A common query among many fans of the Boise State Broncos in 2017 falls into one category: What has happened to the passing game?
Heading into 2017, questions were abound for the Boise State Broncos football team. How quickly would the young defense develop? (Quickly). Who would step up to replace the production of Jeremy McNichols and Thomas Sperbeck? (Cedrick Wilson and…). Could the Broncos make a triumphant return to the Mountain West title game? (TBD).
One question few believed they’d have to ask on a weekly basis: What has happened to the Boise State passing game?
Years of success were predicated on the arms of a long line of Boise State quarterbacks. Many continue to be known by one name: Tony. Bart. Dinwiddie. Zabransky, Tharp. Kellen. Hedrick.
A fantastic running back group balanced out the passers over the years, but it was the aerial show fans loved.
In 2017, the passing game has been grounded to the tune of 197 yards per game.
Between junior Brett Rypien — a two-time all conference player and third-year starter — and graduate transfer Montell Cozart, the Broncos were expected to be in the top tier of Mountain West quarterbacks.
Cozart has been a revelation in running and throwing his way into the hearts of Bronco Nation (minus one ill-advised pass). Rypien, on the other hand, continues to search for the firepower he once held.
Rypien, while missing the most of two games, has thrown for 822 yards while completing 61.7% of his passes. Compare that to Cozart, who has thrown for 559 yards on a 66.2% completion rate.
Cozart has 7 touchdown passes (to Rypien’s 2) and has also ran for 260 yards and four scores.
The looming question: How long can the two-quarterback system be sustained?
Riding the strengths of two quarterbacks
The numbers aren’t up to par and confidence might be an issue, but for Rypien, his play hasn’t exactly been bad.
The loss of McNichols and Sperbeck, two mainstays in Rypien’s first years, was never going to be easy to overcome. And it has shown in 2017.
Struggles of the offensive line and lack of running game gave opponent’s reason to zero in on Rypien. And the junior felt the pressure, taking numerous hit before eventually leaving the Washington State game with an injury.
Adjusting to life after the injury, Rypien, in split duty, has been improving each week since the bye week. Getting back to who he once was might be a leap, but the accuracy has been improving while leading the first part of drives.
Giving way to Cozart as the team approaches the red zone, it appears Boise State’s coaches like the versatility the Kansas transfer brings. Excitement is brought to the table with Cozart in the game and, for the most part, he’s also proven to be a worthy passer.
Cozart scored three touchdowns in the victory over Wyoming and was named athlete of the week. He continues to be one of the few big playmakers for Boise State on offense.
The home run threat
One reason Rypien’s numbers have suffered is due to a lack of deep threat. Or, at the very least, a speedster has yet to emerge who can expose coverage deep.
Wilson, with 39 catches for 654 yards and two touchdowns, has made big plays in 2017. As teams double team him more and more, Rypien and Cozart will need others to get open.
A.J. Richardson is seemingly on the verge of a breakout game. Richardson has 15 catches for 169 yards.
On a positive note, senior Jake Roh has become a reliable second option. Roh has hauled in 25 passes for 192 yards and four touchdowns.
Still, the big play and home run ball have been lacking in the aerial attack in 2017. It’s something I can say is a big part of any successful football team and an aspect missing for Boise State in 2017.
The good news is the Broncos are winning with a style similar to the team they defeated two weeks ago, the San Diego State Aztecs. A punishing defense, an explosive special teams and a steady, if not methodical offense, have led the Broncos to three straight wins.
Rypien is too good to be quiet much longer. Cozart has put this team on his back and the Boise State staff appears to have figured out how to successfully use both quarterbacks. If — and when — the two both play up to their strengths, the Boise State offense will be scoring 40 points once again.
For now, it’s best to appreciate the winning, no matter how the team gets there.