It only took one play on Saturday night for Bronco Nation to collectively hold its breath.
Not long after, fans at Bronco Stadium began to breathe again. But instead of sighs of relief, the exhales were more like short gasps that signaled an emotion somewhere between shock and panic.
So the Broncos, which, heading into Saturday night’s game with Nevada, were 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the Mountain West Conference, would hinge their chances of keeping pace with Utah State in the Mountain Division on a junior from Independence, Ore. Up to that point, he had only attempted a total of 16 passes for Boise State this season.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Grant Hedrick.
Chances are, fans of the Broncos would have gotten to know Hedrick well at some point during his career in Boise. What’s surprising is that it’s happening about half-a-season early.
Next year, Joe Southwick will be gone. Hedrick, the No. 2 guy for the current campaign, has been seeing more of the field than any of the other candidates for next year’s starting job. While it’s sure to be an open contest, it appears as though Hedrick has a definite leg up on the competition.
So while Southwick’s injury is definitely a blow to a team that appears to be finding its footing on both sides of the ball, perhaps it’s not the "Kiss of Death" for Boise State.
In fact, it may be good for the Broncos. Perhaps not for this season but definitely for the future.
Back to Saturday night’s game.
A visibly shaken Boise State offense has a hard time moving the ball in the first half with Hedrick at the helm. Hedrick’s first drive ended abruptly with an interception. The next two drives ended with the Broncos punting the ball away.
By the end of the first half, the Broncos trailed Nevada, 17-7.
But something happened in the second half that should get Boise State fans excited for the rest of the season.
Hedrick calmed down. The rest of the offense followed suit. The coaching staff put their trust in Jay Ajayi, and things took off. The redshirt sophomore carried the load for the Broncos offense, taking advantage of the MWC’s worst run defense and racking up 222 yards on 24 carries.
Hedrick did his part, too, rushing for 115 yards and two scores on the ground.
In one half of football, Bronco Nation saw what the Broncos may look like in 2014. Considering the fact that Boise State ending up winning, 34-17, outscoring the Wolf Pack, 27-0, in the second half, the future looked pretty good.
Few Boise State fans would say they prefer Southwick over Hedrick for this season. But in a way, the injury could help the Broncos.
Let’s take a look at the facts.
Boise State is 5-2 overall and leads the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference by way of a tiebreaker with Utah State.
There are definitely some hurdles left, but nothing that the Broncos are incapable of clearing. Road games against BYU, Colorado State and San Diego State appear to be the major tests left on the schedule.
The BYU game will likely be the toughest of the three. But the outcome of that matchup doesn’t have any bearing on the Mountain West standings, and thus, the likelihood that the Broncos will participate in the inaugural MWC Championship Game.
Even more encouraging is the fact that San Diego State and Colorado State are two of the worst teams in the conference at stopping the pass. The Aztecs give up just over 280 yards per contest, while the Rams allow just less than 300 yards per game through the air.
If there was one area Boise State would like teams to have a weakness, it would be at stopping the passing game.
Triggering the run game is less of a problem. Hedrick is a much more dynamic runner than Southwick and coupled with Ajayi the Broncos will now have a dangerous rushing attack.
Obviously, this is looking at Boise State’s remaining 2013 campaign with a “best-case scenario” slant.
But the worst-case scenario isn’t all that scary.
Maybe Hedrick won’t have success against San Diego State and Colorado State’s defenses, which are better at stopping the run than Nevada. Or maybe, teams will figure out that Hedrick isn’t comfortable throwing downfield and give him nothing in the five to ten yard range.
Maybe Boise State will struggle and won’t end up in the MWC title game.
But hey, the winner of that game heads to the Las Vegas Bowl unless it receives a BCS bid. Aren’t Broncos fans a little tired of that game anyway?
Plus, Hedrick will have gained a lot of experience that he wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, which only bodes well for next season.
This is Boise State’s chance to see the future. And if Saturday’s game was any indication, the future looks pretty bright.
Stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, unless noted otherwise.