BOISE — Boise State’s much-maligned offensive line was the subject of the question that warmed up coach Bryan Harsin for his lengthy rant about social media criticism Monday.
Arguably no position has been attacked more from fans than the offensive line, which entered the year with high expectations since all five starters returned with more than 100 combined career starts.
The criticism reached a new high following last week’s 20-17 win over Wyoming in overtime. The Broncos rushed for a season-low 91 yards, and quarterback Chase Cord was sacked twice and knocked to the ground a number of other times.
Videos circulating on social media showed right guard Eric Quevedo missing multiple blocks, including one that led to running back George Holani being hit and fumbling the football.
“It’s what we signed up for right?” Quevedo said Tuesday of the criticism. “Offensive line, you’re the first ones to get blamed when things go wrong. … We take out the outside noise. Like Harsin said, whatever that word was that he used, that’s really what we think.
“It doesn’t matter outside the room. We know what we’re doing. All the outside noise doesn’t matter.”
The word Quevedo was referring to was ‘twitiots’, which Harsin used to describe irrational, uninformed fans that take to Twitter to rip the players and coaches.
And much of the negativity recently has been aimed at offensive line coach Brad Bedell and his group. After overcoming slow starts the past two years with strong finishes, the Broncos seemingly haven’t made the same midseason improvements up front.
The Broncos have given up seven sacks the last three games and allowed 17 tackles-for-loss.
“Outside noise is not relevant to getting us better,” left guard and team captain John Molchon said. “We have our coaches and we’ll listen to them and try to correct things through them. I think it’s vital as an offensive lineman at this level that you don’t get involved in all that.”
The struggles have been puzzling to many given the level of talent and experience the Broncos have along the line. Left tackle Ezra Cleveland is likely to be selected in the top half of the NFL Draft when he decides to come out, and left guard John Molchon is expected to be a late-round pick or a free agent signing as well.
Center Garrett Larson and Quevedo both also had 20-plus career starts entering the season. Right tackle John Ojukwu, a redshirt sophomore, was the most inexperienced entering the season with just six starts.
“It’s not the coaches fault,” Molchon said. “We have to do better and execute.”
The biggest issue according to the two that talked Tuesday has been communication. All it takes is one guy not hearing a call or misunderstanding a protection change for a play to go south quickly.
“Communication definitely was the big thing,” Quevedo said. “That led to some negative plays at times. … We know what we’re capable of and it’s a little frustrating at times because we do things in practice and we know we can perform at a high level and some things don’t click all at once. We know what we’re capable of when it all comes together.”
Harsin openly challenged the offensive line during his postgame press conference after the win against Wyoming, saying the group got “whipped” on multiple plays.
“That’s disappointing and that’s not the standard we’re trying to achieve with those guys up front and I know they feel the same way,” Harsin said. “I didn’t think we won that battle tonight up front. We need to be better. We do have a veteran crew and we should be better than that.”
Asked if the group agrees with Harsin’s assessment that they need to play better, Molchon said, “Yeah, of course. When you have a performance like that, who wouldn’t think that? … The guys in that room take it as a challenge. No one points fingers or blames anybody. We know it’s the truth and we have to tackle that.”
Harsin changed his tune some Monday during his weekly press conference, defending the offensive line and the criticism they’ve received of late. He also predicted they would play better down the stretch.
“They are working at it,” Harsin said. “Are they perfect? Nope. Are they going to be? Probably not. Is that the group that we have here? Absolutely. Is it one of the better groups in the country that I think a lot of coaches right now at this time of the season would trade our guys for theirs? I would think so.”
For those wondering, Harsin said benching any of the current five starters was not on the table. Injuries could obviously change that.
“Those guys are all going to play. There’s not (any) jobs at stake whatsoever,” Harsin said. “They are going to go out and perform on Saturday and you’ll see them step up and do their job.”
The players are aware of the criticism and didn’t make excuses for their struggles. They also are confident time remains to turn things around.
“Football really humbles you,” Quevedo said. “It starts with us and ends with us. We know what we need to get fixed.”