A lot was to be expected from this matchup between Boise State and the Washington State Cougars. The Broncos’ offense looked like a well-oiled machine against the likes of University of Louisiana-Lafayette. But they are a Sun Belt team and the Broncos were expected to make short work of them. The Cougars are a bit of a different animal, losing to Eastern Washington notwithstanding.
With Kam Miles, Jake Roh, Joe Martarano, and Sam Whitney additional bodies out of the game (to go along with the other players out) the Broncos had even MORE pressing defensive issues in the secondary.
The first series for the Cougs would be a barometer for what would be to come. They would air the ball and be effective. The Cougars had only come across two third downs. Once on the first set of downs. Then another on the last set of downs.
That is when Tyler Horton returned an interception for 85 yards. That would the longest interception returned for a TD since Jamar Taylor’s INT in the Las Vegas Bowl against Arizona State.
The Broncos had been struggling a bit with tackling. Too many times Washington State receivers were getting extra yards after contact. Arm tackling. Not the best way to bring down a big-bodied receiver.
The Broncos were content with rushing three defensive linemen and have eight out in coverage. This caused some tense moments considering Falk would have forever to throw. But the Broncos would not waver from the predetermined defense. Be ok giving up dink-and-dunk yardage. Limit the explosive plays. And have Tanner Vallejo be really good at tackling in open space.
Offensively, it was Thomas Sperbeck’s turn to be Brett Rypien’s favorite pass-catching target. Just in the first half Sperbeck had four catches for 61 yards (on six targets). A solid half for the senior.
McNichols was man-beast who had 30 yards on nine carries. He was able to walk Boise State’s only offensive touchdown in the half from the half-yard line. That series would be the Broncos only offensive series in the first quarter. Luckily they had cashed in.
All was well until a Brett Rypien pass got picked off by Shalom Luani.
The Cougars then marched down the short field and scored on a shovel-pass from Luke Falk to Jamal Morrow.
With 42 seconds left, the Broncos felt it necessary to move the ball. Entered Cedric Wilson who, at that point, had zero catches/yards. He proceeded to not disappoint with a one-handed grab for 49 yards. To move Broncos into field goal range.
After two incomplete passes (one to Akilian Butler, the second to Sperbeck out the back of the end zone) the Broncos just settled for points and Tyler Rausa cashed in on the 31 yard field goal.
The opening half the Broncos’ offense stalled. After getting saved by a Cougar pass interference (the defender had actually intercepted the ball) the Broncos just couldn’t do anything with the ball. Three incomplete passes in a row.
Meanwhile the Cougars still got their yards. Effectively continuing the underneath throws and receiver screens for five and six yard chunks.
Staying with the Broncos MO, they continued to rush three and leave eight to defend receivers. And it proved to be a good one in the Cougars first series. Luke Falk, on a third and five on the BSU 39, took a BIG sack from David Moa (he would have two sacks on Falk for the night).
Once the Broncos had the ball again, and decided to unleash the power of McWeapon. And by that I mean make him a pivotal part of the series and then play-action to Thomas Sperbeck streaking to the endzone to get the Broncos up over the Cougars 24-7.
The Cougars had the next possession for over five minutes of game time. Even converting a fourth and five with a 15 yard pass. Luckily the Broncos clamped down and forced the Cougars to turn the ball over on downs.
The next series was not a pretty one for the Broncos. A false start penalty stalled a really short drive that ended in a Sean Wale punt.
And then the Cougars made the Broncos pay.
It took the Cougars all of two—TWO—plays to get in for the score. Falk heaved an, admittedly beautiful, toss to Martin for a touchdown. One tiny detail? Martin rolled on top of Horton for the score.
Not to be outdone, one the next series, the Broncos four plays to get McNichols into the end zone to get the Bronco lead back to 17 with 31-14.
In a development not too amenable to Broncos fans, Washington State converted on a fourth down on a broken play and got the Cougars within ten.
Then an ill-advised throw by Rypien led to a second interception, again by Luani. Next play for the Cougars: a pass from Falk to Gabe Marks. Gut-check time with Boise State only leading by three 31-28.
The Broncos’ last possession started with 4:17 left on the clock. And good ol’ McWeapon to grind the ball. But after a few successful runs, the offense stalled. On a third and 6 the Broncos, get this, threw the ball to the end zone to Wilson.
It got picked. With 53 seconds left.
Luckily Coach Mike Leach is not very good with clock management. With some oddly called time outs the Cougars were able to move the ball, just not close enough. The final play of the game came down to a Hail Mary.
And Ray Ford knocked it down.
Boise State wins 31-28,