EAST LANSING, Mich. – It looked like the same Boise State offense, with its motions and shifts, its complex personnel packages, its changing tempos and, for a few plays there, its usual unexpected twists.
But the offense of quarterback Joe Southwick and running back D.J. Harper and offensive coordinator Robert Prince didn’t produce like the Boise State offense Friday night at Spartan Stadium.
The Broncos – the highest-scoring team in college football since 2000 at 41.9 points per game – failed to score an offensive touchdown for the first time since 1997, a year before former coach Dirk Koetter installed the current structure of the offense.
Given another four quarters against the Spartans’ defense, it’s unlikely this group of Broncos would have pierced the end zone on this night. The Broncos managed two measly field goals from their offense, both coming when the defense and special teams set them up deep in Michigan State territory.
On the first offensive snap of the game, Harper – a sixth-year senior taking over from NFL first-round pick Doug Martin – was stuffed for a loss of 1 yard. It was a sign of things to come.
Harper kept plunging into the offensive line. He kept going nowhere. His 15 carries produced 8 yards.
“It starts with the running game,” said coach Chris Petersen, who became offensive coordinator in 2001 and has spearheaded the program’s offense since.
“Twenty-four rushes for 37 yards.”
This is an offense that routinely produces 37 yards on a single play, an offense that gains 37 yards without thinking about it. Not one that needs 24 plays, 24 slam-your-head-into-a- brick-wall rushing attempts, to produce less than 40 yards.
The Broncos had 206 yards of total offense. Not in a quarter. Not in a half. No, that was for the entire game. Not since Petersen joined the staff has Boise State produced fewer yards in a game.
Southwick, a junior making his first career start, threw five incomplete passes in his first six attempts. He finished the game with six incompletions in his final seven attempts, including two long passes down the right sideline that were oh-so-close. His slide 2 yards short of the first-down marker on a third-and-10 scramble on the Broncos’ final drive will surely haunt him.
In between, he was somewhat effective.
But not nearly enough to make anyone forget about the man who held his position formerly. Kellen Moore, he of the 50 career victories, was on the sideline Friday night in East Lansing, just a short drive from his new job as reserve quarterback for the Detroit Lions.
No one expected Southwick to be Moore. Most figured the offense would be productive. Even when the offense had its moments, like early in the second quarter, when the Broncos pulled out a double-pass and a wide receiver throw on back-to-back plays, it couldn’t capitalize. That drive ended when Southwick was intercepted in the end zone.
Or when Southwick connected with Matt Miller for 40 yards down the left sideline – the only play more than 23 yards and one of just two more than 13 – giving the Broncos first-and-goal at the Spartans’ 4. Convinced running the ball three times wouldn’t gain 4 yards, the Broncos twice tried to throw for it. The Spartans were all over both attempts, leading to a field goal.
Given the depths of the Broncos’ offensive woes Friday night, even if it was against one of the top defenses in the country, Boise State better take advantage of each available moment.
The Broncos need their old offense back. Not just one that looks the part.