Kellen Moore used five touchdown passes and some help from a backup running back to beat the UNLV Rebels 48-21 and set the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision record for wins by a quarterback with 46. Moore finished the game with only 219 yards, completing 18 of 31 attempts. Far from his best effort, it was still more than enough to lead the Broncos past the young Rebels.
D.J. Harper ran for 109 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, taking over after Doug Martin left the game with an injury. Drew Wright finished off the game with eight carries in the 4th quarter for 47 yards and a touchdown. Coach Chris Petersen said he did not think Martin’s injury was serious which would be welcome news for a team that is dangerously thin at running back with two tough games in the next two weeks.
Tyler Shoemaker added his 10th and 11th touchdown catches of the season and finished with 102 yards on five catches while freshman Matt Miller also had two touchdown catches among his six receptions for 58 yards. Shoemaker overcome a case of the drops earlier in the game to haul in two 2nd half scores to help put the game out of reach after the Broncos struggled in the 1st half.
One of the bigger surprises of the game was how much the Bronco defense struggled to contain embattled Rebel quarterback Caleb Herring. The erratic sophomore completed 11-13 passes in the 1st half as he looked like a seasoned veteran. The defense eventually would clamp down in the 2nd half but the defensive line was not able to dominate a young UNLV offensive line in the manner in which it was expected. The Rebels started three freshmen along the line but held up relatively well, especially early in the contest.
The Broncos took the ball first and quickly went three and out after Martin was unable to get going and Moore’s first pass fell incomplete. Brad Elkin launched a beautiful 50-yard punt and true freshman Lee Hightower, who has played his way on to the two-deep roster, immediately made a crushing hit on return man Michael Johnson. The Broncos then forced UNLV to go three and out as well and took over at the 50-yard line.
This time Moore was able to move the ball down the field, connecting with Shoemaker twice before finding sophomore tight end Gabe Linehan for the touchdown on 3rd and goal from the 2-yard line. The Broncos converted both 3rd down attempts on the drive.
The biggest surprise of the game came on the next drive when UNLV, not looking rattled at all for such a young squad, marched easily down the field to score on the Broncos. Herring ran for 24 yards on the drive which was aided by a personal foul penalty against Boise State. Freshman running back Dionza Bradford then bowled over the defense to score from 13 yards out to tie the game at 7-7.
Boise State could not answer as Moore and Shoemaker were unable to connect on 3rd down. Elkin’s 53-yard punt pinned the Rebels deep at their own 7-yard line but again Herring and Bradford led them out of the shadows of their own goal line. A false start penalty helped halt the drive on a 3rd down and UNLV was forced to punt it back to the Broncos.
Moore and the offense looked disjointed on the ensuing drive as the snap was fumbled on 1st down and then Moore was sacked on 3rd down for just the fourth time this season. A poor Elkin punt set the Rebels up inside Boise State territory. This time, the defense and special teams combined to make a big stop.
Tyrone Crawford chased down Herring for a sack on 1st down and UNLV eventually was forced to punt. Byron Hout burst through the line virtually untouched and smothered the punt, as well as the punter, and the Broncos took over with great field position at the UNLV 40-yard line.
Moore found his brother Kirby for 12 yards on 1st down but needed a 3rd down conversion to keep the drive alive moments later. Moore found Miller on a wide receiver screen and the freshman from Helena, MT dashed through the Rebel defense untouched for the 30-yard score to give Boise State a 14-7 lead. One play earlier, however, Martin came up limping after a 1-yard gain. He would leave the game and not return although he was in uniform and moving around on the sideline without visible problems in the 2nd half.
As they had before, the Rebels responded. Bradley Randle came in at running back and ran for 26 yards on the drive and Herring connected on all four of his passes including a 33-yard pass to Michael Johnson for the score. Johnson did most of the work, catching the ball on the sideline before tip-toeing down the stripe, staying in bounds before diving into the end zone. The kick made it 14-14 and the Broncos were in an unexpected dogfight.
Needing to drive the length of the field in their next drive, Moore calmly completed six of eight passes and the Broncos overcame two fumbles to move the ball from their own 20-yard line. Geraldo Boldewijn caught his first pass of the game on the same receiver screen that sprung Miller for a score but he was hit and the ball dislodged before Shoemaker came up with an amazing recovery with four Rebels lying on top of him trying to strip the ball from his hands. Later, Dallas Burroughs would also get the ball popped loose but it rolled harmlessly out of bounds. On 3rd and goal, with just :30 remaining in the half, Moore found Miller for his second score of the game and the kick made it 21-14.
In a game that featured a 42-point spread by the Vegas lines, it was a shock to see UNLV within striking distance at the half. Nobody could have predicted how the first half would go, especially in light of the fact that the Rebels were simply playing very well after struggling most of the season against inferior teams. There were no trick plays or blown coverages. They just took the ball right at the Broncos and out-gained them in the 1st half.
Great teams overcome poor play and malaise and that is exactly what the Broncos did. UNLV had the ball to start the 2nd half and were immediately stopped on their first drive. The Broncos failed to respond offensively but it was clear that the defensive effort was much better after halftime as Boise State stepped up to the challenge and stopped the Rebels again.
It looked like the Broncos were still out of sync on their next drive as Shoemaker dropped another Moore pass, his fourth of the game, to force a 3rd and eight. This time Moore was able to send the ball down the field as he backpedaled to avoid the blitz and found Shoemaker streaking down the middle of the field for a 51-yard scoring strike. The kick made the score 28-14 and the rout was on.
UNLV converted a 3rd down attempt to keep their next drive alive but Shea McClellin thwarted the next 3rd down try as he sacked Herring to end the drive. Herring was knocked out of the game after also being shaken up earlier on a big hit. The Broncos took over at their own 36-yard line and pulled another play out of their bag of tricks on the ensuing drive.
A holding penalty backed the Broncos up but they were able to convert the 3rd down attempt. The next time they faced a 3rd down, however, Moore’s pass fell incomplete. This time the Broncos saw something they liked and as they lined up to punt, they snapped the ball directly to junior linebacker J.C. Percy who rumbled down the field for 20 yards to give the Broncos a 1st down at the UNLV 31-yard line.
D.J. Harper then ran the ball four straight times to get the ball down to the 5-yard line where Moore connected with Shoemaker on a tough catch on 3rd down. The ball was tipped by a Rebel linebacker but Shoemaker was able to adjust to the ball and pull it in moments before it hit the ground. A low snap led to Dan Goodale’s extra point being blocked, his sixth miss of the season, to leave the score 34-14 early in the 4th quarter.
After the Rebels quietly went three and out again, the Broncos took over at their own 49-yard line and D.J. Harper pounced on his opportunity for playing time. After a 15-yard dash on 1st down, Harper broke loose for a 36-yard touchdown scamper on the next play to effectively put the game away.
A bit of misfortune occurred on the next drive as the Broncos forced the Rebels to punt once more and Chris Potter took the punt 58 yards for the score but the play was called back on a confusing personal foul penalty. There was a possible holding call that went unflagged at the point of the catch but the penalty was called on special teams star Hunter White who blasted a Rebel cover man to help spring Potter’s return. It was a clean, hard hit but the officials missed the call and the Broncos missed scoring again on special teams.
The Broncos were unable to move the ball on their next possession, giving the ball back to UNLV at their own 27-yard line. Sean Reilly hit UNLV star receiver Phillip Payne for a 1st down but the drive stalled and the Broncos got the ball back one last time at their own 49-yard line following a facemask penalty on the punt return.
Drew Wright carried the Broncos with seven rushes on the drive including a 15-yard burst to the end zone for his second career touchdown. The Broncos converted twice on 3rd down to keep the drive alive including a nice strike from backup quarterback Joe Southwick to Geraldo Boldewijn.
The score was 48-14 when UNLV took over with less than two minutes remaining but a 55-yard run by Randle preceded a Reilly 13-yard lob to Payne in the corner of the end zone for the final points of the game as UNLV salvaged a 2nd half in which they were shut out for 29 minutes. The Rebels even recovered an onside kick but it was far too little, too late.
The Broncos put together a fine 2nd half performance after struggling through the opening half and the 48-21 final certainly looks better than it was. Moore was not his usual sharp self although it is hard to complain about five touchdown passes. Shoemaker had another big day with over 100 yards receiving and two scores but also dropped a number of passes. The Broncos were lucky to retain all three of their fumbles and a UNLV linebacker dropped a sure interception on Moore’s one truly bad throw of the night.
The mistakes were many on a night when the Broncos expected to be crisp, coming off a bye week and in preparation for their biggest conference game of the season. The status of Martin is a major concern leading up to their home contest next Saturday against TCU. If Martin is unable to go, the Bronco running back depth chart consists of only D.J. Harper and Drew Wright, the former walk-on from Nampa. Seldom-used Raphiel Lambert would move into the third spot following season-ending knee injuries to Malcolm Johnson and Jay Ajayi.
The Broncos again struggled to get the ball down the field vertically as Boldewijn has not given the passing game the lift that was expected when he returned from his suspension. Shoemaker has been the only vertical threat while Miller has been solid in his possession-receiving role. Mitch Burroughs and Kyle Efaw were both held without catches, a surprising development for the veterans who are 3rd and 5th on the team in receptions.
The offensive line did not look very cohesive in the 1st half as Moore faced increased pressure throughout the half and there were no lanes for Martin, and then Harper, to run through. That changed in the 2nd half as Harper and Wright were able to find some holes. The team finished with 185 rushing yards, most of them in the 2nd half.
On defense, the Broncos were missing Jamar Taylor who did not make the trip after experiencing more soreness in the knee he injured against Colorado State. Ebo Makinde and Quaylon Ewing-Burton started and did not give up any big plays but also allowed several catches for 1st downs. Hightower, who had moved into a reserve safety role, played cornerback in the 2nd half and depth at the position is a concern if Taylor is not healthy next week. The Broncos were already missing lockdown corner Jerrell Gavins, out for the season with a knee injury.
There were many negatives for a team that won by 27 points behind their record-setting quarterback. The team acknowledged after the game that they had not played their best and it is clear that they will need to improve all facets of the game as they prepare to face TCU for the first time in the regular season, following three bowl match-ups in the past eight seasons. The Horned Frogs now have the Broncos undivided attention and it would be a surprise if Boise State came out on Saturday as flat as they looked against UNLV.
Moore can now just file this one away as another win, much like the 45 he notched previously, and prepare to face a struggling TCU pass defense. The Broncos remained at #5 in the AP poll one spot behind Alabama but have a chance to move to #4 in the newest BCS standings. Boise State just keeps winning, even if it’s not always pretty.