Being a coach at Boise State is not an easy job. Expectations are higher than any Group of Five program and losses are always under a microscope. The 2021 season was one of the most difficult seasons Boise State fans have had to deal with this century. The Broncos were wildly inconsistent on the offensive side of the ball, while the defensive side of the ball was able to overcome a slow start to finish strong.
A 7-5 season does not meet the expectations that the community and the football program have. This team is expected to compete for the championship yearly and score a lot of points in the process. This recap is going to take a look at how each unit performed and touch on expectations headed into the next season.
The 2021 offense underachieved massively. The new offensive coordinator had the fan base excited, saying that his goal for the unit was to not look at the scoreboard until they hit 50. Well, they only got to look at the scoreboard once during a blowout victory over UTEP in the second week of the season. The Boise State offense only managed 40 points twice, and they only hit 30 points five times. 29.2 points per game is not the standard for the Bronco offense, and I imagine Tim Plough and most of the offensive staff will be on a very short leash heading into the 2022 season.
Quarterback Hank Bachmeier played his first full season in his three years at Boise State, finishing the season with 3,079 yards passing while throwing for 20 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. This was a solid season for Bachmeier, as he had to adjust to a new scheme that doesn’t exactly fit his skill set. He still needs to improve in the red zone where the Broncos struggled to finish drives. He also made some costly throws late in the UCF and Oklahoma State losses. Bachmeier did show quite a bit of growth this season, and expectations will be high as he enters his senior season in 2022.
The Bronco running game was quite a roller coaster. The offensive line struggled once again, and early injuries to star tailback George Holani put a hamper on the rushing attack. When Holani finally returned to form in the second half of the season, the rushing attack improved by leaps and bounds. He played a key role in late season victories over Fresno State, Wyoming, and New Mexico. But the backup running backs weren’t nearly as effective as Holani; Andrew Van Buren and Cyrus Habibi-Likio struggled to put up yards.
The receiver corps was highlighted by an excellent 1,000 yard season by senior Khalil Shakir. Shakir is off to the NFL draft where expectations will be high for the electric play-maker. Behind Shakir, Stefan Cobbs emerged as a reliable second option until he became hampered by injuries during the second half of the season. Octavius Evans also had his best season as a Bronco, but he was also limited due to injuries. The dismissal of senior wide receiver CT Thomas created some depth issues late in the season, but freshman wide receiver Latrell Caples started to show why he was a highly touted recruit.
The tight end position was non-existent in the passing game for much of the season. Riley Smith, Tyneil Hopper, and Kurt Rafdal made a few plays during the season. But the play of the struggling offensive line often relegated them to blocking duty. Getting the tight ends more involved in the offense will be a major priority heading into next season.
The best way to describe the offensive line is deja vu. They struggled for most of the season with a few bright spots like BYU and Fresno State mixed in. The future of the football program will be in the development of the offensive line. If they can’t find consistency in pass blocking, this team will only go as far as their defense.
Final Grade: D+ The entire season was not a struggle for the offense. They had great showings against UTEP and Fresno State, but expectations for this offense are much higher than a 29.2 point per game average. The offense will be under a microscope headed into the 2022 season, and rightfully so.
The defensive line was decimated by injuries over the course of the season, and the depth was tested early and often. Star lineman Scale Igiehon departed the team for personal reasons and his future with the football program is uncertain. Early struggles against the run hampered the defense, but they improved in that area as the season progressed. They kept elite running backs like Tyler Algier and Ronnie Rivers largely in check. The pass rush was an issue most of the season, as opposing quarterbacks had way too much time to throw the ball. The Broncos have addressed their issues in this department with transfers during this recruiting cycle.
Linebacker was probably the most frustrating unit on the Bronco defense. The Broncos were returning two starters in Riley Whimpey and Zeke Noa. This unit struggled to set the edges and make tackles in space. In the last two recruiting cycles, the coaching staff has emphasized big, fast linebackers. It will be interesting to see who starts in those spots next season.
The biggest question entering the season was the secondary. This unit exceeded expectations by leaps and bounds. Safeties coach Kane Ioane and cornerbacks coach Jeron Johnson deserve a lot of credit. JL Skinner and Tyreque Jones emerged as elite safeties, and both are returning next season. The cornerback position was able to overcome injuries, and there was no noticeable drop off even when the second or third string options were in the game. Markel Reed suffered an early season injury, as did Tyric LeBeauf. Caleb Biggers and Kaohoni Kaniho emerged as reliable corners and Kaniho looks like a future star for the Bronco defense.
Final Grade: B The defense was able to overcome a slow start to finish strong. There is still plenty of room for growth along the defensive line and at linebacker. If the coaching staff can shore up those spots, the Broncos could make a case for the top defense in the league in 2022.
The Broncos had one of the best special teams’ seasons in memory during the shortened 2020 season and had to overcome the loss of Avery Williams, the best returner in program history. The return game definitely took a step back in 2021, although Khalil Shakir and Stefan Cobbs did make a few nice returns.
Punter Joel Velazquez had his best season in his final campaign. Velazquez averaged 42 yards per punt, including a number of punts inside the 10 yard line. Velazquez was also automatic on kickoffs with nearly every kick resulting in a touchback. Kicker Jonah Dalmas was a first team all-conference performer, making 26 of his 28 field goal attempts.
Final Grade: B Special teams was solid. A big part of this grade is thanks to kicker Jonah Dalmas. The rest of the special teams unit was just okay. There were some great performances like the multiple blocked kicks against New Mexico and Stefan Cobbs’ punt return against UTEP, but there were not a lot of dynamic plays on special teams this season.
This season was filled with a handful of what-might-have-beens, like the fumble recovery touchdown that was taken away by the referees against Oklahoma State and the blown lead and late interception against UCF. Injuries to key players like George Holani, Stefan Cobbs, Octavius Evans, Markel Reed, and Tyric LeBeauf tested the depth of this team, and for the most part, they responded in a positive way. When we look back at the 2021 season, we will see that the potential for a special season was there. The inability of the offense to finish drives in the red zone and put up “Boise State numbers” kept the team from winning big games and coming away with a conference championship.
The 2022 season will bring lofty expectations for a Boise State defense where greatness is expected and cautious optimism for an offense that needs to show substantial improvement. What did you think of Boise State’s performance in 2021? How do you see the 2022 season playing out? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.