In this week’s column, the 2021 seasons of Boise State and Utah State will be compared and contrasted. Back in December, I had the thought of how the Broncos and Aggies were both in similar situations entering the season. They were the two new coaching staffs, and both programs were in need of an injection of new life, to varying degrees. And to most of us on the outside looking in, Boise State was expected to do better than Utah State in terms of wins and losses. However, as we know, that could not have been more wrong, as one team came seemingly out of nowhere to win the Mountain West Conference. The other team was expected to compete for the conference championship, but those dreams were quickly dashed when they failed to defeat many of the top conference opponents. Take a look at how we break the two teams down.
Both first seasons with new coaches
It was clear the Broncos were expected to reload. After all, they had played in the Mountain West championship for four straight seasons and returned a large number of starters on both sides of the ball. It was a common thought among the media and fans alike that new blood in the coaching rankings could inject some life into a program that seemed to be a little stale at the end of the Harsin era. As we know, that did not go according to script.
On the other hand, the Aggies seemed to be primed for a few season rebuild, at least according to conventional wisdom. Utah State was in desperate need of a new coaching staff, but they inherited a messy situation with the way the Andersen era ended. to make matters more complicated, the roster of players, while talented, seemed like a total hodge-podge of players stemming from three different coaching staffs and it was widely believed the roster would need time to gel. Apparently, not as much time as previously thought.
One had a dynamic offense, and the other struggled for most of the season.
Utah State quickly became one of the most dynamic and quick-strike offenses in the country right out of the gate. With the ability to score on any given play and multiple playmakers at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver, they were tough to keep at bay for an entire game. Also, the Aggies had a knack for being a second-hand team, coming from behind in a few games when the opposition seemed to have been lulled into a false sense of security.
Boise State was supposed to feature a versatile fast-paced offense similar to UC-Davis, and it looked the part for the first half of their season opener. However, the Bronco offense fell into a bad habit of disappearing in the second half and would often completely fall apart in the third quarter. Also, they only scored 35 points or more twice all season. It was a stark difference from past seasons and pre-season expectations.
One had an opportunistic defense, while the other team was methodical and employed a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy.
Utah State did not have a bad defense by any means, but it should also not be confused with an elite defense. However, they were an extremely timely defense, with a knack for coming up with big plays in key moments to swing the momentum or seal the game in their favor. It was an approach that leaned more on the all-or-nothing side of things, but surely an effective approach.
Boise State started the year pretty much unable to tackle and very much unable to stop the run. If they weren’t forcing an interception, they weren’t slowing the opposition down much. But over the course of the season, the Broncos figured out who they were defensively and improved. They became a solid, if not a spectacular unit, scheming well against opponents and making key adjustments during the game. Plus, they could tackle more consistently.
Head to head
In the match-up on the field, things played out much differently than their final records would indicate. Boise State was in control basically from start to finish. They excelled in all facets of the game and held the explosive Aggie offense to only a field goal.
In the overall picture of the 2021 season, this game appears to be something of a head-scratcher: two teams who were on very different trajectories flipped the script for a game. Looking at things another way, it demonstrated the potential the Broncos team had, even if they could not fully reach their potential during the season. It also demonstrated the Aggies were a magical team, but one with flaws that could be exposed from time to time. After all, that’s why the games are played.
The advanced statistics indicated the Broncos were better (to some degree) than their record indicated, while the Aggies were very fortunate to have the record they did, at least based on the numbers. At the end of the day, the results are all that really matters. And Utah State was the team that got the results. Assumptions and patterns of style and schemes and statistics can all be indicators of performance or sustained success, but sometimes teams defy those expectations. This is why the games are actually played. And in 2021, Utah State had a magical season. Aggies went 11-3 overall, including statement, wins in the MWC Championship game, and the LA Bowl against a PAC-12 opponent. It was the best season any Mountain West team had last year, and they were clearly a team of destiny.
On the other hand, Boise State seemed like a team destined for bad luck. The Broncos did not lose a game by larger than 11 points, but they lost five of them over the course of a season. they beat two ranked teams, as well as the Aggies as mentioned above, but were not able to win the games, which would have helped them reach the MWC championship game. To throw salt in the wound, they had to cancel their bowl game due to a bout of covid within the team. Boise State just couldn’t seem to get on track.
In a tale of two teams in similar situations, things could not have transpired more differently during the 2021 season.