.
Three years later, a rematch is set. One that no one could have predicted when the season started. And a redux we’re getting only a week after a regular season meeting that saw Boise State fall to Fresno State 28-17.
Boise State unspooled much of the good they’d collected during a seven-game winning streak. In ways, they reverted back to the team we saw in September.
To say the Boise State Broncos came out of the gates without passion is unfair. The offense moved the ball well in the first-half, even opening with a flea flicker on their first play. Brett Rypien looked sharp, the defense was stopping the run, and Boise State looked to be in the early stages of winning their eighth straight.
Like filling up your plate beyond measure at the buffet line, the initial success of Boise State in the game was a bad case of “your eyes were bigger than your stomach” curse. And issues that plagued Boise State back in September, plus a new one, found their way into the game.
The offense moved the ball well, but stalled. A lack of a consistent running attack. And a pass defense with players who seemed a step slow all day.
Racking up the yards but forgetting the points
The offense had little trouble moving the ball in Saturday’s game. The game plan was anything but conservative in the early going.
Unfortunately, too many drives stalled after crossing the 50-yard line. There was a rare missed field goal by Haden Hoggarth. And another drive stopped on downs.
The Broncos failure to convert on third and fourth down, short yardage situations has been problematic all season. More so on fourth down, where the Broncos are now 2-16 (12.5%) after 0-2 on Saturday. Overall, Boise State is tied for 129th in this category.
Third downs have been better, especially during the win streak, as the Broncos rank 9th overall in converting 80-170 (47%). Last Saturday against Fresno State, that number dropped to 42.9% (6-14).
Both affected a team who struggled to sustain much momentum in the second and third quarters.
Running the ball
One of the key’s to Boise State’s seven-game triumph was the return of the vaunted running game.
Since the Colorado State game, in which Alexander Mattison ran 23 times for 242 yards and three touchdowns, the running attack has cooled off. Mattison has totaled 32 carries for 105 yards in the last two games.
In the Air Force game, the passing attack was clicking on all levels and a running game wasn’t as necessary.
Against Fresno State, the Broncos had trouble gaining yards when they needed it most. The team finished with 107 rushing yards and Mattison had 61. Twenty-two of those came on a scoring drive in the fourth, capped off by his one-yard rush. And another 21 were on a Montell Cozart run in the first quarter.
Mattison did go over 1,000 yards on the season, making it nine straight seasons a Boise State running back has accomplished the feat.
Still, more will be needed from the running game if the Broncos are to win the title.
A leaky pass defense
Outside a couple of games in 2017, the pass defense for Boise State was pretty solid.
Saturday was not one of those games.
Marcus McMaryion threw for over 300 yards for the first time in 2017, completing 23-36 for the Bulldogs. Fresno State was 9-16 on third-down conversions (56.3%) and too many times McMaryion found open receivers for eight-to-ten yard gains.
Tyler Horton and DeAndre Pierce both had a couple of good pass break-ups, but overall the Bulldogs had a lot of green grass around them.
It also helps when Fresno State has only allowed seven sacks all season.
A perfect season in the Mountain West was lost with the game last Saturday. The Broncos may have reverted to September form, but it was (hopefully) just a blip on the overall arc of 2017.
The execution of the offense will return, the defense will make the necessary adjustments, and (fingers crossed) Jake Roh will return to the equation.
Doing all that will make the last game on the blue in 2017 a great one. Then the confetti, real or imagined, will fall, allowing the boys in blue to hoist another Mountain West title.