Behind 205 yards from Ashton Jeanty, Boise State edged out San Diego State, 34-31, on Friday night. Here are three takeaways.
1. The offense is going all-in on the run game
We kind of figured heading into the season that Boise State would be a ground-and-pound team. But, through three games, there were moments when it was clear they were forcing the passing attack.
On Friday, quarterback Taylen Green was solid, completing more than 50% of his throws (12-22) for 162 yards and a beautiful 25-yard touchdown pass to Eric McAlister.
But when asked about Green’s performance and the Broncos’ passing attack as a whole, head coach Andy Avalos said: “Like I said, we’re gonna run to win.”
Perhaps he just didn’t like the question. Or, perhaps, he was being honest. After what Jeanty did on Friday, it’s hard to argue the more Boise State runs the ball, the better it is.
And it wasn’t just Jeanty. Green ran the ball a season-high 11 times against San Diego State, picking up 40 yards and finding the end zone from 10 yards out on 3rd-and-5.
“That’s got to be our mentality every single week: Run to win. Bottom line,” Avalos said. “We’ve got an O-line that’s gonna work their tails off for this team. We’ve got tight ends, wide receivers. It’s always got to be a huge part. If we want to be a championship team, championship teams run the ball.”
It has been easy to get caught up in the playing time of Prince Strachan, the emergence of McAlsiter or even the handful of drops. But maybe heading into Memphis next week, we won’t see much of the wide receivers or the passing attack.
Maybe Boise State, in some circuitous way, will become that ground-and-pound team we all expected — especially when George Holani returns from injury.
2. The defense struggles against a mediocre offense
San Diego State came into Friday’s game as one of the worst offenses in the country.
The Aztecs were averaging 323 yards per game (109th in FBS). They notched 439 yards against Boise State.
San Diego State was throwing the ball for just 175 yards a game (112th in FBS). The Broncos surrendered 273 yards through the air on Friday.
And the Aztecs were successful on just 32% of their third-down tries (116th in FBS). Against Boise State, they moved the chains on 7-of-13 third downs (54%). And a good number of those conversions weren’t easy.
On one touchdown drive — which made it 27-24 Boise State — San Diego State faced three third downs: 3rd-and-10, 3rd-and-10 and 3rd-and-6. The Aztecs did not just convert on all three, they gained a combined 62 yards on those third-down plays.
“I promise you, we will be back to tackling on Sunday. We will do a whole lot of tackling,” said Avalos. “We need to clean that up. I felt like we were in our fits and in the right spots. We just missed too many tackles tonight.”
The positive for the Broncos was the turnovers. Boise State forced a pair of fumbles, which was basically the difference in the game.
The first came on San Diego State’s opening possession. Mayden darted towards the end zone and was about a foot away from scoring, but Rodney Robinson knocked the ball loose and Andrew Simpson recovered.
The second came later in the game. Ahmed Hassenein forced the ball out and San Diego native Jayden Virgin scooped it up on the SDSU 26. The Broncos scored four plays later.
“It was huge. We won the game by three points,” EDGE Demitri Washington said of the turnovers. “Being able to take the ball away, that’s something we stress every single day.”
3. What’s up with the Broncos’ special teams?
Talk about a mixed bag.
On one hand, you have kicker Jonah Dalmas and punter James Ferguson-Reynolds, who have been fantastic. Dalmas has nailed all five of his field-goal attempts this season — including a 29-yard make on Friday — and the Aussie is averaging over 50 yards a punt.
They’d rank up there with any specialist combination in the country.
What does not rank high is the rest of Boise State’s special teams. Coming into Friday, the Broncos ranked 86th in the country in kickoff return defense (21.1 yards) and 94th in average kickoff return (17.4 yards).
Then, just seconds into the game, San Diego State ran back the opening kickoff 71 yards. On the night, the Aztecs averaged nearly 35 yards per kick return. SDSU also ran with three punts, picking up just over 20 yards on those returns.
Meanwhile, Boise State also started great with a 49-yard return from Kaden Dudley but followed it up with returns of 17 yards, 16 yards and 19 yards. The Broncos also returned just one punt for -1 yards.
The poor special teams on kickoffs really hurt Boise State against Washington in week 1 and, though there has been improvement, it hasn’t been fixed.