Midseason report card: Boise State is off to a historically slow start to the season

·10 min read

It has been an unusually trying season for the Boise State football team.

Most people around the program expected some growing pains when Andy Avalos began his first stint as a head coach in January, but there probably weren’t many that expected the Broncos to have a 3-4 record through seven games for the first time since 1997.

Avalos has the first signature win of his time as head coach at his alma mater — Boise State beat then-No.10 BYU on Oct. 9 — but that has been overshadowed by a rare home losing streak. The Broncos’ loss to Air Force on Oct. 16 marked the first time they’ve lost three consecutive games at Albertsons Stadium in the same season since 1996.

Despite what can only be described as a down season by Boise State standards, a fifth straight appearance in the Mountain West title game is still a possibility — albeit a distant one. The Broncos (3-4, 1-2 MW) are going to have to overcome a schedule that still includes road trips to Fresno State (6-2, 3-1) and No. 21 San Diego State (7-0, 3-0), and they’re going to need a couple of teams ahead of them in the standings to lose.

With five regular-season games left on the schedule, here’s a look at how the Broncos’ offense, defense and special teams have graded out so far this fall, and some midseason awards.

Report card

Offense: C-

Boise State offensive coordinator Tim Plough didn’t have any trouble racking up yards and lighting up scoreboards when he was at UC Davis. He even coined the hashtag “Half-a-hundred,” saying he wouldn’t look at the scoreboard until the Aggies scored 50 points. But Plough has not seen the same success so far in his first stint with an FBS program. Boise State is averaging 29.4 points a game, which ranks No. 4 in the Mountain West, and the Broncos are putting up 363 yards a game, which ranks No. 7 in the conference.

The Broncos are averaging 35.7 passing attempts a game, and they rank No. 4 in the conference with 278.7 passing yards a game. The real struggles have come in the running game, where Boise State ranks No. 11 in the 12-team Mountain West and No. 126 out of 130 FBS teams, at 84.3 yards a game.

Injuries have played a role in the team’s pedestrian rushing numbers. Starting running back George Holani has missed three games because of a leg injury, and he was on a snap count against UTEP. Oregon transfer Cyrus Habibi-Likio got hurt in the Broncos’ win at BYU, and he missed the loss to Air Force on Saturday. Boise State has also been without starting center Kekaniokoa Holomalia-Gonzalez all season, guard Garrett Curran has missed three games and fellow guard Jake Stetz has missed one.

Defense: C+

Led by a pair of veteran linebackers and powered by improved depth on the defensive line, the front seven was supposed to be the strength of Boise State’s defense this season, but that hasn’t been the case. The Broncos are giving up 198.3 rushing yards a game, which ranks No. 11 in the Mountain West and No. 111 in the country. The defense has surrendered more than 200 rushing yards in four games this fall, and the Broncos gave up 307 on the ground against Air Force.

The secondary has been a pleasant surprise, despite breaking in two new starters at cornerback and losing one of them — Markel Reed — to a season-ending injury. Boise State’s defensive backs have produced eight interceptions after snagging just three all of last season. Safeties JL Skinner and Tyreque Jones are flying all over the field making tackles, cornerback Tyric LeBeauf leads the team with three interceptions, and backup cornerbacks Caleb Biggers and Koanohi Kaniho put together impressive performances with Reed and LeBeauf out against BYU.

Special teams: B

Boise State’s special teams aren’t performing to the level they were when former Bronco Avery Williams was helping to run the show, but those units haven’t taken that much of a step back this season.

Special teams have produced just one touchdown, on an 81-yard punt return by wide receiver Stefan Cobbs, who is also averaging 21 yards per kickoff return. The Broncos have blocked one kick — a field goal attempt that defensive tackle Scott Matlock got a hand on.

Williams returned two punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns last season, and also blocked two kicks. With numbers like that, it’s easy to understand why he was a two-time Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Year.

Boise State kicker Jonah Dalmas has missed some crucial field goals this season, including a blocked kick that would have given the Broncos the lead in the final 2 minutes of the loss to Oklahoma State. But Dalmas ranks No. 2 in the Mountain West with 15 made field goals and he has only two misses. Punter Joel Velazquez is averaging 42.5 yards per punt.

Boise State wide receiver Khalil Shakir gets stuck as he carries the ball during their game against Nevada on Saturday at Albertsons Stadium.
Boise State wide receiver Khalil Shakir gets stuck as he carries the ball during their game against Nevada on Saturday at Albertsons Stadium.

Midseason awards

MVP

WR Khalil Shakir, Sr., 6-0, 190 — This one isn’t even close. Shakir has defied logic with acrobatic catches at such a consistent rate this season that it’s almost an expectation at this point. Two such receptions landed him on ESPN “SportsCenter” Top 10 Plays of the Day: a one-handed grab in the Broncos’ home opener against UTEP and an improbable catch with two defenders draped all over him in the win at BYU.

Something exciting happens just about every time Shakir touches the ball, and he’s had it in his hands a lot this season. He has at least four catches and 70 receiving yards in all seven of Boise State’s games, and he has eclipsed 100 receiving yards twice, including a season-high seven catches for 166 yards against UTEP.

Shakir leads Boise State in receptions (40) and receiving yards (659), and he’s tied with Cobbs with a team-high four receiving touchdowns. He also played big role in the running game and took several snaps as a wildcat quarterback in the Broncos’ win at Utah State. The senior from Murrieta, California, has been the team’s primary punt returner this season, averaging 14.2 yards per return, and his only kickoff return of the season covered 35 yards.

Boise State quarterback Hank Bachmeier gets tackled on the two yard line on fourth down during the second half of the Broncos’ Mountain West game against Air Force Boise State quarterback Hank Bachmeier’s pass is tipped by Air Force linebacker Vince Sanford in the second half Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021 at Albertsons Stadiium.
Boise State quarterback Hank Bachmeier gets tackled on the two yard line on fourth down during the second half of the Broncos’ Mountain West game against Air Force Boise State quarterback Hank Bachmeier’s pass is tipped by Air Force linebacker Vince Sanford in the second half Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021 at Albertsons Stadiium.

Offensive Player of the Year

QB Hank Bachmeier, Jr., 6-1, 210 — Shakir probably deserves this award, too, but Bachmeier hasn’t played as poorly as Boise State’s offensive numbers suggest. He’s actually a big part of the reason the Broncos have been in several games this season, although most fans will only remember interceptions he threw with the game on the line against UCF, Air Force and Nevada.

Bachmeier — a three-year starter — is completing 64.9% of his passes this season, and he has a 142.9 quarterback rating to go along with 1,950 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has thrown five interceptions.

Bachmeier has thrown for more than 300 yards in two games this season, including a career-high 388 yards and four passing touchdowns in the Broncos’ loss to Mountain West foe Nevada. He was also the team’s leading rusher in a win at Utah State.

Nevada tight end Cole Turner can’t come up with a catch defended by Boise State safety JL Skinner Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021 at Albertsons Stadium.
Nevada tight end Cole Turner can’t come up with a catch defended by Boise State safety JL Skinner Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021 at Albertsons Stadium.

Defensive Player of the Year

S JL Skinner, Jr., 6-4, 218 — Skinner has been a tackling machine, and he has already compiled a season’s worth of highlight-reel hits. He almost took Oklahoma State wide receiver Brennan Presley’s head off during the Broncos’ one-point loss to the Cowboys, and he’s drawn a reaction from the crowd after a hit in just about every game this fall.

Skinner leads Boise State with 62 total tackles, and his 49 solo tackles rank No. 1 in the Mountain West and No. 4 in the country. He has posted at least 10 tackles in three games this season, including 11 solo stops at Utah State. The native of San Diego, California, also racked up nine tackles against UTEP and Air Force. He’s still looking for his first interception of the season, but Skinner has forced two fumbles and recovered two this fall.

Boise State running back Cyrus Habibi-Likio carries the ball during the Broncos’ 26-17 win at BYU on Saturday. Habibi-Likio led the Broncos with 75 rushing yards and caught five passes for 32 yards.
Boise State running back Cyrus Habibi-Likio carries the ball during the Broncos’ 26-17 win at BYU on Saturday. Habibi-Likio led the Broncos with 75 rushing yards and caught five passes for 32 yards.

Newcomer of the year

RB Cyrus Habibi-Likio, R-Sr., 6-1, 210 — Boise State is struggling to run the ball at anything close to a consistent level this season, but Habibi-Likio has added depth to the backfield since transferring in from Oregon. He’s been forced into action because Holani has been battling a leg injury that has kept him out of three games. While Habibi-Likio hasn’t proved that he can carry the load at the level Holani does, he has been an explosive, versatile option for Plough.

Habibi-Likio is No. 2 on the team with 181 yards and two touchdowns on 54 carries, and his 18 catches for 160 yards are No. 4 at Boise State this fall. He carried the ball at least 10 times and caught five passes in back-to-back games against Nevada and BYU, and he led the Broncos with 75 yards and a touchdown on the ground against the Cougars. The native of Palo Alto, California, suffered an undisclosed injury in the second half at BYU, and he missed Boise State’s loss to Air Force.

Boise State wide receiver Stefan Cobbs catches a pass against the Air Force defense during the second half of the game Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021 at Albertsons Stadiium.
Boise State wide receiver Stefan Cobbs catches a pass against the Air Force defense during the second half of the game Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021 at Albertsons Stadiium.

Breakout player of the year

WR Stefan Cobbs, R-Jr., 6-0, 185 — Cobbs’ name came up almost every time a Boise State player or coach was asked this offseason about candidates for a breakout season, and he has proved them all right. He hauled in a career-high 10 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns against Nevada, and the native of Fort Worth, Texas, showed off his big-play ability with a 61-yard touchdown catch and 81-yard punt return for a touchdown against UTEP. He caught six passes for 83 yards and returned three kickoffs for 77 yards against Air Force.

Cobbs ranks No. 2 at Boise State with 343 receiving yards this season. His 23 catches rank No. 3 on the team, and he’s tied with Shakir with four TD catches. And he’s done all that despite an ankle injury that kept him out of the Broncos’ game against Oklahoma State and left him limping off the field after plays in each of the past three games.

Boise State wide receiver Octavius Evans attempts to make a diving catch Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, at BYU.
Boise State wide receiver Octavius Evans attempts to make a diving catch Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, at BYU.

Comeback player of the year

WR Octavius Evans, R-Sr., 6-1, 210 — For years, Boise State players and coaches have shared stories about impressive feats of athleticism from Evans in practice, but it didn’t show up in games. That has changed this year. The fifth-year senior has already set career highs in receptions (26) and receiving yards (311), and he has one receiving touchdown this season.

Evans is also averaging 43.2 receiving yards a game. That’s almost three times as many yards as he averaged in 2019, which was the last time he played a full season. Evans took a leave of absence from the team last year to deal with a personal issue. He has found a way to thrive in Plough’s offense.

BOISE STATE AT COLORADO STATE

When: 5 p.m. Saturday

Where: Canvas Stadium, Fort Collins, Colorado

TV: CBS Sports Network (Rich Waltz, Aaron Taylor, Jenny Dell). That’s channel 139 on Sparklight, 221 on DirecTV and 158 on Dish Network.

Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)

Records: Boise State 3-4, 1-2; Colorado State 3-4, 2-1.

Series: Boise State is 10-0 all-time against Colorado State, including a 52-21 win at Albertsons Stadium last season.

Vegas line: Boise State by 2.5

Weather: High of 67 degrees, 4% chance of rain, 9 mph winds

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