‘He gave us life.’ Boise State puts on inspired performance in interim coach’s debut

Boise State’s Spencer Danielson was fighting back tears after his first game as interim football coach ended with a Gatorade bath.

The Broncos scored 45 unanswered points and kept Utah State off the scoreboard for the better part of three quarters in a 45-10 win on Saturday evening.

After the game, the players mobbed Danielson while he was doing a postgame TV interview, and linebacker DJ Schramm presented him with the game ball in the locker room.

“I’m so proud of these young men,” Danielson said. “Like I tell them all the time, they impact me more than I impact them. I love everyone in that locker room.”

The Broncos have navigated a tumultuous season that included a quarterback controversy, a losing record in November, a star player leaving the team and most recently the firing of Andy Avalos.

Despite facing that adversity, the Broncos played with energy and passion in a game they needed to win to extend their bowl eligibility streak to 26 consecutive years. They also needed a win to stay in the Mountain West title race.

Both were important to the Broncos, but neither of those factors motivated them as much as simply playing for Danielson, defensive edge Ahmed Hassanein said.

“He gave us life,” Hassanein said after the game. “Words can’t describe how much I love Coach D and how much I would love for him to be the head coach here.”

‘He’s a great leader.’ Is Boise State’s next head football coach already on staff?

Danielson made some changes in his first week in charge. He shortened practice, giving players more time to rest and recover. He gave players extra time to spend with their families before Saturday’s game, and he even changed the seating arrangements on the flight to Logan, Utah.

Under Avalos, coaches and staff members sat in the front of the plane and players sat in the back. The players got the primo seats on Friday’s flight to Logan — which, granted, is only about a one-hour flight.

“That guy believes in us, and I would do anything for Coach D,” Hassanein said.

There’s been no confirmation from Danielson or Boise State that he’s even a candidate for the head coaching job. But if these final few weeks are essentially a tryout, he’s off to a good start.

“You guys know where my heart is,” Danielson said. “This place loves their football team, and this team loves this community. Me and my wife have been here for going on seven years, and this community has done nothing but open its arms to us.”

Instant analysis: Boise State puts together complete game for interim coach, routs Aggies

Danielson and the Broncos got a boost Saturday from a backfield that is finally healthy.

Boise State has been waiting all season to have talented running backs George Holani and Ashton Jeanty ready to play at the same time. The Broncos got their wish on Saturday.

Holani and Jeanty combined for 263 yards and three touchdowns, and the team racked up 352 rushing yards — its most in a game since posting 318 in the Frisco Bowl last December.

“Ashton Jeanty and George Holani are big-time leaders on our team because not only will they show what you need to do from a work standpoint, but they’re going to do it and do it consistently,” Danielson said.

Holani, who missed six games after suffering an injury in the season opener at Washington, posted his first 100-yard rushing game of the season. His 178 yards tied his career best, which he set against Utah State in 2019.

He also found the end zone twice. His 75-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was the longest run of his career, and he scored on a 33-yard run that gave the Broncos a 21-10 lead in the second quarter.

“This is the best I’ve felt in a long time after being able to recover and get my body right,” Holani said after the game. “Shout-out to my O-line and receivers for blocking. We started slow, but we found our rhythm.”

Holani also moved into No. 7 all-time at Boise State with 3,326 career rushing yards.

“He comes into his senior year, gets hurt and misses half the season, and just stays humble and hungry, and works his tail to get back on the field,” Danielson said. “There’s not a guy I’m more excited for than George.”

Jeanty, Boise State’s leading rusher, missed the previous two games with a lower-body injury. He returned Saturday and finished with 85 yards, which gave him 1,006 on the season. He scored on a 5-yard run that gave the Broncos a 38-10 lead in the third quarter.

“It was exciting to see him get back in there, move around and get a couple reps,” Holani said. “It was exciting to see all our backs get those opportunities.”

Freshman running back Jambres Dubar got on the field in the second half and finished the game with 57 yards and a touchdown.

Boise State (6-5, 5-2 Mountain West) had to overcome a slow start on Saturday. Utah State (5-6, 3-4 MW) jumped out to a 10-0 lead thanks to a 57-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Jalen Royals and a field goal.

The Broncos’ defense was a big reason they overcame that deficit quickly.

Boise State forced four turnovers, the most it’s forced in a game since 2021. The Broncos also turned several of those takeaways into points.

Defensive tackle Braxton Fely forced a fumble that Rodney Robinson recovered in the second quarter. One play later, quarterback Taylen Green found tight end Matt Lauter on a 26-yard touchdown pass, which gave Boise State a 14-10 lead. Robinson also intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter.

On the drive following Lauter’s touchdown, the Aggies tried to get tricky on a wide receiver pass on fourth-and-goal, but Boise State cornerback A’Marion McCoy intercepted it in the end zone. That led to a four-play drive that was capped by Holani’s 33-yard score.

On the ensuing drive, Fely forced another fumble and defensive tackle Herbert Gums pounced on it. Four plays later, Green found Lauter on a 2-yard touchdown pass that gave the Broncos a 28-10 lead.

Boise State’s defense also racked up nine sacks on Saturday, the most in a game for the Broncos since they joined the Football Bowl Subdivision in 1996.

Hassanein, Schramm and safety Ty Benefield all finished with 2.5 sacks. Hassanein now has 11 on the season. He’s the first Boise State player to total more than 10 sacks in a season since Curtis Weaver tallied 13.5 in 2019.

“I want our guys on the attack, playing fast,” Danielson said. “I don’t want anybody on this field scared to make a mistake.”

Green, who started again Saturday after losing the job to the now-injured Maddux Madsen, completed 8-of-17 passes for 93 yards and also rushed for 26 yards. Perhaps most important was that he didn’t turn the ball over.

“Hats off to Taylen,” Danielson said. “He’s a guy who came to practice every day and worked his tail off. Coach (Bush) Hamdan put together a great plan for him, and he went out there and did a great job.”

Boise State kept itself alive in the Mountain West race with the win. The Broncos host struggling Air Force on Friday in a pivotal regular season finale at Albertsons Stadium (2 p.m., FS1). The Falcons (8-3, 5-2) have lost three straight games after opening 8-0, including a 31-27 defeat Saturday at the hands of UNLV (9-2, 6-1), which now leads the conference.

The first-place Rebels host San Jose State (6-5, 5-2) in the other key game next week.

Boise State needed Fresno State to lose one of its final two games, and the Bulldogs (8-3, 4-3) obliged Saturday night by doing a face-plant against 23-point underdog New Mexico, which posted a 25-17 win in Fresno.