SAN DIEGO — On display Friday night was college football apathy. San Diego State opened a brand-new, sparkling $310-million stadium last year equipped with individual seats, hoards of concession options and an LED light show.
Yet, they still can’t get anyone to show up. The announced attendance was 23,374. It was probably closer to half of that. A Pac-12 snub doesn’t help. Neither do ridiculous ticket prices don’t either. But the real problem is not just a bad football team, but a boring football team.
Despite some fear that indifference could move into the Treasure Valley, Boise State eked out a 34-31 victory over San Diego State (2-3, 0-1 MW) to open Mountain West play with a victory.
It was not pretty. Not without a few fortunate SDSU fumbles, not without some rip-your-hair-out defensive plays on 3rd down, not without more dropped passes, not without concern for the future.
But Boise State is not in a spot to judge its wins with a magnifying glass and a razor. After starting the season with losses to Washington and UCF, the Broncos just needed some semblance of success. Last week’s victory over North Dakota helped. Friday’s win over the Aztecs proves they’re making progress.
The main reason for optimism? No. 2.
The argument is over. Ashton Jeanty is the best player on Boise State’s roster. There should not be debate after what he did on Friday night: 23 carries, 205 yards, 2 TDs, 4 catches, 49 receiving yards.
“I’m blessed to just be able to go out there and show the world what I can do,” Jeanty said. “Every day I’m finding out more and more about what it takes to play at this high of a level.”
He was not just a one-man wrecking crew. At times, he felt like a one-man offense.
After his final touchdown — a 6-yard scamper that all but put the game on ice — left tackle Mason Randolph picked up his 5-foot-8, 206-pound running back like a sack of spuds and ran down the sideline with Jeanty over his right shoulder.
After Jeanty carried the Broncos all day, it was nice that someone else returned the favor.
“I guess all the energy and adrenaline, he was super excited,” Jeanty said of Randolph, before talking about his offensive line: “Those guys are fired up. Because me having such a big game reflects back on them, too.”
You bet it does. Go back and watch Jeanty’s runs. Every highlight uncovers some unsung hero pounding their will into someone in a black jersey.
On the run where Jeanty hit the spin cycle and raced to the open field for a 25-yard gain, it was tight end Matt Lauter who blocked one Aztec into another and set the edge for Jeanty to whirl around.
On Jeanty’s final touchdown, Randolph gave his running back some breathing room by pancaking San Diego State defensive lineman Tupu Alualu.
On his first touchdown — a ridiculous 58-yard scamper where he broke three tackles and outsprinted everyone — it was all set up because the whole line pushed their guys left. Lauter and Kage Casey and center Garrett Curran and opened up an ocean for Jeanty.
“I loved how the O-line and tight ends blocked tonight,” said Boise State coach Andy Avalos. “There were some pretty big holes and when there weren’t, he was pretty impressive in how he broke tackles.”
That’s the thing. Any halfway decent tailback would have had a big night on Friday with the space Boise State’s big boys carved out. But when most running backs would pick up 5 yards, Jeanty nabs 10. When most would tally 25 yards, he runs for a 58-yard score.
Which brings us to his best play of the night — the 6-yard run he had early in the second quarter on a drive that ended in a field goal. It meant very little to the game. But it was glorious.
Right when Jeanty took the handoff, SDSU’s 6-5, 290-pound D-lineman Samuela Tuihalamaka had him wrapped up. Dead to rights. Tuihalamaka flipped himself over trying to tackle Jeanty. Somehow No. 2 stayed upright. By this point, Jeanty’s flat-footed five yards behind the line of scrimmage. With two guys just out of reach, he rips right then cuts up the field for six yards.
“We were approaching the red zone so I knew we just needed a push,” Jeanty said. “Sometimes, you’ve gotta make that play for the team to push everybody forward.”
Jeanty might be pushing the entire offense forward after Friday. When asked after the game what he thought of Taylen Green (12-22, 162 yards, 1 TD) and the passing attack, Avalos replied: “Like I said, we’re gonna run to win.”
As long as the Broncos are winning, as long as Albertsons Stadium doesn’t look like San Diego did on Friday, there will be no complaints from anyone in blue and orange.