BOISE — Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin said Monday he expects to play Saturday’s game at Hawaii, but he admitted nothing can be considered a sure thing at this point.
The Broncos were without 14 players due to COVID-19 protocols Thursday night against Colorado State, and barely met Mountain West thresholds to play along both the offensive and defensive lines.
Should additional players go out at those two spots this week, the Broncos would potentially be forced to cancel the game.
“It’s not in jeopardy right now,” Harsin said. “I think right now we’re good, but we have a couple more tests throughout the week. But you’re right. Last week, the challenge — when you get to a point when you are using an offensive lineman to play defensive line — you’re at that point.”
Not only did second-string left tackle Ben Dooley make the switch midweek to defensive tackle, he actually got in the game and had two tackles. The Broncos were without four interior defensive linemen — two of whom suffered season-ending injuries in practice — and dressed just five for the game. The Mountain West requires at least four.
Along the offensive line, the Broncos dressed 10 counting Dooley. Starting left tackle John Ojukwu got injured during the game which dropped them down one. The Mountain West minimum is seven offensive linemen.
Boise State dressed 65 players for the Colorado State game, which is less than the typical 74-man limit set by the league. The minimum needed to dress before a game can be canceled is 53.
The potential of canceling last week’s game apparently was discussed at some point, but Harsin said the coaching staff felt they could safely get through it with the numbers they had.
“I felt like really up until the day before the game, hey we had practiced, we had put these guys in position to be successful, the coaches felt that way, the players showed that and they felt that way. They wanted to play,” Harsin said. “The reality of it is once you start that game, you’re not stopping it. You just have to make sure you are able to go out there and be competitive and play and with the numbers you can actually play with.”
Harsin said the bigger issue right now is in practice because of the lack of available players. Those able to practice are having to practice more than usual, and at different positions all over the field.
“You have several players right now going down to be scout team players on one end of the field and then start on the other end in a certain package,” Harsin said. “We’re managing things we don’t normally have to manage.”
Harsin said teams share test results with upcoming opponents in terms of the number of positive tests, but not the names of the players. He expected later Monday to know Hawaii’s results from Sunday’s tests.
Boise State typically gets its test results back the following morning, often during meetings right before the start of practice.
“They are all waiting for the results and that is difficult, and you have to do that three times a week,” Harsin said. “It’s a challenge for every single one of them.”
At least one Mountain West game has been canceled or relocated every week since the season started Oct. 24 due to COVID-19 concerns. Four games across the country for the upcoming weekend have already been canceled, and that’s after three straight weeks of increased cancelations across the country.
That’s why Harsin won’t know until late Thursday night or Friday morning if things are a go. The Broncos and Rainbow Warriors both tested Sunday and will test players, coaches and staff again on Tuesday and Thursday this week.
Boise State can’t afford too many more positive tests, and Hawaii faces the challenge and potential exposure risk of having to fly back from last Saturday’s road game against San Diego State.
“It’s challenging when it comes to numbers and I think every game every single week is somewhat in jeopardy based off testing,” Harsin said. “One or two guys can wipe out seven to 10. And that’s not just our team, that’s every team.
“We were feeling it last week on a short week, but obviously credit to our players that it didn’t affect them. It did but they didn’t let it affect them come game time.”
Boise State is not traveling to Hawaii until Friday due to the strict rules put in place by local health officials. That means they’ll get final results from Thursday’s test early Friday morning before boarding the plane.
“Every week there’s postponements or cancelations so for me to say right now it’s in jeopardy, I think every game every week you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Harsin said. “If we get to that point then we will have to make those decisions and those are tough decisions.”
Saturday’s game at Hawaii is scheduled to start at 9 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.