BOISE — The 2-0 record is about the only thing that’s been perfect for the Boise State football team through two games.
Sure the Broncos have accomplished the ultimate goal, winning, but they’ve been quick to point out that there are major areas of improvement needed across the board. They hope to start correcting some of those issues Saturday night when they host Portland State at 8:15 p.m. at Albertsons Stadium. The game can be watched on ESPN2.
“We’ve dug ourselves out of a hole a couple times in these games and did just enough to find a way to win, which is part of it. That’s the competitive side you like to see from your players,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “But at the same time, I don’t think anybody is happy with the performances we’ve had.
“Nobody is sitting here saying we have it figured out. By no means is that the case. Our standards are much higher. We have higher expectations for ourselves.”
An FCS opponent might be just what the Broncos need to put together a more complete performance. The Vikings arrive as 31-point underdogs after being picked to finish 10th in the Big Sky Conference in a preseason poll. They’ve played well through two games, losing 20-13 at Arkansas and beating NCAA Division II Simon Fraser 70-7, but this is a game the Broncos should win — and win rather convincingly.
The checklist of things Boise State hopes to do better Saturday is a long one. On offense the Broncos enter with issues in the red zone, with ball security and with keeping quarterback Hank Bachmeier clean and upright. Defensively the Broncos need to do better in the first half, and on special teams the Broncos have yet to have any game-changing plays.
“We need to be a more disciplined football team all around,” Harsin said. “I think we have the ability to do so, but I don’t think we’ve shown that in two games consistently enough.
“If you’re going to go out there and play well you have to be disciplined and do it consistently throughout the game and I don’t think we’ve shown that yet. If we don’t that’s going to put us in a bad situation.”
Boise State ranks No. 112 of 130 FBS teams with just four touchdowns in 12 red zone chances. The Broncos are moving the ball up the field (18th in total offense at 529.0 yards per game), but struggling to finish drives and put the ball in the end zone (84th in scoring at 25.5 ppg).
“We need to be better in the red zone and that’s definitely an emphasis for this week,” tight end Garrett Collingham said. “We need to start finishing drives because it hasn’t been up to the standard for us. We need to start putting more points on the board. We’re capable of it, but we’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot. We can eliminate those mental mistakes.”
Only two teams in the country have fumbled more than Boise State through two games. The Broncos have already put the ball on the ground eight times, and they’ve lost three of them. Boise State lost just five fumbles all of last season.
The true freshman quarterback, Bachmeier, is responsible for four of the fumbles as he learns to adjust to the speed of the college game. Bachmeier is hanging in the pocket as long as possible to let plays develop — an admirable trait — but he’s taken a beating. His helmet has already come off at least three times due to hits, and he’s been knocked to the ground several times.
Boise State’s running backs have also fumbled three times through two games, including a key fumble from George Holani near the goal line at Florida State that luckily was recovered by a teammate.
“We know as an offense we have a lot of work to do,” wide receiver Khalil Shakir said. “We’re excited because we know what we can do. When we flip on the film we know we’re not executing like we should be. We’re excited to just keep working and keep getting better. …We take every week with a 1-0 mentality, so every week is a new week.”
Defensively the Broncos have been unbelievable in the second half — they are one of just three FBS teams not to allow a point in the second half — but they haven’t been nearly as good in the first half. They weren’t bad against Marshall, allowing just seven points, but did let the Thundering Herd score first to take a 7-0 lead.
The Broncos have allowed an average of 265 yards and 19 points in the first half in two games, and an average of just 34 yards, no points and two first downs in the second half.
“There’s a lot of room to grow because if we can stop them in the second half there’s no reason why we shouldn’t stop them in the first half,” STUD Curtis Weaver said.
A better start — and sustained success for four quarters — is the goal for the defense against Portland State.
“If you can come out in the third and fourth quarter and close out a game, that’s still the most important thing,” Boise State defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding said. “But our challenge is just to start faster.”
On paper this should be a game the Broncos have little trouble — assuming they can correct some of their issues. Another sloppy, error-filled game and the Vikings might make things interesting.
And that’s why the Broncos are hoping to finally put everything together.
“The one thing is the drop off at certain positions is not that far,” Schmedding said. “Everybody talks about them being a lower level, but I’ve been part of (FCS teams) beating top 25 teams. You have to be ready to go and at Boise State you know you’re going to get your best from everybody, but this is one where we have to step on the gas from the second the ball is kicked off.”