Three games are in the books for the 2014 Boise State Broncos’ season. With a record of 2-1 the Broncos have offered a mixed bag of successes and failures. A poor showing against the 18th ranked Ole Miss Rebels in the first game of the season has acted as an umbrella overshadowing the positives from the two most recent Broncos games, versus Colorado State and at Connecticut. If it weren’t for a complete meltdown against the Rebels on national television, the mood surrounding the Broncos may be a bit more favorable. So where do the Broncos really stack up this season and what should we expect moving forward? Let’s dive a bit more deeply into the three games already played.
Broncos versus Ole Miss Runnin’ Rebels
The Broncos lost their season opener to Ole Miss 36-13. It was a chance for Boise State to make a splash on the national stage in the first game of its 2014 college football season. With a new coach and new offensive and defensive game plans, early struggles were expected. The offense experienced the brunt of these struggles, particularly in the first half of the game. While credit is partially due to a tough defense in Ole Miss, the signal caller of the Broncos didn’t do much to help matters. Making poor decisions throughout including three first half interceptions, many questions were raised to test whether Grant Hedrick is the best candidate for the Broncos under center in 2014. The bright spot of the offense was their bona fide running back Jay Ajayi. Powerful, explosive, and versatile, Ajayi was the star for the Broncos against Ole Miss. He looked very good running inside, outside, and catching passes out of the backfield. He was the lone bright spot in an otherwise poor showing. Grade – D.
As for the Boise State defense, it was solid for much of the game. The Broncos stuffed the Rebels’ running game and forced the Ole Miss passing game to try and move the ball. This worked well early on as the Broncos intercepted quarterback Bo Wallace three times in the first half. It was clear by the fourth quarter that the Broncos were gassed against the talented SEC team, and Wallace and standout wide receiver Laquon Treadwell were able to finally get it going, contributing to four 4th quarter touchdowns. Grade – B-.
Broncos versus Colorado State Rams
The Broncos won their 2014 home opener against the Colorado State Rams 37-24. It was a much better showing for Boise State on the whole, but there were still some glaring negatives fans took from the game. While Hedrick’s stats looked good in the box score, he still made poor fundamental choices. His lone interception was a ball thrown into double coverage and in the red zone, taking away possible points from the Broncos at the time. He continued to throw the ball without his feet set and on the run. Each time he left the pocket and let the ball go without set feet, a collective cloud of anxiety could be felt throughout Albertson’s Stadium. The star on offense yet again was Jay Ajayi, who ran for over 200 yards, receiving for over 60, and scoring three touchdowns. However, it was concerning for fans to see first year head coach Bryan Harsin ride Ajayi like a Clydesdale among ponies especially when the Broncos roster other quality running backs like Jack Fields and Devan Dumas, who each had only 2 carries during the game. Even throughout the latter stages of the game when the Broncos had all but won, Ajayi was still fed the ball and took a few unnecessary hits to the lower body. Ever seen the movie “Friday Night Lights” when James “Boobie” Miles is given additional carries when a game is essentially over? You don’t give your best offensive player garbage time carries, it can only ends poorly with little (if anything) to gain. Grade – B-.
The run defense was extremely solid against Colorado State, limiting the Rams to 28 total rushing yards. The Broncos fortified the iron curtain erected during the game at Ole Miss, forcing the Rams to pass the ball on early downs. This played right into the Rams’ hands however, and allowed CSU quarterback Garrett Grayson to throw for over 400 yards and three touchdowns. Needless to say, the Broncos’ passing defense took a sharp step backwards in the home opener and nearly fell down the stairs in doing so. Leaving receivers wide open and the quarterback ample time to throw is not a recipe for success as a pass defense, and the Broncos continued to be exposed when it came to defending the pass. Grade – C.
Broncos versus Connecticut Huskies
Making the trip across the country to play the UConn Huskies, the Broncos defense stole the show in this one and was just what Broncos’ fans ordered. Returning a fumble recovery and interception for touchdowns in the game the Broncos offense didn’t have to worry much about scoring points. In addition, the defense held the Huskies under 300 yards of total offense and looked much-improved overall. The Boise State run defense was bullish (48 total yards) and played as fans were accustomed to seeing in the first two games of the season. A good showing was desperately needed for the Bronco pass defense and the call was more than answered in this one. Regularly pressuring UConn quarterback Chandler Whitmer and collecting eight sacks on the day, the Broncos limited the Huskies to a pedestrian 242 passing yards. Grade – A.
Seeing Grant Hedrick with a “0” in the interceptions column of the stat sheet is rare and a sight for sore eyes for Boise State fans. Hedrick started off the game slowly and the Broncos were forced to punt on their first four possessions of the game. The running game could not get much going either and Jay Ajayi was contained well by the UConn defense (39 yards on 18 carries). Coach Harsin continued to lean on Ajayi without adhering to UConn basing their defensive strategy around stopping him, and gave all other Boise State running backs a total of one carry in the game. It was a passable showing for the offense with still much left to be desired. Grade – B-.
Miscellaneous thoughts from an unsettled fan
I talked to one of the Broncos’ diehard fans and he had some great critiques of the Broncos so far. Carl Swantek has paid close attention to the Boise State Broncos for decades. He’s got major concerns about Coach Harsin’s decision-making, both personnel-wise and in play-calling. Here are his thoughts, unfiltered and with a fine-toothed comb.
- I am not sure how Charles Bertoli plays in practice, but during games in the past he has played outstanding – a powerful runner that would be a great complement to Ajayi’s abilities. Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford and Coach Harsin need to go back and look at game tapes when he played.
- Bryan Harsin is on the path to mediocrity, calling plays just like every other team and how the Broncos did it the last two years (which went downhill for the Broncos). Where is the creativity? By creativity I don’t mean trick plays, I mean being creative and unpredictable on every play possible. Where is the ball distribution? Not only does Hedrick not spread the ball out, the offensive plays always give the ball to Ajayi to run. Sure makes it easy on the defense. I love Ajayi, but he would be a lot more productive and be kept healthier if he only got the ball half the time and other running backs had a chance.
- Quarterback – there is no doubt that for both college and NFL teams the teams tend to go the way of their quarterback. BSU has had a lot of very good quarterbacks, most notably Kellen Moore. However, there was Zabransky, Dinwiddie, Hendricks, and others before him. When you look at these other quarterbacks they did vary a bit in raw talent, but what they all had was the “it factor”! Hedrick does NOT have the “it factor”. Fans appreciate his effort, his work ethic, and his desire to succeed, but he doesn’t have it when he gets to the red zone or when the game is on the line. Harsin had a chance to go with one of the younger quarterbacks that have potential and may well have the “it” factor, but we won’t know because we don’t get to see and of them.
- One last question, why isn’t 4-star recruit Dylan Sumner-Gardner playing more? Seems like he should have been red-shirted if he wasn’t going to start this year. What message is this sending to potential four and five star recruit candidates? If he is not as good as he was ranked, then we can understand, but we don’t know because he’s had a lack of playing time from day one.
Where do we go from here?
Through 25% of the season, the Broncos are clearly behind the pace in terms of fans’ expectations for the 2014 season. Inconsistent play on both sides of the ball are inherent with teams that have undergone as much change as the Broncos have seen over the past year, and we are all hoping for those wrinkles to be ironed out before the Broncos take on Air Force come September 27th. We expect to see a flawless game against Louisiana Lafayette this upcoming Saturday, giving the team and its fans confidence heading into a definitive four-game stretch (at Air Force, at Nevada, home against Fresno State, home against BYU) that will go a long way in deciding how the Broncos will be remembered in 2014. Three things to look for in the short term are how Hedrick progresses and develops as a winner and not just as a passer, if the pass defense can settle down and become more consistent, and if Coach Harsin’s game plan continues to be ultra-conservative or if he starts calling plays like he did as Boise State offensive coordinator from 2006-2010. While there remain questions for the Broncos on both sides of the ball and in certain coaching moves, there are many reasons to be optimistic as a Boise State fan. Buckle up, it should be one heck of a ride. Go Broncos!