The Boise State offense was flat throughout nearly the entire 1st half against Wyoming on Saturday. The stadium was quiet and the fans were frustrated.
Then the Broncos got the spark they needed. Kellen Moore heaved an off-balance throw downfield toward the goal line as time expired in the 1st half and it miraculously found the hands of Matt Miller, lying on his back across the goal line. The touchdown gave the Broncos some much needed momentum and ignited their offense.
Boise State pulled away in the 2nd half as they scored 23 unanswered points before surrendering a late Wyoming touchdown in a 36-14 win over the Cowboys. Moore started very slow, including a bad interception on the Broncos’ first drive, but finished strong by going 24-36 for 279 yards and three touchdowns. His three touchdown passes moved him into 2nd place in NCAA history with 137 touchdown throws, trailing only Houston’s Case Keenum who continues to extend his record this season.
Doug Martin was a workhorse for the Broncos again, running 26 times for 153 yards and two scores. The Boise State defense, blistered in back-to-back appearances by TCU and San Diego State, was very stout. They held the Cowboys to 191 yards of offense with 80 of those coming in Wyoming’s meaningless final touchdown drive.
The defensive line was finally able to get some consistent pressure on Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith and the secondary held up this week. In particular, freshman cornerback Lee Hightower played a very strong game as he defended multiple passes downfield.
The Broncos shook up their injured secondary with senior safety George Iloka lining up at cornerback and classmate Travis Stanaway moving into the starting lineup at safety. The strategy appeared to work as Wyoming did virtually nothing down the field, throwing most wide receiver screens as their ineffective passing game finished with only 78 yards and 3.1 yards per pass.
The game had an inauspicious start for Moore as well. After the Broncos forced a Wyoming punt on their first possession, Boise State took over at its own 4-yard line. Doug Martin broke off runs of 10 and eight yards to move the ball out to the 22. On Moore’s first pass of the game, he badly underthrew his intended receiver in the left flat and the ball was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Luke Anderson.
Moore acknowledged a bad decision trying to force the ball into coverage but as usual, he would bounce back and after the slow start he finished very strong. The Broncos got the ball back and appeared to be committed to the run against a poor Wyoming run defense. Martin bulled ahead for a 3rd down conversion and the Broncos appeared to have some offensive momentum before a holding call slowed down the drive in Wyoming territory. Brad Elkin mis-hit his punt and Wyoming took over at its own 33-yard line.
The Bronco defense forced a three and out again but Austin McCoy once again pinned the Broncos deep with another beautiful punt. The Broncos got one 1st down but could not convert on their next 3rd down try. Wyoming could not move the ball on their next drive and the quarter ended with the score still 7-0.
Boise State appeared to be on the move again but a bad shotgun snap for a loss of six yards on 1st down stalled the momentum and the Broncos gave up the ball once more with Elkin’s 58-yard punt finding the end zone for a touchback.
After failing to move the ball much in their first three possessions, the Cowboys finally got some momentum of their own on offense, aided by some questionable calls by the officials. First, Smith lofted a pass down the right sideline for Josh Doctson that he appeared to catch out of bounds. After review, Wyoming was given the catch and the ball at the 50-yard line.
Two plays later, the Broncos were whistled for an unnecessary roughness penalty as the officials failed to blow a play dead when the Wyoming runner stepped out of bounds and he continued up field where he was knocked out of the field of play. The penalty gave Wyoming the ball at the Boise State 23-yard line.
Facing a 3rd and 10, the Bronco defense stepped up with a big play. As Smith scrambled to the right side, Tyrone Crawford knocked the ball loose and Aaron Tevis recovered the fumble to prevent the Cowboys from going ahead by two scores.
Moore took over at his own 13-yard line and the Bronco offense finally began to click. Moore found Martin on a screen pass to convert a 3rd down and then hit D.J. Harper for 16 yards to convert another. The no-huddle offense forced Wyoming to call a timeout with 5:37 remaining in the half. The Broncos continued to methodically move the ball down the field.
Boise State faced five 3rd down attempts on the drive and on the final one, from Wyoming’s 2-yard line, Doug Martin took the ball into the end zone for Boise State’s first score of the day. It capped a 17-play, 87-yard drive that took over six minutes off the clock.
It appeared that the Broncos would go into halftime with the score tied. The defense had other plans, however. With 1:10 remaining on the clock, and two timeouts, the defensive line stuffed the Cowboys on three straight runs to force a punt and give the offense a chance. This time, McCoy shanked his punt for only 23 yards and the Broncos had the ball at the Wyoming 46 with :08 remaining.
Moore was forced to scramble and fire a pass incomplete on 1st down and the Broncos were left with one second on the clock. The coaches dialed up the Hail Mary which was designed to bunch the receivers together on the left side of the field but Wyoming overloaded that side.
Seeing the defensive shift, Miller drifted toward the middle of the field and Moore, forced to scramble once again, heaved the ball downfield hoping for a miracle. Miller was knocked down before the ball got there but no flag was thrown. Instead, the ball was improbably tipped further downfield by Wyoming safety Tashaun Gipson and Miller, lying flat on his back, somehow hauled it in.
After a review, it was determined that the ball broke the plane of the goal line and the touchdown stood. Michael Frisina’s extra point attempt was blocked to leave the score 13-7 at halftime but the momentum, the crowd and the game seemed to shift at that moment.
A short kickoff to open the 2nd half, aided by a personal foul penalty on the return, gave Boise State the ball at its own 48-yard line to start the 3rd quarter. Martin immediately popped an 18-yard run and it looked like the rout was on. Moore found Tyler Shoemaker for 17 yards down to the Wyoming 11-yard line but the drive stalled and the Broncos had to settle for Frisina’s 23-yard field goal to make the score 16-7.
Boise State’s defense would not allow Wyoming to get back into the game as they immediately forced a three and out. On the first play of Boise State’s next drive, Martin ran for 26 yards, down to the Wyoming 39. Mitch Burroughs ran for 10 yards to convert one 3rd down opportunity and Moore later found his brother Kirby for a completion on 4th and two to extend the drive.
A bad snap looked like it might doom the drive but D.J. Harper fell on the fumble to give the Broncos new life. Moore immediately cashed it in with a 10-yard strike to Kyle Efaw in the back of the end zone. The Broncos tried to get their missed extra point back but the two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving the score 22-7.
Wyoming failed to move the ball again on their next possession and the Broncos were set up with decent field position again, leading by 15. This time, Moore did most of the heavy lifting as he hit all five of his passes, including a pair to Harper, before Martin’s 15-yard dash got the Broncos into the red zone at the Wyoming 17.
Moore fired the ball into the back of the end zone again, this time to Gabe Linehan, and the sophomore tight end made a spectacular tumbling catch to stay in bounds. The kick made it 29-7 and the game was firmly in hand.
Travis Stanaway’s diving interception gave Boise State the ball back once again as Wyoming failed to get a 1st down in the 3rd quarter. Boise State had the ball in Wyoming territory as time ran out in the period. After Moore found Burroughs and Miller on back-to-back 11-yard completions, Martin and Burroughs covered the remaining 21 yards of the drive on the ground. Martin took the ball in from a yard out for his second touchdown of the game and it gave the Broncos a commanding 36-7 lead.
Wyoming took over at its own 20-yard line with 13:13 remaining and appeared to throw in the towel. While they were able to move the ball effectively, with backup quarterback Sam Stratton keeping the ball almost exclusively in the spread option attack, their 80-yard drive took nearly eight minutes off the clock and left them no time to mount the comeback. Stratton ran seven times on the drive and Smith came back in to find Doctson on 4th and goal from the 8-yard line for the score.
Boise State took the ball one last time, leading 36-14. Moore hit all three of his passes on the drive before coming out of the game. Joe Southwick took over and handed the ball off to D.J. Harper who drove forward for nine yards but then fumbled. Gipson recovered for Wyoming and the Cowboys ran the final three minutes off the clock.
The impressive 2nd half performance helped mask the offensive issues the Broncos experienced in the 1st half. It never appeared as though anything the Wyoming defense was doing was particularly difficult for the Broncos. It was mostly Boise State’s own offensive mistakes. Moore’s interception was an obvious blemish but he went on to complete only 4-11 early on. The running game was strong but a couple of penalties and bad snaps hurt the Broncos on their other 1st half drives.
Once the mistakes were cleaned up, the offense clicked throughout the entire 2nd half. That should not, however, overshadow how dominant the Bronco defense was throughout the game. Although they didn’t pile up a lot of sacks, the relentless pressure of the defensive line was a key component in shutting down a high-powered Wyoming offense.
The defensive scheme, along with the personnel changes with Iloka and Stanaway, added up to the Broncos’ best defensive performance since back-to-back 50 point wins over Fresno State and Colorado State in October. Stanaway led the team with nine tackles and the Broncos were able to counter the Cowboys short passing game. Smith completed 17-25 throws for Wyoming but for only 78 yards as nearly all of his throws were wide receiver screens that the Broncos blew up.
Billy Winn, Chase Baker and Tyrone Crawford were generally the only down linemen used as Shea McClellin, the linebackers and safeties all dropped into coverage. They funneled passes to the outside all game long and the cornerbacks and safeties made the plays. The few times Wyoming tried to beat the Broncos downfield, as TCU and San Diego State had so much success doing, Hightower, Iloka and Stanaway were there to cover the throws.
It was an impressive defensive performance that should not be lost in the 2nd half offensive explosion. Boise State outgained Wyoming 199-2 in the 3rd quarter as the Bronco defense was able to flip the field position and stop any chance of the Cowboys answering Boise State’s offense.
Only one game remains in the regular season for the Broncos and their decorated senior class. New Mexico comes to town next week as the final sacrificial lamb for Kellen Moore, Doug Martin and the Boise State offense.
It seems unlikely that Boise State would need another Hail Mary pass to spark the team next week as New Mexico is one of the worst teams in the country, allowing almost 42 points per game. Chris Petersen will move into 1st place in Boise State history with 72 wins if the Broncos knock off the Lobos next week.
Moore already went over 3,000 yards passing for the 3rd straight season and Martin eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing for the second year in a row. One of the only milestones remaining will be Tyler Shoemaker’s quest to displace Austin Pettis atop the single-season touchdown record books. They are currently tied with 14 touchdown catches.
The Bronco seniors are 48-3 in their career and would become the first four-year group in NCAA history to record 50 wins if they take care of business against New Mexico and win their bowl game. There is only one chance remaining to see Kellen Moore on The Blue so despite the inferior opponent, Bronco Stadium should be rocking next week.