BOISE — There has to be some poor soul in Boise who opened a bottle and went to bed early on Saturday night.
Who had lost all of their faith in Boise State football. Who thought they could tackle better than the Broncos’ DBs. Who wanted to give an earful to whoever thought a two-quarterback system was a bright idea. Who wanted to save their next paycheck to aid the Fire Andy Avalos Fund.
At some point, they will wake up and see the final score: Boise State 35, San Jose State 27. And they will wonder what come-to-Jesus moment occurred in the home locker room at halftime.
It was not just that the Broncos (3-3, 2-0 Mountain West) came out in the third quarter with adjustments. Adjustments are minor. Adjustments are not an identity. It looked like Boise State’s players switched jerseys with the 2019 team and the coaches had Chris Petersen in their ears running through every decision.
OK, maybe that’s too much.
But Boise State was truly that bad in the first half. Down 20 points at one time, the Broncos went into the locker room down 27-14. They had turned the ball over three times (including two fumbles by Ashton Jeanty)
San Jose State (1-5, 0-2 MW) torched the Broncos’ defense to the tune of 255 passing yards. For reference: Cordeiro hadn’t thrown for 255 in any GAME this season. The Broncos could not stop passes to the flats. They could not bring guys down in space.
After the Spartans’ second touchdown, the CBS Sports microphones caught a San Jose State player saying: “You (bleeps) can’t tackle.”
It would be hard to think a Boise State defender had a response.
Something else that could have been argued through two quarters: Two-quarterback systems are ridiculous.
The talk of this week was all about the two-quarterback system and how Boise State actually planned on operating it. The early returns were rough. Taylen Green (4-8, 75 yards, 1 TD) and Maddux Madsen (9-16, 155 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) were coming in for each other mid-drive.
Green got into third down on the first drive and then Madsen trotted on. A few drives later, Madsen had marched the Broncos all the way down the field … and then the Broncos brought Green on in the red zone.
It was coaches outsmarting themselves. At one point, when Boise State punted on its fourth drive, the fans even voiced their displeasure.
“You’re starting to hear some Boo-birds,” CBS Sports analyst Aaron Taylor said on the broadcast.
It did not just feel like Saturday was hopeless. If social media and the crowd filing out of the stadium was any indication, it felt like Avalos’ tenure was hopeless. That Boise State football’s future was hopeless. Things were dire.
Which brings us to the locker room.
“We weren’t playing the way we practiced,” Avalos said. “The guys made a decision that they were gonna focus on. They were gonna lead each other. The coaches did an unbelievable job at halftime.”
Added linebacker Andrew Simpson: “Everybody was up talking. From the youngest to the oldest guy, everybody was just all in. All in.”
Said Jeanty: “I think it was just guys talking to each other. Uplifting each other. Just relaying the message all the way down: offense, defense, special teams. We knew they were a great team, but we were beating ourselves. We beat ourselves the whole half.”
This felt like the San Diego State game from last season. Boise State endured a hellish week of noise after the UTEP loss and Hank Bachmeier’s transfer. It was abysmal in the first half. Then Dirk Koetter made some adjustments and the Broncos won easily.
Just switch Koetter’s name with offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan and much of Saturday was the same.
Hamdan, for the most part, cut the idea that the two quarterbacks needed to play on the same drive. Madsen took the first drive (Punt). Green was in on the second (Touchdown). And the third (Touchdown). Then they two switched a bit on the fourth (Touchdown).
Jeanty, who ran for 167 yards on 24 carries, said the offensive scheme did not change at all in the second half. The Broncos still ran mid-zone. Still ran “Pound.” Still ran play-action. Still incorporated shot plays.
But the timing was harmonic. Hamdan dialed up the right play for the right time. He drew up quarterback runs on third downs. He had a play-action to Riley Smith for a score.
There was creativity. Rhythm. Flow. Dominance. Boise State rushed the ball for 76 yards in the first half. The Broncos tallied 186 ground yards in the second.
“I thought Bush did a really good job mixing it up,” Avalos said.
You know who also did a nice job mixing things up? Spencer Danielson. If Avalos was on the hot seat after two quarters, Danielson was sitting on his lap. The Broncos’ defense, a unit that has been inconsistent all year, allowed points to San Jose State on every drive it had in the first half.
They couldn’t shut down Cordeiro. Couldn’t get off the field on third downs. Couldn’t make tackles when they needed to.
But credit Danielson and Boise State’s defense. The dogs were loose. Boise State brought pressure on Cordeiro. It made up for injury after injury. It stopped the Spartans on both of its fourth-down tries and on 5 of 6 third-downs. It did not allow San Jose State to score a single second-half point.
It was a glimpse into what Avalos has seen in practice, what he keeps preaching week after week of struggles.
“We saw the team we have,” Avalos said.