The Boise State Broncos (6-3, 4-1 MWC) traveled to Fort Collins, Colo. Saturday to take on the Colorado State Rams (4-5, 2-2 MWC).
This was a Mountain Division contest between two teams in the middle of a battle for a MWC title game appearance.
With the 42-30 win, the Broncos take sole possession of first place in the Mountain Division with the benefit of owning the tiebreaker against Utah State. The Rams fall to third place with the loss.
This game was a mixed bag for the Broncos. They did some good things, but there are also glaring issues that need attention.
Let's look at what we learned Saturday night in the Broncos' win and try to determine what it all means as Boise State heads into a much-needed bye week.
The Broncos have dominated the Rams since becoming members of the Mountain West Conference.
In fact, it was Colorado State that Boise State faced in its first-ever MWC contest. That game ended in a 63-13 blowout in Fort Collins as the Broncos dominated the Rams from start to finish.
Last season, it got a little better.
Colorado State was able to keep it to a 42-14 game in Boise, but still a Broncos victory.
This year, however, it was quite the improvement for CSU. Granted, the Broncos are having a down season, but that doesn't take away anything from a Colorado State team that played its heart out.
The Rams have been in every game they have played this season, and that includes a 31-6 loss to Alabama. In fact, it was just 17-6 going into the fourth quarter before the Crimson Tide scored twice to pull away.
Look out for these Rams next season. I have a feeling they are just getting started.
The Broncos are still struggling with starting well.
This game started with allowing the Rams to move the ball with relative ease, and then kick a field goal to go up 3-0 on the opening drive.
Then, going from bad to worse, Grant Hedrick fumbled on the opening play on offense for Boise State. The Rams then took over and drove in for the score to go up 10-0.
What happened to the days of starting strong for the Broncos?
While we are on the topic of starting strong, how about finishing strong?
The Broncos have let things slip late a couple of times this season. Against Utah State, they allowed the team to sneak back in, and Saturday night, the Rams were all but put away until it seemed a very tired defense started losing focus.
It is something that has to be fixed before facing teams like Wyoming and San Diego State. Especially the Aztecs, who have a knack for making things interesting late.
Wow! That's all that needs to be said about Hedrick's performance.
Sure, it wasn't perfect. He had an opening drive fumble, and he made a few questionable throws. But this guy played lights out in Fort Collins.
On the night Hedrick went 19-of-27 for 305 yards and five touchdowns. He also scored once on the ground.
In total, he was involved in every one of the Broncos' touchdowns, and he led his team to victory.
If he continues to get better, opposing teams are going to have all they can handle.
Boise State has played like a young team all season, and it showed again against Colorado State.
At times, there were incredible plays, tackles, runs and the like. However, also at times there were missed tackles, dumb plays and simple mistakes.
Of course, with 43 freshman on the roster to start the season, you would expect some youth to show.
How young is this #BoiseState defense? Looking at the participation, if correct, Jonathan Brown was the only senior to play on D tonight.
— Jay Tust (@KTVBSportsGuy) November 3, 2013
If this young team can somehow continue to improve this season, imagine what 2014 might look like?
We knew SWR could fake a player out of his cleats. We knew he could be slippery. We even knew he could return kicks, catch passes and carry the ball out of the backfield.
However, one thing that might not have been so obvious was his breakaway speed.
When Shane Williams-Rhodes caught a pass from Grant Hedrick and proceeded to run 68 yards for a score, it was obvious he was one of the fastest players on the field.
SWR left the Colorado State player in the dust and made distance between them. We knew he was fast, but his game speed is incredible.
How many injuries do the Broncos have right now?
Truthfully, I have no idea. However, it is a lot. One of the biggest injuries has to be senior defensive tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe. He was out with a head injury that he suffered in practice.
Tyler Horn - starting in place of Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe (concussion) - just came up with a big sack to halt #ColoradoState on opening drive.— Jay Tust (@KTVBSportsGuy) November 3, 2013
Meanwhile wide receiver Kirby Moore is still out, as are a number of other contributors. Not to mention quarterback Joe Southwick who is out for most of the rest of the season, and a player like Aaron Baltazar who is out all season with an ACL injury.
Idaho Statesman reporter Brian Murphy wrote an article about this last week. But it seems to have gotten even worse since then.
The Times-News tweeted a quote from head coach Chris Petersen about this issue.
Coach Pete on injuries: "We’ve got guys playing in positions they haven’t even practiced in." #BoiseState— Times-News Bronco FB (@TN_Broncos) November 3, 2013
The Broncos are going to need to get some of their guys healthy before the last three games of the season.
A bye week, next week, probably couldn't have come at a better time.
Another Boise State player was called for targeting Saturday night. This time it was Cleshawn Page.
He was ejected, and the Broncos were assessed a 15-yard penalty for his actions.
However, after further review, it wasn't targeting so the ejection was overturned, but the penalty remained.
Many people have noted the serious issue with this rule. If a player is ejected, but the review overturns it and says it wasn't targeting, then why is there a penalty assessed?
This rule needs targeting in the offseason.
If the video review clears the player's actions, then the penalty should be null and void. It seems like everyone agrees on that.
Boise State fans had to be excited about the reappearance of the quick-strike offense.
Boise State had a total of 58 plays Saturday night as compared to Colorado State and its 109. You would think with that kind of difference the game would have went the other way.
However, it was because of the amount of yardage the Broncos offense was getting on each play that made the difference.
Hedrick hit Miller for a 25-yard gain in the first quarter. He followed that up with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Geraldo Boldewijn and a 68-yard touchdown strike to Williams-Rhodes in the second quarter.
Hedrick hit Miller again for a 15-yard TD, and once more for a 13-yard score. In between that he hit Miller for a long gain of 26 yards.
The fourth quarter started with a nice drive by the Broncos that was capped off with a 42-yard deep pass to Aaron Burks in the end zone.
Overall, it was a more explosive offense than we have seen for Boise State this season.
After the turmoil, the losses, the road schedule and the injuries, Boise State is still on pace for the first-ever Mountain West Conference title game.
With just three games left in the regular season, head coach Chris Petersen has his team in the thick of it.
If the Broncos can get a bit healthier, and if the play of the healthy players can get a bit better, the Broncos could be heading into the championship game at 9-3.
In fact, if they win out, Boise State could still finish 11-3 on the season.
Wouldn't that be incredible all things considered?