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Boise State's mental hurdles stand in the way of greatness

Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

It was hard to quantify exactly what went wrong for the Broncos on Saturday night. After losing to a New Mexico team, at home no less, that was a 30 point underdog many predictably started pointing the fickle finger of blame at everyone from Coach Harsin to Brett Rypien. Truth is, there IS plenty of blame to go around. Every unit contributed in some big or small way to the Bronco defeat, so isolating just one player, unit, or play is an exercise in futility. Boise State's home loss—their first since 2012 was a tough pill to swallow, compounded by the fact that Boise State wins a ridiculous amount of games on The Blue—96-5 (95%) since 2000 to be exact. Frankly, it was a weird feeling for everyone was the first press conference I'd been to following a loss...ever, and only the 3rd loss on The Blue I've personally witnessed in that same 15-year time span.

So, naturally the Broncos have seemed somewhat invincible at home for longer than most high school freshman have been alive...and their defense of their home turf has taken on, oh I don't know...a "mystique" let's say. But let's be honest...EVERY team wants to protect their home turf, and most every team wins more at home than away—the Broncos incredible home record falls right into line with their incredible overall record over the past roughly 20 years. So losing our first home game since 2012 stings, but we're still well ahead of the curve there. What's concerning is, how to the Broncos fix what went wrong to bring about such a defeat? This is where things get tricky.

Boise State walloped the Lobos on the box score on Saturday night, but lost on the scoreboard. That's why it's a bit baffling. Brett Rypien passed for over 500 yards despite an ungodly amount of receiver drops and a cringeworthy amount of overthrows. The Bronco defense held the Lobos to exactly ZERO third down conversions. That kind of effort used to result in the Broncos covering matter how high, but this year's Bronco team—and in reality, Bronco teams since 2013 just aren't dominant teams despite having progressively higher rated recruiting classes. The reason is consistency, and consistency is mental—not physical.

Boise State won a ludicrous number of games over the last 15 years because they were always the better prepared team, the better executing team, and the team that exerted the better effort. Frankly, they were also one of the luckier teams. This season, luck hasn't been on our side—primarily in the injury department, and execution has been sporadic. The biggest mental hurdle, however, seems to be shrugging off bad plays. You might accurately call this the "Zabransky Effect". Zabransky obviously capped his career with a stellar senior season that culminated with a Fiesta Bowl win and a spot on the cover of NCAA football, but his junior year had been a bit of a disaster. Zabransky had the same skill set as a sophomore and senior, but the past got in his eyes when it came time to make big plays his junior year. If you saw how the wheels came off in Logan this season with back-to-back-to-back fumbles to close out the first half it was easy to see that the Broncos let some of that adversity cause vapor-lock. Saturday was no different. The Broncos made it to the redzone with ease, but made mistakes that left points off the board. Soon, it was a crisis of confidence as ball after ball fell to the turf (or defender's hands) after hitting Broncos in the numbers. The frustration spread to the O-line, the kicking game, the defense...and time literally ran out on the team.

It wasn't the first time the Broncos had dealt with adversity, but there was a time when adversity sharpened the focus of Bronco teams, not so thus far this season. Flawless execution of a gameplan used to define Bronco teams also, but now and again the execution was decidedly not flawless...these games happened even in the near-perfect Kellen Moore era. It feels like the target is larger now on the backs of our Broncos...and with a loss to a second-tier conference team make no mistake; there's blood in the water. Boise State has to sharpen their mental acuity and recapture their underdog mentality if they want to reach their goals. I know that's easier said than done, but nothing about the Broncos' meteoric rise has been easy—and yet it still got done.