LOGAN, Utah — It wasn’t the famous Aaron Rodgers ‘R…E…L…A…X’ speech from a few years ago, but Boise State’s players and coaches were quick to point out several times this week that there was no need to panic because only a six-point difference separated them from being 3-0 instead of 1-2.
They helped calm the nerves of Bronco Nation on Saturday with a resounding 27-3 win and sent a reminder to the rest of the Mountain West in the process: The road to a title still goes through Boise.
Hank Bachmeier passed for 287 yards and two touchdowns and the Boise State defense had three turnovers at Maverik Stadium as the Broncos won their 20th straight game over a Mountain Division opponent.
It was also the 22nd straight win in a conference opener for the Broncos (2-2), who badly needed a win with tough games against Nevada and BYU coming up the next two weeks.
“It was extremely big,” said defensive tackle Scott Matlock, who got into the fun with a 3-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. “The start of conference play and the start of the climb of the mountain and it was just a great team win. We were all fired up. We obviously know how good we can be, but it just depends on us and how we play.
“It feels great. A lot of hard work paid off. It’s a good feeling for everybody and a great team effort. We all played really hard. It’s a good win.”
Boise State suffered a 36-31 loss at UCF in the season opener and fell 21-20 to Oklahoma State last week at home. In both games the Broncos had double-digit leads and could have ended up with wins.
The Broncos rallied around that point this week, as numerous different players and coaches reminded the media that they were six points from being undefeated.
Boise State also welcomed a clean slate with the start of conference play. The Broncos have won the Mountain Division four years in a row and have appeared in five of the eight championship games since the game debuted in 2013.
Despite the two frustrating early season losses, they meant nothing to the Broncos’ hopes of winning the Mountain West. And they took advantage of the fresh start Saturday.
In front of a near capacity crowd despite a rare 10 a.m. start, the Broncos got an interception from Tyreque Jones on the first possession of the game and never looked back. The Broncos led 10-0 at the half and kept the foot on the gas in the second half to come away with an impressive 24-point win.
“It started with the players and really everybody involved in the operation believing how close we are,” Boise State coach Andy Avalos said. “I know sometimes because of all the things that are said and people’s opinions, perspective gets lost. It was unbelievable how everybody came back to prepare this week.
“It was the best week of prep. The scout team did the best job they’ve done. ... We’ve learned enough lessons and now it’s starting to apply those lessons learned consistently.”
Boise State had its best and most creative offensive game plan of the season to try to get a struggling run-game going. Players other than Bachmeier took eight snaps: Khalil Shakir (4), George Holani (2), Cyrus Habibi-Likio (1) and freshman quarterback Taylen Green (1).
It worked to a degree, as the Broncos rushed for a season-high 148 yards on 42 attempts (3.5 yards per carry). Boise State had entered at No. 126 out of 130 FBS teams at just 67.3 yards rushing per game.
The Broncos got 87 rushing yards from non-running backs in a variety of ways including direct snaps, fly sweeps and even a reverse run by CT Thomas.
“If teams are going to be that aggressive then we’ve got to get them mixed up with their eyes,” Avalos said. “Get them going one way and do something going another way. ... We’re four games into (the season) now so we’ve got a good idea of who we are and what our strengths are. Here’s the bottom line — we have to do what is best for our players and what they do well and put guys in position.”
Matlock stole the show in all three phases for the Broncos. He had five tackles and a sack on defense, blocked a field goal on special teams and scored on a 3-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
Jones and Tyric LeBeauf had interceptions while Jackson Cravens forced a fumble and Demitri Washington recovered it. The Broncos now have 11 takeaways in four games and are nearly averaging three turnovers per game — the total number of takeaways they had in seven games in 2020.
Utah State (3-1) entered the game with the No. 3 total offense in the country. And the Aggies moved the ball up and down the field — they just couldn’t get any points. Utah State had 443 yards but only mustered three points against Boise State’s defense.
Boise State’s defense had two fourth-down stops and three red zone stands in addition to the three turnovers.
“They are a very good team with a great offense — an explosive offense,” Matlock said. “And we saw that today. But at the end of the day it comes down to us doing our job and the 11 individuals going out there and executing. We did a very good job of that today.”
Boise State led 10-0 at the half thanks to a Jonah Dalmas field goal and a 2-yard touchdown run from Andrew Van Buren. The second half, which had been a problem in each of the two previous losses, saw the Broncos outscore Utah State 17-3 to pull away.
Shakir, who had seven catches for 113 yards and a touchdown, scored on a 3-yard pass from Bachmeier early in the third quarter thanks to great field position set up by a horrible fake punt from Utah State.
The teams traded field goals before Matlock, who has been used several times this season as an extra blocker in goal line and short yardage situations, snuck free in the end zone and hung on to Bachmeier’s pass for his first career touchdown — and the exclamation point on an impressive win.
Boise State hadn’t been 1-2 since 2005, which caused some of the angst on social media the past week. That quickly turned to hope and optimism Saturday with the Broncos improving to 1-0 in Mountain West play ahead of a showdown with West Division favorite Nevada next week.
“It was just a huge win for us,” Bachmeier said. “That first win in conference. I’m fired up for coach Avalos getting another win. We just have to keep it rolling.”