Boise State’s offense had scored just four times in its first two possessions of each game (20 in total) heading into its showdown in San Diego.
And on Saturday, the Broncos sputtered early again, with two three-and-outs to start the contest.
But the woes continued much longer Saturday night than they had in any game previously. In fact, it was likely the worst offensive performance through two-and-a-half quarters in the Chris Petersen era.
Seven of the Broncos’ first eight drives ended in punts, and the eighth was an interception. It might be the most glaring stat of the year -BSU had 70 total yards on its first 36 plays.
Broncos players and coach Chris Petersen talked about how confusing the Aztecs' 3-3-5 stack defense was, changing positions at the line of scrimmage and not revealing its shell until after the snap.
But they didn’t just play head games.
The Aztecs stopped the Bronco running game on three critical short yardage situations, once on the goal line and another on fourth-and-short.
“That’s how physical they are,” quarterback Grant Hedrick said. “One yard is hard to get a defense as physical as that. It’ll be interesting to see how we bounce back. I have faith we’ll bounce back.”
The manhandling in crucial situations could be demoralizing for Broncos coaches and players on tape, too.
Because conversely, the Aztecs converted 3 of 4 fourth downs, each in short yardage, and two on their first scoring drive of the game. San Diego State used its 240-pound fullback Chad Young on belly dives twice on fourth-and-short, converting both. Boise State ran out of the pistol near the goal line, while the Aztecs (and their completely different offensive system) went under-center much of the game.
The Broncos only had two drives over 50 yards and finished with 297 total yards on 70 plays.
Even with a missed 43-yard field goal (which would have won the game) from Dan Goodale (no gimmie), the BSU’s special teams kept it competitive to begin with.
A 100-yard kickoff return by Bryan Douglas (the fourth in program history) and fumble recoveries on a punt and kickoff, indirectly and directly setting up 21 of the team’s points. The Broncos didn’t initially score off the recovered punt fumble, but allowed it to change field position.
Pick Six and 16
Pinned down inside its own 10 yard line and up seven points in the fourth quarter, Boise State continued to run its no-huddle pistol offense. On third and six Hedrick was intercepted on a comeback route to Aaron Burks, and cornerback J.J. Whittaker returned it 18 yards for a touchdown, tying the game.
Afterward, Hedrick said Burks had slipped on the route, but it was the kind of error – miscommunication, poor throw, bad route or dropped ball – that happened all game for Boise State’s offense.
“Throughout the whole game we needed to make plays that we didn’t,” Hedrick said.
On Twitter and starting around the second quarter, many Boise State fans either called for quarterback Nick Patti or Joe Southwick to be put in the game or asked about their status to replace Hedrick.
Petersen said Southwick could have played if the situation determined he should. Southwick warmed up prior to the game with a noticeable limp.
Nick Patti came in for one gadget play, but never had his helmet on.
Petersen stayed with Hedrick throughout.
“(Grant) struggled but we had to let him get in a groove,” Petersen said.