The final score was 7-6, a final tally that is more fitting for a baseball game than a college football game featuring a Top 25 team. Brigham Young University tried for a two-point conversion to win it outright, and Boise State linebacker J.C. Percy got a hoof on the pass attempt to knock it down. That secured the Bronco win.
As for the Boise touchdown, for the second game out of three in 2012, the offense was anemic, failing to score a touchdown. The BSU score came when nose guard Mike Atkinson picked off a Riley Nelson pass and rumbled 36 yards for the score.
There were bright moments in Thursday night’s game, but also many red flags. On the morning after, it’s time to look at the good, the bad and the ugly and figure out if Boise State still deserves to be ranked in the AP Top 25.
The Bronco defense was the biggest reason Boise State upped its home record over the current century to 76-3. Brigham Young was held to 200 yards of total offense—139 on the ground and 61 through the air. Ninety-five yards of that total came on the Cougars’ scoring drive. Freshman quarterback Tayson Hill (replacing starter Riley Nelson, who threw three picks and fumbled once) began on the BYU 5-yard line, was aided by a targeting penalty and culminated with a four-yard scoring run.
While Boise State may have replaced nine starters from the 2011 team, the defense has played hard and well throughout its three games. The coverage by the defensive secondary got a bit soft late in the game, but much like Week 1, BSU’s defense was on the field for the majority of the game. BYU ran 66 plays to Boise State’s 58 and had the ball offensively for 32 minutes to BSU’s 28 minutes.
But the BSU defense posted three sacks for the game, Cougar QB Riley Nelson tossed three interceptions (including the pick six), and the Cougars fumbled and lost the ball twice.
At halftime, BYU’s offense only had 71 yards total. That’s domination.
D.J. Harper didn’t have many holes to run through, but the sixth-year senior made the most of the 31 times he carried the ball and racked up 118 yards on the ground. He also caught three passes for 20 yards. Harper carried the load for the BSU offense, accounting for more than half of the total offensive production.
That’s good for Harper but bad for the rest of the offensive scheme. If Harper is the only viable tool on the offense, other teams can figure out that if they shut him down, they shut down the Broncos.
Boise State was flagged for a total of eight penalties for 65 yards. It wasn’t the number or the yardage, though, that puts it in this category—it was the type and timing.
Tyler Gray’s personal foul penalty on a punt took away solid starting field position for the Bronco offense. Darian Thompson’s targeting penalty help turn a 21-yard pass completion from under the shadow of its own goal line into a lot of breathing room for the BYU offense (and it came on the scoring drive).
Some of the penalties seemed uncharacteristic of the Boise State team.
Throughout the majority of the game, while he got a few good rolls, Trevor Harman punted low, short line drives. It wasn’t until late in the game that he actually got air under the ball to help the downfield coverage. Harman ended with a very respectable 45.8 yards per punt on four tries.
Boise State’s downfield coverage was also very good. A touchline dance on a punt buried the Cougars’ offense inside its own 1-yard line. The Cougars ended up fumbling the ball and giving the Broncos a golden opportunity at the BYU 1-yard line. That opportunity was squandered, though, when the Broncos ran four plays and then gave the ball right back to BYU on downs.
It also became very apparent that the Bronco head man Chris Petersen’s confidence in Michael Frisina and the field goal team has eroded. Frisina attempted a 33-yard field goal, pushed it wide right and never got another chance despite field position that would have (or should have) been within range to tack on three points.
Offensive coordinator Robert Prince’s play-calling was predictable and seemed somewhat uninspired. Bronco quarterback Joe Southwick made bad decisions on both down and distance, had trouble sustaining drives and drew anger from head coach Chris Petersen for his clock management.
For the second time in three weeks, Boise State failed to score an offensive touchdown. The Broncos only had 261 yards of total offense. Southwick was 15-for-25 for 145 yards. He did manage to get the ball to five different receivers, but it seemed like he was focusing on Matt Miller (seven catches, 75 yards) most of the game.
On what could have been a key fourth-down conversion, Southwick scrambled with the ball, headed for the first-down marker on the sideline and went into a slide a yard short. Could he have made the first down if he had dove for it? Yes.
With the Bronco offense on the field, trying to run out the game clock late in the fourth quarter, Southwick let the play clock wind down and then called a timeout—which caused a very visible display of unhappiness from Petersen.
One has to wonder, though, why Southwick continues to go wire-to-wire under center. Does the Bronco coaching staff have less confidence in the backups, or are they trying to stick with Southwick to build his confidence?
His numbers suggest that he is not rising to the occasion. Throw out that Miami RedHawk game, and Southwick’s numbers are not what one expects from a Division I starting quarterback.
True, a lot of credit has to go to BYU’s defense. But was it better than Michigan State’s? Southwick’s completion percentage may have been higher against BYU, but his passing yardage was lower than it was against MSU.
A Boise State offense that can’t score from inside the 1-yard line on four straight plays? A Boise State offense that has now gone two games out of its first three without scoring an offensive touchdown? Those are both signs that something has to change.
If one believes that the Top 25 should represent the best teams in college football for that particular week (granted, the idea and the reality are often far apart), then the answer is a simple one: Boise State should not be a Top 25 team. The offense certainly can’t make a case for being there.
There are bright spots for the Broncos, like Harper’s offensive effort and the defense. But there are signs that Boise State may be in trouble.
Under Kellen Moore and offensive coordinator Brent Pease, Boise's offense was one of the best in the nation (No. 12, according to ESPN). Under Joe Southwick and Robert Prince, it is one of the bottom dwellers. Boise State hung 599 total offensive yards on the Miami RedHawks defense, creeping the Broncos up to No. 80 in overall offensive production. Following the BYU game, they could drop lower in the rankings.
Depending on the weekend's outcome, don't be surprised if college football voters decide to drop the Broncos in the Top 25 rankings as well. A team that is 2-1 on the season with no offensive touchdowns in two games might fall in the standings.