LAS VEGAS — There were times last season where the criticism was so rough on Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick, that he had trouble going to the grocery store or out for dinner without hearing from upset fans.
And that came during a season in which the Broncos went 11-2, tied for the Mountain West Conference title and beat Washington in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Talk about a tough crowd.
That’s life as the quarterback of the premier show in Boise, where blowout wins and near perfection is expected and almost demanded after four record-setting years from Kellen Moore.
Southwick found out the hard way just how tough replacing a legend can be when the outside critics grew louder after Boise State had just 206 yards of total offense and lost the season opener at Michigan State.
When they did something that almost never happens — lost at home on The Blue to San Diego State — it became even tougher for him to deal with.
“I just wasn’t that good apparently,” Southwick said at Mountain West media days. “I’ve always been comfortable in the spot light, I have no problem being out there, but I think it was just dealing with peoples’ expectations.
“Fans are going to be fans and I get that. We have some of the best fans that are crazy about Boise State football and that’s awesome. Sometimes they talk like they know what they are talking about and are in our team meetings and in our game planning. The fact is they aren’t.”
Southwick passed for under 200 yards in six of the first nine games and had only 10 touchdowns to go along with seven interceptions. Those numbers certainly weren’t what fans in Boise were accustomed to — and he found out about it.
“It gets back to you one way or the other,” Southwick said. “I’m just really proud of the way I handled it. I’d like to think other people might not have been able to handle it as well as I did. But again we went 11-2.
“I think just personally I was able to deal with my role better on and off the field, playing quarterback in Boise and I think I learned a lot about that off the field and being comfortable in that situation. I always knew I could play at a high level and for the most part I was, there was just little things that we were missing.”
Things changed for Southwick toward the end of the season during a series of conversations with coach Chris Petersen, who reminded his first-year quarterback to not worry about the outside distractions and to focus on what’s happening on the field.
Southwick passed for 888 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions in his final four wins, leading Boise State to four wins to finish out the season. In each game, he passed for at least 200 yards and had at least two touchdowns and no interceptions.
He passed for 264 yards, his third-highest total of the season, in leading the Broncos to a come-from-behind win over Washington in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.
“Joe did as nice of a job of any player I’ve been around in a long time, because of just how the season started for him and for us, and it wasn’t terrible, it really wasn’t,” Petersen said. “The nature of having to follow Kellen, the scrutiny that’s on him — it’s usually going to be the quarterback or the head coach that takes all the heat when it’s not going right. And probably following Kellen he took more than me on that.
“But for him to just keep working and it wasn’t easy, that’s the thing that’s hard. These kids know what’s going on, they know what people are saying about them, they know all those things, and there wasn’t a day where he didn’t come in working his tail off and then eventually it caught up. The work caught up to him and he started settling down and started making these subtle little plays that we needed.
“That wasn’t easy for him or the team, but he didn’t flinch and it’s real easy to talk about those things, it’s real easy to work hard and do a great job when it’s all going good, but it’s a whole different thing when it’s not going good so we’re really proud of him powering through that. He had a good spring and all indications are that summer has been good and I think he’s really motivated and excited to have a big senior year.”
It will be a fresh start for Southwick when the Broncos open the season at Washington on August 31. He’ll have the experience from last year’s up-and-down nature in his back pocket but hopes to not need to rely on it.
Southwick has one final chance to impress the fans and leave his mark on the Boise State football program. And he plans on trying to make the most of it.
“Just having the confidence in myself to know that I can get it done and play at a high level,” Southwick said. “I just want to soak in every moment I can because once it’s gone, it’s gone. After this I’ll never be able to go out on The Blue again and play in that stadium.
“I already know I’m going to miss the heck out of it and wish I could do it one more time.”
Boise State’s first fall practice is slated for August 5.