Punt coverage never looked more like corralling a chicken.
Boise State freshman Ty Benefield was gonna make his first collegiate highlight. He was going to bring slight reprieve on a day when promise turned south in a hurry. Benefield planted his cleats on the 1-yard line, knees bent, ready to down James Ferguson-Reynolds’ bouncing punt.
But footballs, like chickens, are quick little buggers. Just when you think you’ve got ‘em — boom, they’re gone.
Benefield watched the pigskin hit on the 2-yard line. He had it. Until it hit nose down, bounced under his hands and trickled into the end zone. It skirted under the hands of Zion Washington, too. Four hands couldn’t grab one ball.
“We had an opportunity to pin them down there deep,” said Boise State head coach Andy Avalos. “And we missed that opportunity.”
On a day when Boise State had to be perfect, its flaws were exposed on every level. No. 10 Washington carved up the Broncos en route to a 56-19 victory over the Broncos, the most points Boise State has given up in a non-overtime contest since 1998.
Now in year three of his tenure, Avalos still hasn’t won a season opener.
The Broncos came into Saturday with confidence. Never mind they were playing on the road … against the No. 10 team in the country … who boasted the best passing attack in the country last year.
Internally, the Broncos felt like all the question marks heading into this season were overblown. Yes, they had some new pieces on the defensive line and in the secondary. But the Broncos liked their pieces. They liked their game plan. They liked their preparation.
But Washington is a different animal. For however good quarterback Michael Jr. looked on film, he was better. For how fast receiver Jalen McMillian was on video, he was quicker. For however crisp you thought receiver Rome Odunze’s routes were, they were even sharper.
Washington outclassed Boise State on Saturday. Which probably wasn’t surprising to most of the country. The Huskies were the ranked team. They were the ones favored by two touchdowns. Even if the Boise State faithful thought the Huskies would win, most expected a fight.
Boise State always puts up a fight, right? This is the program known for being its best when its counted out. From the 2007 Fiesta Bowl to all those season-openers Kellen Moore won against ranked teams on the other side of the country.
But no history, no scheme could allow Boise State to overcome the biggest deficit on Saturday: Talent.
“We talk about it all the time: This is a game of personnel and being able to understand where matchups are,” Avalos said. “There are a few plays that could have kept us in a tighter ballgame, but those are the things we get to look forward to.”
There were not just a few. Washington had 16(!) plays on Saturday that went at least 15 yards. Boise State had a third of that. The Huskies did what they wanted. Here’s the list of completed passes Penix threw in Washington’s 28-point second quarter: -3 yards, 7 (TD), 0, 21, 5, 20, 38 (TD), 29, 44 (TD), 20, 20 (TD).
“There were mistakes all over the place,” said safety Alexander Teubner, who recorded a game-high 11 tackles. “They have explosive playmakers. They have a good offense, talent on that side of the ball. But, at the end of the day, a lot of those points could be erased if we operate like we know we can.”
The Broncos tried to play a lot of one-on-one coverage against Washington’s receivers. That is defensive coordinator Spencer Danielson’s M.O. He wants guys on an island, joking that after he says his pre-game goodbyes to head up to the coaching booth, he doesn’t want to talk with his corners again all game.
Last season, the Broncos gave up big plays. But one huge gain rarely turned into two and, as a result, Boise State was among the best-scoring defenses in the country for most of the season.
That worked last year — against a lot of Mountain West teams. It just looked silly against Washington. The Huskies would find who in Boise State’s secondary they wanted to pick on — and then Penix would just bully them.
For a while, it was Teubner. Later in the game, it was cornerback Kaonohi Kaniho. On one drive, Penix hit receiver Ja’Lynn Polk for a 50-yard gain then tossed a 5-yard touchdown to Rome Odunze seconds later. Kaniho was in coverage on both plays.
It was man-on-man. Mano a mano. And Washington was better — by a lot.
This was not a litmus test for Boise State. It won’t play a better team all year. But it was a reminder that there is some distance between the Broncos and college football’s cream of the crop.
The good news: This was one game against one of the best teams in the country. The Broncos will host UCF (1-0) next week on The Blue and are still the favorites to win the Mountain West.
“We have an unbelievable team,” Avalos said. “Bring able to draw from these experiences today and this opportunity will be huge for us.”