For so many years, the Boise State Broncos have been the hunter in search of bigger teams to challenge. However, in 2016, they’ve reached the point where they’ve become the hunted, a designation that became painfully clear in their November 25 loss to the Air Force Falcons.
The Broncos’ rise to prominence has seen them become a strong contender for a number of different major bowl games. Entering the Air Force matchup, they were prime contenders to play in the Cotton Bowl on January 2. Since the loss eliminates them from the chance to even play in the Mountain West championship game, they may have to settle for the Las Vegas Bowl, a steep drop for any team.
What has to be especially painful to Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin is that the difference between a minor bowl and an undefeated regular season is nine points. The Broncos’ two-point loss at Wyoming on October 29 proved to be the difference in a conference tiebreaker, while the Air Force 27-20 defeat could be deemed a new version of The Longest Yard.
That stems from the fact that Boise State was one yard away from tying the game with approximately two minutes left, having had first-and-goal at the Air Force five. Overtime might have given them the win, but Brett Rypien was stopped and fumbled in the process. That allowed the Falcons’ triple option running game to run out the remaining clock.
In the Broncos’ previous 11 games this season, they had been quite prolific when it came to picking up a touchdown in red zone territory. They ranked fifth among all FBS teams in that specific category, converting 78 percent of the time.
However, pinpointing that single play as the reason for the loss would ignore a multitude of other gridiron sins committed by Boise State. The complete lack of a sustained running attack, coupled with absolute futility when it came to converting on third down could be seen as major factors in the defeat.
The Broncos finished with 84 yards rushing against Air Force. The problem when looking at that number is that 56 of those yards came on the Boise State’s first offensive play. That was followed by a four-yard run, yet for the remainder of the game, they managed just 24 yards on the ground.
The third down misery saw the Broncos manage just a single conversion in 12 attempts, despite ranking in the Top 10 in that category at 52 percent. That made punting a regular feature, which was costly against a ball control team like the Falcons, who were on offense for 41 of the game’s 60 minutes.
Boise State has to wait another week before they find out their actual bowl destination, yet wherever it is, the bitter taste of this most recent loss may linger more than they'd prefer. That may make Harsin's biggest challenge one that primarily involves motivating his team to play in just another bowl game.