Young players. Key injuries. Replacing both a four-year starter at quarterback and an NFL running back. Sound like a recipe for disaster? Not for these Boise State Broncos. BSU went undefeated in conference play for the first time since joining the Mountain West. They also tied TCU, BYU, and Utah with four conference championships and have now won a record three conference championship games. For most teams this would be a resounding success, but Boise State fans were left wanting more. Let’s take a look at each unit and how they graded out to end the season.
The offense was inconsistent at times, which can be attributed to poor play from the offensive line for much of the season. It was a wild ride for much of the year; one game the running backs would dominate and the quarterbacks were getting drilled way too frequently. The next game, the Broncos would dominate through the air, but struggle to open up holes in the running game. With that being said, Boise State relied heavily on true freshmen at running back and quarterback, Holani and Bachmeier both have outstanding futures ahead of them and have the potential to go down as all time greats for Boise State.
The strongest unit on the offensive side of the ball was easily the wide receivers. While they did not get the attention that they deserved, the foursome of John Hightower, Khalil Shakir, CT Thomas, and Akilian Butler all had moments of excellence. The depth at the receiver position kept guys like Hightower and Shakir from getting the recognition they deserved. While losing Hightower and Butler will hurt, it is not crazy to think that Boise State might be even better at wide receiver next year. You can put Thomas and Shakir in pen as starters with Octavius Evans likely to fill the third slot. There will also be plenty of talent on the bench with young guns like Stefan Cobbs, Khyeem Waleed, and Shea Whiting. Whiting and Waleed both got some valuable snaps late in the season while still maintaining their redshirts.
The quarterback position was also an area of strength. Hank Bachmeier looked like the promising freshman we all thought he could be and was living up to his recruiting ranking until shoulder and hip injuries sidelined him. Chase Cord was solid in relief, but the real story is the emergence of Jaylon Henderson, who started the final five games for Boise State and performed better than expected.
The offense progressed throughout the course of the season, but there is still room for growth.
Final Grade: B
Offensive MVP: John Hightower. I think you could make a case for Hightower, Shakir, and Holani, but Hightower’s ability to stretch the field gives him a slight edge. With all of the talent on this side of the ball, the offense could have its best season in years. Some of that will depend on the new offensive coordinator, but Hank Bachmeier and company should have plenty of motivation after a rough showing in the Las Vegas Bowl.
The defense provided exactly what this team needed. They were dominant when they needed to be (Wyoming, Hawaii, Florida State in the second half), and they struggled when the offense was on a roll (San Jose State and Colorado State). The biggest criticism of this unit will be their performance against BYU. The team struggled against a third string quarterback and was undisciplined against their trick plays.
With that being said, this unit deserves a ton of praise. There were a variety of injuries to key cogs on the defense (Pierce, Noa, Happle), and they were still able to rise to the occasion. Recruiting on this side of the ball really showed up this year, especially in the secondary where guys like true freshmen JL Skinner and Maleek Reed were seeing significant playing time late in the season.
Curtis Weaver will rightfully receive most of the attention, but the defensive line was stout all year long. Three senior starters and Curtis Weaver will be difficult to replace next year, but this unit got it done. This was on full display during the Mountain West Championship game when they absolutely dominated Hawaii. With so much turnover, the defensive line will likely be a big question mark entering the 2020 season. But, the solid play of Scale Igiehon on the interior and the emergence of Demitri Washington on the edge, give the Broncos a bright future in the trenches. I considered grading this unit lower after a poor performance in the bowl game; they definitely struggled with inconsistencies at times, but they got it done when they needed to.
Final Grade: A-
Defensive MVP: Curtis Weaver. Mountain West Defensive MVP and the conference record holder in sacks. This was an easy choice. But, Riley Whimpey really emerged late in the season and could be an intriguing candidate for this award in 2020.
What a difference a year can make. It is amazing what a team can do when they can consistently make field goals and extra points. Eric Sachse was an underrated part of this team, and his consistency in the kicking game proved to be a difference maker.
John Hightower and Avery Williams were both above average returners. Avery Williams was selected Mountain West Special Teams Player of the year for returning two punts for touchdowns and blocking two kicks.
The weakest link on special teams was easily punting. Joel Velazquez consistently struggled with fielding punts, short kicks, and kicks out of bounds. This prevented flipping field position during key moments of the game.
Final Grade: B. A significant improvement over last year’s “F” grade, but punting kept them from reaching their full potential.
It is really hard to evaluate the coaching staff as a whole. The team did an excellent job of overcoming adversity and showed the ability to win close games. However, the offensive line struggled for the majority of the season and defense has some first half struggles for a good portion of the season. Factoring all of this in and the fact that the team broke in a new defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach has to make this the best coaching job that Bryan Harsin has done during his time at Boise State. If I were evaluating only Harsin, I would give him an “A”. But, this comes down to the whole staff, and the offensive line continued to be a major weakness.
Final Grade: B+
I am sure to receive plenty of criticism for not giving a 12-2 team straight A’s. But the overall grades were a significant improvement over last season. You also have to remember that Boise State is held to a different standard than most Group of Five schools, and there is room for improvement. Looking at who is coming back at skill positions, Boise State is in prime condition to repeat this success. I will be keeping a close eye on the trenches this spring, so watch for those features.