Boise State football closes out its non-conference schedule in the Home of the Blues on Saturday.
The Broncos (2-2) will face off against AAC foe Memphis (3-1) for the first time ever. Under coach Andy Avalos, Boise State has not fared well in non-conference games against FBS opponents. In three seasons, the Broncos are just 2-7 (The wins: 2021 at BYU and 2021 vs. UTEP).
The Broncos got into town a day early, eating dinner at the famous Charlie Vergos Rendezvous BBQ restaurant on Thursday night. The game will kick off at 2 p.m. MT on ESPN2.
Those are the facts. Here are some thoughts.
1. Run, Ashton, Run
Ashton Jeanty is the best Boise State running back since who?
That is a genuine question. I’m not sure. I’ve heard people say Jeremy McNichols and Alexander Mattison. I’ve heard some folks go back as far as Jay Ajayi.
It’s hard to say, especially considering Jeanty is only four games through his sophomore season.
But I was doing some calculations. If Jeanty continued on his current pace for 14 games (which would account for him playing in the Mountain West Championship and a bowl game), he would finish the year with 255 carries for 1,424 yards with 63 catches and 997 receiving yards.
That would be insane. For reference: Only Brian Westbrook at FCS Villanova in 1998 ever finished a college football season with 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season.
But let’s back to Boise State history.
In 2014, Jay Ajayi touched the ball (run or catch) 397 times and racked up 1,823 rushing yards, 535 receiving yards and 32 total touchdowns.
In 2016, MicNichols — in just 13 games — touched the ball 351 times and notched 1,709 yards on the ground, 474 through the air and 27 total touchdowns.
In 2018, Mattison — also in just 13 games —touched the ball 329 times and tallied 1,415 rushing yards, 173 receiving yards and 17 scores.
Jeanty’s hypothetical season would smash any year that a Boise State running back has produced in recent memory. Defenses adjusting won’t help that cause. Neither will George Holani’s return. But it’s pretty incredible to witness what Jeanty is putting together.
2. Why was Boise State tackling so bad?
Against San Diego State last Friday, Boise State’s defense had its worst night tackling all season. The Aztecs were slipping out of tackles or cutting through Broncos defenders before they could even get a hand on them.
Every Boise State coach this week spoke about the tackling problems. All of them attributed the issues to multiple problems. Poor technique. Bad eye control. Not enough physicality. Incorrect leverage — meaning defenders took bad routes to line up a tackle.
The best explanation for what Boise State changed this week came from cornerbacks coach Demario Warren.
“It starts with eyes, getting your body down. Same thing as coverage. If you get your eyes where they need to be then your body is gonna drop. If you get eyes to the near hip then you’re gonna be able to tackle through the thighs. If you’re tackling up high, that quarterback is big and strong and he’s not easy to bring down. So if you’re up high, he’s just gonna shrug you off.
“So it’s making sure that we drill different situations,” he continued. “We drilled speed and space every day this week to make sure that we do keep those angles so when they square up, we square up. We’ve trained on bodies this week to make sure they feel getting through the motors and not up high on the shoulders. We’ve drilled making sure their hands are in the right space, that they’re early on their punch timing and they’re not late and they don’t have enough power to knock those guys back and get their hips through.”
3. Beware of efficient quarterbacks in Memphis.
Boise State has only played in Elvis’ hometown one time before. I wrote a story this week about that 2004 Liberty Bowl and Avalos’ Pick-6 in his final collegiate game. On that New Year’s Eve showdown, No. 8 Louisville edged No. 10 Boise State after Jared Zabransky’s last-second Hail Mary got picked off.
That season, Cardinals’ quarterback Stefan LeFors was the most efficient passer in America, completing almost 74% of his passes.
This week in Memphis, the Broncos will be going up against another quarterback who doesn’t miss on many throws. Tigers’ junior QB Seth Henigan is No. 27 in America in completion percentage, hitting his receiver on 70% of his throws.
“He’s efficient at getting the ball out quick,” Avalos said of Henigan. “Their scheme allows him to take the free-access throws.”
4. James Ferguson-Reynolds made the trip worth it
The flight from Geelong, Australia to Boise takes over 18 hours. It is brutal. Last season, the family of Australian punter James Ferguson-Reynolds were only able to make it to the Broncos’ final home game.
On Saturday, his parents will have seen five games.
They decided to fly to the United States for Boise State’s opener against Washington and then stay in America for five weeks to watch their son punt the ball in five games. But rather than just get an Air BnB in Boise, they’ve taken a nice little tour of this country.
“They find the most random stuff,” Ferguson-Reynolds said of his parents’ trip a few weeks ago. “They’ve trained up to Chicago. … They go somewhere else than New Orleans. They’ve already knocked out, I’d say, 10 (cities). They’ve hit New York, LA, Washington, they’ve gone all over the place.”
And Ferguson-Reynolds has made the trip worth it. After four weeks, he is the best punter in the country, averaging over 51 yards per punt — which is nearly three yards better than the second-best punter.
“It’ creates (great) field position for our defense,” said Warren, who is also the special teams coordinator. “He’s been pretty consistent being able to get the ball off quick and getting the ball in the right spots.”
5. The snake was real
Behind Jeanty, the stars born from the San Diego State game were the family of Boise State cornerback A’Marion McCoy, who were decked out in custom-made white, McCoy #21 jerseys and kept getting shown on TV and looked like the most fun people ever.
“Being able to see their face every weekend really helps me a lot,” McCoy said.
One clip of McCoy’s uncle doing a wild dance late in the game was shown on the CBS Sports broadcast and shared hundreds of times on social media. Then, in a video posted by Bronco Nation News, it looked like McCoy’s dad was standing at SanpDragon Stadium holding a snake (!) behind his back.
We asked McCoy this week and, yes, that was a real snake. Her name is Megan and he takes her everywhere.
“It helps him actually be mellow and calm down. That’s why he carries it around,” McCoy said of his dad’s snake. “Growing up, I was always into snakes but I never wanted to deal with them. But it’s cool that he got it.”
Prediction: Memphis 29, Boise State 24