Boise State is in the win column.
After two losses to open the season, against two good opponents, the Broncos played well enough Saturday morning and early afternoon to score a 42-18 victory over FCS North Dakota.
Here’s a look inside the game and the past three weeks.
Main takeaways: This was a strange game, and Boise State is a little bit of a strange football team right now.
For nearly every positive, there’s a little bit of negative, especially on offense.
That being said, the Broncos’ only order of business Saturday, really, was to play hard and fast, and get a victory. And they did, especially defensively. Even without leader and linebacker DJ Schramm, the D flat-out got after North Dakota, registering six sacks and another tackle for loss; recovering two fumbles; holding the Hawks to less than 3 yards per play and only 183 yards of offense; and forcing six punts and a turnover on downs.
Schramm’s replacement, Marco Notarainni, was a menace, totaling 13 tackles and a sack.
It was the kind of game defensive coordinator Spencer Danielson’s troops needed — against a team that had strong offensive numbers in its first two games — after BSU allowed big plays regularly and over 500 yards of offense to both Washington and UCF.
Still, playing at home against an FCS opponent, the Broncos were in what would have been a one-score game in the third quarter had North Dakota not botched extra points and conversions after touchdowns. If you were grading Boise State overall on the day, it probably would be a C-plus or B-minus.
Main question: What is this team’s offensive identity?
Game plans change week to week, of course. And the Broncos had six TD drives Saturday and nearly 400 yards of offense, so why quibble? Because as outstanding as versatility is, every team needs something to rely on. (Also, three of those TD drives started in North Dakota territory.)
Boise State figured to be a very formidable rushing team, with 1,000-yard rusher George Holani, standout sophomore Ashton Jeanty and elusive QB Taylen Green. But Holani missed his second straight game with injury, Jeanty lost two fumbles and rushed for only 43 yards on 16 carries, and Green’s ground yardage (35) came on scrambles with passing plays called.
Green was better throwing the ball Saturday, with just one interception that wasn’t his fault — it came on a bobbled pass. He threw beautiful deep passes to Eric McAlister and Prince Strachan. He also sailed too many throws high again, and he lobbed up what should have been a red zone interception on the first scoring drive, but it was dropped by a North Dakota safety at the goal line.
The Broncos threw the ball 10 times on first down Saturday, and also ran a reverse on first down that lost 8 yards. Ahead 14-6 in the second quarter, with the ball at their own 7-yard line, they went pass, pass, pass, punt — something they have done deep in their own territory more than once this season.
It seems that coordinator Bush Hamdan is still experimenting with what he wants this offense to be. Eventually that answer will have to come, and sometimes it would be nice to see a more concerted effort to spring Green on runs, which spurs the rushing attack in general. It’s not just about what the totals are at the end of the game — BSU had 35 rushes Saturday and 33 passes — it’s the situations in which the plays are called.
Main drive: After North Dakota took advantage of back-to-back turnovers to get within 28-18 in the third quarter, the Fighting Hawks forced a punt and got the ball back at their own 20. They were in a position to make Boise State sweat. The Broncos’ defense stuffed a run, broke up a pass and got a sack. Momentum was back with the home team.
Main stat: After allowing 36 so-called big plays — passes of 15 yards or more and runs of 10 or more — the first two weeks, Boise State’s D allowed just three. It allowed only one play of 20 yards or more.
Up next: Boise State returns to the road and opens Mountain West play at San Diego State. It’s also the first Friday game of the season for the Broncos, and the first late kickoff: 8:30 p.m. Mountain time.