‘It starts with me.’ Boise State offense flounders in worst defeat of Andy Avalos era

Boise State Athletics

Hope can be fleeting.

Apparently so is Boise State’s offense.

Offensive coordinator Tim Plough built his reputation on the back of a pass-happy, high-scoring offense at UC Davis, an FCS school. That didn’t translate into a win in the Broncos’ season opener this year, so Boise State switched to a much slower ball-control approach, hoping to rely on a dominant defense and stout rushing attack to win games.

After wins against overmatched New Mexico and UT Martin, Boise State’s offense couldn’t control anything Friday at UTEP.

The Broncos were held to less than 100 yards both on the ground and through the air, and managed just 177 yards of offense in a 27-10 loss to the Miners — a team with a losing record that Vegas handicappers favored them to beat by 15 points.

“We’re capable of being a lot better, and it starts with me,” Boise State coach Andy Avalos said. “The bottom line is we had opportunities tonight, especially early on, and we weren’t able to capitalize on them, and we obviously got worn down on defense.”

The Broncos’ ball-control offense netted just 53 yards and three points in the first half, which came on Jonah Dalmas’ 24-yard field goal in the first quarter.

“Getting a first down is the first objective, but we kept getting behind the chains,” Avalos said. “Ending up in third and long is never a favorable position to be in.”

Things changed after halftime. Boise State went back to Plough’s up-tempo attack and drove right down the field on an 8-play, 75-yard scoring drive that quarterback Hank Bachmeier capped with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Stefan Cobbs to tie the score at 10.

That offensive success didn’t last, though.

Boise State (2-2, 1-0 Mountain West) went three-and-out on its next possession. By the end of the third quarter, the Broncos found themselves pinned at their own 1-yard line and trailing 13-10, with true freshman James Ferguson-Reynolds trying to punt out of the back of the end zone.

Reynolds got the punt off, but he didn’t get much help from his coverage team. UTEP’s Marcus Bellon caught the ball at the Broncos’ 47, weaved around a couple of blockers, sprinted down the sideline and dove into the end zone to give the Miners a 20-10 lead.

UTEP (2-3) clinched the win when running back Reynaldo Flores powered across the goal line to put the Miners ahead 27-10 with 4:25 to play. The Miners finished the game with 199 rushing yards, and Flores’ score capped a 13-play, 80-yard drive that took over 9 minutes.

“I felt like we went back to our roots a little bit and put the game on our offensive line and running backs,” UTEP head coach Dana Dimel said. “We played more of the type of football we needed to play. We ran the ball really well and controlled the clock, and our defense played outstanding.”

Instant analysis: Time for Boise State to make a change as offense tanks in loss to UTEP

It’s the first time UTEP has beaten Boise State in a series that now includes seven games and dates back to 2000. Friday’s loss was also one of Broncos’ worst defeats in recent memory, ranking right up there with a 31-24 setback against New Mexico in 2015 — a game where Boise State was a 30-point favorite.

It’s certainly the Broncos’ worst loss since Avalos took over at his alma mater in January 2021. He’s now 9-7 as the Broncos’ head coach.

“One thing I will say is it starts with me as a coach and making sure our offensive coaches and myself are putting the team in the best position to succeed,” Avalos said.

Boise State’s loss to UTEP couldn’t have come at a worse time. The Broncos play on Friday again next week, with San Diego State coming to Albertsons Stadium (6 p.m., FS1). That’s followed by a home game against Fresno State (Oct. 8) and a road trip to Air Force (Oct. 22) — three huge conference games.

With that daunting stretch on the horizon, changes seem to be desperately needed at Boise State. But what needs to change?

Do the coaches need to get redshirt freshman quarterback Taylen Green in the game? Avalos said that was the plan Friday, but he also said circumstances dictated keeping Bachmeier in the game. Bachmeier finished 13-for-34 for just 93 yards.

Does Boise State need to try a different combination of starters on the offensive line? Texas Tech transfer Will Farrar started at center Friday over a healthy Kekaniokoa Holomalia-Gonzalez, and true freshman Roger Carreon made his first career start at right guard.

The offensive line still couldn’t open many big holes for running back George Holani (16 carries, 75 yards), and the Broncos managed just 84 yards on the ground.

Does Avalos need to make changes to his offensive coaching staff? Does he need to relieve Plough of play-calling duties?

No questions have easy answers. But the truth is that something has to change on the offensive side of the ball if the Broncos are going to salvage this season, much less make a run at a Mountain West title.

“There’s been enough talk about it, Avalos said. “Now we have to put those words into action moving forward.”

Boise State’s first drive of the game was a sign of things to come. The Broncos got the ball on UTEP’s 40-yard line after a short punt, but they had to settle for a field goal after netting just 33 yards on 11 plays.

The defense wasn’t stellar Friday night either, creating no turnovers and forcing just four punts. The unit had allowed less than 30 rushing yards in each of the past two games, but UTEP gashed the Broncos’ on the ground, posting 101 rushing yards after halftime and nearly 200 for the game.

Miners quarterback Gavin Hardison also was very efficient, completing 10-of-11 passes for 123 yards and a 42-yard touchdown pass to Jeremiah Ballard, which gave the Miners a 10-3 lead at halftime.

Hardison almost had two long touchdown passes on the night, but the first, which covered 61 yards, was negated by a penalty.

“Everyone has to do their job and their 1-11th,” Boise State defensive tackle Scott Matlock said. “If one guy doesn’t do his job, whether it’s a linebacker or safety, teams are going to hit those plays. We have to do a better job handling our business.”

The one bright spot for the Broncos on Friday was the play of linebacker DJ Schramm. No Boise State player had more than four tackles in the past two games. Schramm racked up five in the first quarter and finished with a game-high 16.

“He’s a great player with a very big heart,” Matlock said. “He wants it more than anybody and is a relentless man.”

Avalos reminded the media after Friday’s game that Boise State is 1-0 in conference play and still has a shot at its Mountain West goals, but a conference title seems pretty far out of reach after losing to Conference USA’s UTEP so handily.

All fans of the Broncos can hope for is some semblance of a coherent offensive game plan when the team takes the field against San Diego State Friday at Albertsons Stadium.

Time will tell whether that hope is fleeting.