On Saturday in Bronco Stadium, Boise State did something they don't often do—they lost.
Give credit to San Diego State, now 5-1 in the Mountain West and 7-3 overall, they played a tough, hard-nosed game on "The Blue." However, the Broncos didn't do themselves any favors with some key mistakes on special teams.
It was just the fourth loss in Bronco Stadium in the last decade for the Broncos, and the second season in a row that Chris Petersen's team was beat in early November in a MWC showdown at home.
However, Boise State still has a chance at winning the Mountain West Conference this season.
Fresno State, whom Boise State defeated, has just one loss and they handed San Diego State their only loss in the conference. Air Force also has just one loss, but they don't face Boise State this season.
What is gone, however, is any realistic hope of going to a BCS bowl game. The odds were getting much better that Boise State could land in the Orange Bowl, but after the loss to the Aztecs, that hope is gone.
So what was learned Saturday in Bronco Stadium? Let's take a look.
1. Special teams was anything but...
The opening kickoff coverage for Boise State failed to take down Colin Locket who raced for 100 yards and a San Diego State touchdown. It was the first time all season that the Broncos allowed a runback for a score, but it was Locket's second.
A missed extra point for Boise State only added to the pressure of the night, and then that was compounded by a Boise State blocked punt deep in its own territory.
Boise State also had a hard time on punt and kickoff returns, and didn't really generate any kind of field position for its offense throughout the game.
In the end, the biggest reason Boise State lost to the Aztecs came down to special teams. But, it wasn't the only reason.
2. You have to wonder...
Did the suspension of some players and key injuries of others cause such a dip in special teams performance?
It sure seems that way. If it is true, Bronco fans can only hope that some of those young players will get the point, learn from their mistakes and come back ready to play—if they are allowed to.
Boise State fans should also hope for a speedy recovery for those who are hurting.
3. Another key player, another key loss...
After losing some key defensive players to injury last week against Wyoming, Boise State couldn't afford any more. However, they got one, and it was a big one.
Mike Atkinson went out of the game after an injury, and there is no word on his condition.
4. The Bronco defense can only do so much...for so long...
Boise State has a great defense, and that was proven once again on Saturday. The Broncos held San Diego State's potent offense to just 269 yards of total offense on the night.
However, when the Broncos' offense sputtered in the third quarter, their defense had to spend way too much time on the field. It is the recipe for disaster that Boise State fans know all too well.
5. Boise State's offense had moments of Jekyll and moments of Hyde...
On one drive they looked incredible, but on another—not so much.
That was the story of the night for Boise State on offense. Joe Southwick made some incredible throws, especially on fourth down, but he was pressured several times and was sacked twice.
His opening drive interception in the second half really hurt the Broncos' momentum. Had Boise State been able to make something happen on that drive, the entire game would have probably looked quite different.
As it stands now, that interception was a huge turning point in the game.
Still, Southwick completed 20 of 31 passes for 164 yards, one interception and one touchdown pass. It was an average performance for the junior quarterback.
D.J. Harper did his part as well, with 20 carries for 80 yards and two touchdowns.
6. Where did Jay Ajayi go?
Running back Jay Ajayi had some incredible runs in the first half, and you have to wonder why he didn't get more carries in the third quarter.
It seems that utilizing his bruising style could have helped the Broncos get some precious first down yardage. In turn, that would have helped keep the Boise State defense off of the field.
It is easy to second guess play-calling, and the San Diego State defense was throwing strange stuff around all night, but especially in that third quarter. So who knows what the coaching staff saw and what they were trying to do?
7. No BCS Bowl this season...
Boise State had a legitimate shot at a BCS game until the loss to San Diego State on Saturday. That is gone now, but there are still things to play for.
The Mountain West Conference championship is one example. Boise State is one of four teams with a single loss. Fresno State, Air Force and San Diego State are the others. Since the Broncos beat Fresno and Fresno beat the Aztecs who beat Boise State—never mind, serious headache.
There is also a bowl game to consider. If the Broncos finish strong, they may end up in a decent bowl. At this point, Las Vegas looks like a possibility, but there could be others that arise if Boise State wins out.
8. The Big East is looking better and better...for next season anyway...
Next season, a single loss in conference won't doom the Broncos' BCS chances. As a member of an automatic qualifying conference, if only for a single season, Boise State would still have BCS dreams even if they were to lose once.
The "playoff" system, a.k.a. BCS part two begins in 2014, and the hope is that Boise State and the Big East will have some kind of place at the table. Only time will tell.
9. A trip to Hawaii should help this team rebound...
Next week, the Broncos head to the islands to take on the Hawaii Warriors. It is a game Boise State should win before heading home to take on Colorado State the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
Both of those games should be solid wins for the Broncos. Chris Petersen's team will then travel to Reno to take on Nevada in the season finale. With a bye week in between Colorado State and the Wolf Pack, some players for the Broncos should have extra time to get healthy.
10. Final thoughts...
Yes, they lost a season opener. Yes, they lost a conference game. However, look at what this team has done so far this season.
After losing 15 starters from last year's team, Boise State has done much better than many thought they would.
Yes, it hurts a fan base when a team loses in such a disappointing way. But, fans should think about how the players must feel as well. They certainly want to win and they don't want to disappoint their coaches, families and fans.
What the Bronco football team needs right now is some encouragement. They don't need to get heckled in a supermarket or destroyed on Twitter. Criticism is fine as long as it is valid, reasonable, civil and constructive.
Some fans will never get it, but those who do, know the power that words have.
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