After weeks of inconsistency on offense and being held up by an outstanding defense, Boise State finally put a complete game together as they took apart Wyoming 45-14 Saturday afternoon in Laramie.
D.J. Harper ran for 105 yards and two touchdowns and the Broncos rushed for 214 yards as a team at nearly six yards per carry in their best offensive performance of the season. Joe Southwick was 20-28 for 198 yards with only one bad decision, a forced throw that was intercepted near the goal line late in the 2nd quarter.
The Broncos allowed Wyoming to move the ball down the field without much resistance on their first two possessions but stiffened up and found a way to slow down Brett Smith and the Cowboys as the game wore on. Wyoming was well below their season average with 270 yards of total offense.
Boise State also scored their fourth defensive touchdown of the season, and second in as many weeks, as Corey Bell scooped up a Smith fumble and ran 19 yards to the end zone to put the game out of reach early in the 3rd quarter. Chris Potter had a solid game returning punts as well as the Broncos excelled in all phases of the game.
The Broncos came out fired up, covering the opening kickoff back at the 12-yard line and stuffing the Cowboys’ first two plays. A busted coverage allowed Wyoming to complete a 32-yard pass to Brandon Miller down the sideline to extend the drive and the Cowboys kept moving. They advanced all the way down to the Boise State 12-yard line before the Broncos stiffened up, forcing a field goal attempt. Stuart Williams came in to attempt a 29-yard kick but it was blocked clean by DeMarcus Lawrence and the Broncos took over.
Boise State mixed up runs and passes to methodically move down the field as Harper and Jay Ajayi split carries and utilized freshman receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes on a pair of end-arounds that were quite successful. Southwick also completed three passes on the drive which was finished off by Harper as he converted a 3rd and one into an 8-yard touchdown to give the Broncos a 7-0 lead.
Wyoming was impressive again on their second drive as they converted all four 3rd down attempts and marched down the field, setting themselves up inside the red zone where Smith was able to keep the ball rolling left and juke Samuel Ukwuachu enough to reach the end zone and tie the game. The drive covered nearly eight minutes and took the teams into the 2nd quarter.
The Broncos responded with a 15-play drive of their own which chewed up almost six minutes. Boise State also converted a couple of 3rd down attempts on the drive and Harper had six carries on the drive as the Broncos moved down to the Cowboy 12-yard line. Southwick missed on a pair of passes and Boise State had to settle for a 29-yard field goal from Michael Frisina to retake the lead at 10-7.
After four consecutive lengthy drives, the Bronco defense finally forced a three and out from Wyoming and Chris Potter’s nifty 36-yard punt return set the Broncos up with great field position. They would quickly convert as Ajayi rumbled for 21 yards followed by a 7-yard carry. On the third play of the drive, Harper broke free and took the ball in from the 9-yard line to extend the lead to 17-7.
Boise State’s defense stiffened up again and forced another quick possession from the Cowboys and another nice return by Potter gave the Broncos the ball inside Wyoming territory. Taking over with 2:37 remaining, Harper had a nice 12-yard dash and Southwick hit on his first three passes, including a big 3rd down conversion to Matt Miller. On the next play, however, Southwick forced another throw to Miller into coverage and was intercepted at the 1-yard line by Chad Reese who returned the ball to midfield.
Now it appeared as though Wyoming might have a chance to convert and steal the momentum back from the Broncos heading in to halftime. Instead, Lawrence chased down Smith for a sack and the drive was thwarted. The Cowboys punted the ball away on the final play of the half.
Getting the ball to start the 2nd half, the Broncos quickly advanced the ball with a pair of completions to Matt Miller and Aaron Burks. After two D.J. Harper runs took the ball down to the Wyoming 28-yard line, Williams-Rhodes took the ball on an end-around and scooted between a pair of defenders for the score to give Boise State a commanding 24-7 lead less than two minutes into the half.
Wyoming took one step forward and two steps back on the next drive as Smith completed a trio of passes but also had the ball stripped out of his hands twice. The second sack and forced fumble, from reserve defensive end Beau Martin, bounced around and eventually ended up in the waiting arms of Corey Bell who scampered in from the 19-yard line for the touchdown. Frisina’s kick made it 31-7 and took the crowd out of the game.
Smith came out for the next possession and freshman quarterback Jason Thompson was unable to move the ball as the Cowboys were quickly forced to punt. The Broncos embarked on another drive of 15 plays as they mixed the run with the pass to cover 67 yards and convert five 3rd downs with the final one coming on a one-yard keeper from reserve quarterback Grant Hedrick. It was sweet redemption for Hedrick who fumbled twice a week ago.
After five straight empty possessions, Wyoming finally began to move the ball again as Smith ran and passed his way down the field. He completed five of six passes and ran three times for 42 yards, including a 23-yard scamper up the middle in which he was complete untouched. The extra point cut the lead to 38-14.
Boise State quickly snuffed out the momentum as Dallas Burroughs fielded a short kick and sprinted up the sideline for 36 yards to give the Broncos the ball at the Wyoming 42-yard line. Three Southwick completions and three Ajayi runs later and the Broncos were back in the end zone. Ajayi converted from 15 yards out for his second touchdown in as many weeks and third of the season to give the Broncos the 45-14 lead.
The teams traded punts to end the game and the Broncos came away with a big win, getting a solid effort on both sides of the ball. Boise State had their best game of the season defending the run, holding Wyoming to 54 yards and only 1.7 yards per carry. They turned their only turnover into an immediate six points on Bell’s fumble return. The only blemish defensively was Wyoming converting 11-18 3rd down attempts, extending drives when the Broncos were hoping to get off the field.
The offense responded, however, as they converted an outstanding 12-14 on 3rd down and effectively mixed the run and the pass. The balanced effort saw Boise State run for 214 yards and throw for 223. Williams-Rhodes had his best game of the season, running three times for 46 yards and the big early 3rd quarter touchdown. Southwick spread the ball around to six receivers, all of whom had at least two catches, led by Miller’s seven receptions for 78 yards. The passing game failed to get into the end zone for the second week in a row but did a great job keeping drives alive and allowing the improved running game to cash in.
It was an outstanding team effort across the board and sets the Broncos up nicely for their showdown next Saturday night at home against San Diego State. The Broncos got dinged up with third cornerback Bryan Douglas leaving the field and ending up on crutches after the game, along with reserve defensive tackle Greg Grimes. Dextrell Simmons and Kharyee Marshall also left the game with injuries but it is unknown if any of the four injuries will keep players out next week or long term. Along with the suspension to starting free safety Lee Hightower, who is expected to miss the game next week as well, the secondary has to reach deep and will be tested by a talented Aztec passing attack.
The Broncos maintained their perfect Mountain West Conference record and moved to 7-1 on the season. It finally appears as though the offense is able to be balanced and cash in on scoring opportunities after struggling mightily on 3rd downs and red zone chances early in the season. If the offense can continue to move the ball and the defense can play well, the Broncos will move up the polls. Several teams lost in front of the Broncos this week and there is potential to jump up a couple of spots in the BCS rankings as they advance to the coveted 16th spot.
Chris Petersen is not one to scoreboard watch or speculate but what appeared like a relatively lost season, considering what Bronco Nation had become accustomed to in recent seasons, could still end up in a BCS bowl game. Performances like the solid across-the-board effort against Wyoming would give Boise State a legitimate opportunity.