Boise State gives sneak peek at new offense, but opportunistic D rolls in spring game

Ron Counts
·7 min read

Boise State’s five quarterbacks gathered at midfield in Albertsons Stadium on Saturday before the start of the spring game, huddling around the orange and blue Bronco logo for one final moment between teammates.

Hank Bachmeier and Jack Sears are locked in a battle to win the starting job, and all of the quarterbacks have immersed themselves in new offensive coordinator Tim Plough’s system this spring, as talk has emerged of a up-tempo, high-octane attack.

But the defense stole the show on this day.

The defense racked up seven sacks and snagged three interceptions — matching the number it forced all last season — in a 45-23 win over the offense.

“The defense dominated today, as expected,” nose tackle Scale Igiehon told reporters after the game. “That’s what we’ve been training all spring for. We go into every practice with the mentality to create turnovers, pressure and confuse the quarterbacks, and just cause havoc.”

Score was kept in a nontraditional sense, with teams getting points with sacks, three-and-outs and explosive plays, as well as the usual touchdowns and field goals.

Saturday marked the first time the Broncos took the field in Albertsons Stadium since Nov. 12, 2020, in a win over Colorado State. It was also the first time they’ve played in front of their home fans since that 52-21 win over the Rams. The announced attendance at Saturday’s spring game was 5,777.

“That’s a feeling we haven’t felt in a while,” Igiehon said. “That was amazing to have fans react to a run or a tackle or sack. It’s just great to have that energy from Bronco Nation with you on the field.”

The Broncos will go on spring break next week, and many of the coaches are planning to get a vacation in before voluntary workouts begin in June. Fall camp will begin in early August, and the 2021 season opener is scheduled for Sept. 4 in Orlando, Florida, against UCF.

Here are the main takeaways from Andy Avalos’ first spring game as the head coach at his alma mater.

QBs are neck and neck

As expected, Bachmeier and Sears took the majority of the snaps, and both shined in spots.

Bachmeier (15-of-26, 158 yards, TD, INT) connected with running back George Holani to move the chains for the first time, and he led the game’s first scoring drive, which ended with a 40-yard field goal from Jonah Dalmas.

He also hit Stef Cobbs on a 24-yard completion later in the first half to set up a 9-yard touchdown pass to Billy Bowens.

Sears (11-of-20, 146 yards, TD, 2 INT) hit Bowens on a 40-yard pass in the first half and connected with Cobbs on a 29-yard completion on the same drive to set up his only touchdown pass of the day, a 6-yard strike to tight end Tyler Eiguren.

“They both had some good plays and some they wanted to take back,” said Avalos, who wasn’t thrilled with his team’s lack of ball security. “We want to be explosive, but we want to be precise as well. It can’t be all or nothing in those situations.”

Both quarterbacks saw their fair share of struggles.

Bachmeier’s units went three-and-out on three of his first four possessions, and he was high on a throw over the middle that was intercepted by freshman Seyi Oladipo. In all, Boise State’s offense went three-and-out 11 times on Saturday.

Sears was intercepted by redshirt senior nickel Roman Kafentzis and redshirt freshman Kaonohi Kaniho, and as the last quarterback on the field, he had a shot at another touchdown pass in the game’s final seconds, but it was broken up in the end zone.

The Broncos’ coaches didn’t give much away in terms of the new offense, opting instead to run basic plays, but fans did get a glimpse of the scheme’s tempo.

During the series that ended with his touchdown pass to Bowens, Bachmeier was giving commands and signaling instructions to his teammates while players were still picking themselves up off the turf from the previous play.

“For the most part, the quarterbacks operated in pre-snap much more efficiently in the up-tempo,” Avalos said. “They were moving pretty fast. The defense had to call timeout a couple times because they were on the ropes.”

Redshirt freshman Cade Fennegan was the third quarterback on the field, and he was followed by freshman Taylen Green, who enrolled early and has been on campus since January. Both got in on one series, and Green’s first two plays were telling: a read-pass option, in which he called his own number and sliced through the defense for a short run, and a scramble for a few more yards.

Green will be a threat to run when he gets on the field.

Too many penalties

Penalties were an issue Saturday, as the Broncos’ offense was hit with nine false starts.

Avalos said there haven’t been that many false starts in practice, but it’s something his players are sure to hear more about in the weeks to come.

“We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot that many times,” Avalos said. “Especially when you’re going against the first-team defense, you can’t put yourself behind the chains like that.”

The affect those penalties had on their performance wasn’t lost on the players.

“Little things like penalties, those are things we can control,” running back George Holani said. “Honesty, we can do better with cleaning up little things. I’ve seen this offense before and I’ve seen how we operate.”

Holani was a bright spot offensively, finishing with 56 yards on 11 carries, including a 24-yard run. He hasn’t played a full game since last fall’s season opener against Utah State. He suffered a knee injury the following week against Air Force and tried to return in the regular season finale at Wyoming, but it was short-lived.

“It’s a blessing, honestly, just to be able to go out there and let it loose,” Holani said. “It was great just being able to be healthy and go out there with the boys and compete and make each other better.”

Cobbs, Bowens shine

Avalos said before the spring game that he was impressed with the Broncos’ wide receivers, and they didn’t disappoint — especially Cobbs and Bowens.

Both saw their snaps increase last season, and both have earned plenty of praise from their coaches this spring. Cobbs caught two passes for 53 yards, while Bowens hauled in three for 56.

Redshirt freshman Cole Wright showed off his sure hands with a nice catch on the sideline on the series that ended with Dalmas’ field goal. Redshirt junior Maclaine Griffin led the team with four catches for 58 yards after moving the chains on back-to-back plays late in the third quarter.

Defense causes havoc

The Broncos’ newfound depth on the defensive line paid off Saturday, as the linemen tallied five of the team’s seven sacks.

Igiehon and defensive tackle Jackson Cravens led the way with two apiece. Defensive end Shane Irwin, who led the team with six sacks a year ago, had one. Linebackers Riley Whimpey and Brock Miller had the other two.

Boise State’s defense also limited the offense to just 74 rushing yards.

With Markel Reed out and Bowling Green transfer Caleb Biggers not in town yet, there still isn’t much in the way of clarity when it comes to the Broncos’ search for a pair of new starting cornerbacks. Plenty of young players got some snaps at the position, though, including former wide receiver Damon Cole, redshirt freshmen Kaniho and Donovan Clark, and freshman Isaiah Bradford seeing the field early.

Notes

Safeties JL Skinner and Tyreque Jones, as well as Cole, all left Saturday’s game early with injuries, but Avalos said after the game that none seemed serious enough to warrant long layoffs.

EDGE Isaiah Bagnah was dressed for Saturday’s game but he didn’t play. Avalos didn’t explain why, saying only that the reason stemmed from last season.

Running back Taequan Tyler also didn’t see the field. Avalos said he’s healthy but didn’t give a reason why he didn’t play.

Redshirt sophomore Ben Dooley started at right tackle with the first offensive unit. On the second unit, Rice transfer Uzo Usoji played left tackle and junior college transfer Riden Leong was on the right.