No, the blueprint does not involve smoke and mirrors. At least, not that many of them.
Utah State actually found a good way to attack the Bronco "D," which is more than New Mexico State can say. The Aggies' dink-and-dunk approach to moving the ball worked against the Broncos - partly because Boise State was willing to give up short passes, partly because the game was out of hand from the get-go, and maybe just a little bit because Utah State was onto something. Pardon our heresy.
Backup QB Sean Setzer threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns despite not seeing the field until the second quarter. He had to be doing something right. Or Diondre Borel had to be doing a lot of things wrong by comparison.
Either way, gaining over 200 yards through the air on the Broncos would be something that Idaho, Nevada, and Fresno State would like very much. And in that case, they'd better listen up because this is how Utah State did it:
- Setzer got the ball out quickly. The quick drops and quick releases helped neutralize the Broncos' pass rush. It also helped neutralize Setzer's yards-per-attempt average (6.8 ypa).
- The Aggies used short combination routes and good matchups to get the right guys open. Setzer's second touchdown to RB Robert Turbin came courtesy of a matchup of Turbin vs. LB Kyle Gingg. The Aggies also ran the same short pass multiple times to the left side of the formation working off of a four- or five-receiver set. The only problem is that Idaho might not have four or five viable wide receivers.
- Utah State took what the Broncos were giving them. Every defense chooses to give up something, and the Aggies found that the Broncos were very charitable on hitches and drag routes. Sure, it might take them 10 minutes to reach BSU territory, but they'd get there eventually.
The blueprint is really rather simple. Too bad it might not work ever again.
One could argue that it never really worked all that well in the first place, too. Despite a couple big throws once Setzer entered the game, the Aggies didn't score. They did manage to turn the ball over six times, so most of Setzer's 226 yards went for naught.
But the real downer for the Vandals, Wolf Pack, and Bulldogs is that a repeat of USU's success is not likely. The Broncos will make adjustments. They will learn from the gamefilm. They'll still take away your strength and leave you with, in the case of the Vandals, Nathan Enderle. This is not a defense that gets exposed easily, so when even a mediocre passing stat gets in the way of their typical dominance, the Bronco "D" will take it personal and come out on fire the next game.
And if either Idaho, Nevada, or Fresno do find themselves grinding out yardage through the air in the third quarter against BSU, they should check the scoreboard. It's probably 35-0.