BOISE, Idaho — The 2021 football season for the Boise State Broncos is shaping up to be either a rebuilding year or a reloading year. With a 1-2 record, with both losses coming from a combined six points, the Broncos could very well course-correct as they enter Mountain West Conference play against Utah State this week.
According to head coach Andy Avalos, conference play is the program's goal and main focus every season so it's the perfect time to build some consistency, which the Broncos sorely need, especially on offense.
New offensive coordinator Tim Plough explained on Monday that the offense's main issues are getting the first first down of a drive or series and being consistent coming out of halftime and heading into the third quarter.
With an average of 371.5 total offensive yards per game, the Broncos' offense is ranked 80th out of 130 FBS schools in total offense. More troublesome is that the Broncos' rushing attack ranks 125th in the FBS.
What hurts the Broncos is the night and day difference that can be seen in how the offense can operate. When it's working at its highest potential, Plough's offense can score on any team with a quick tempo that distributes the ball fairly evenly between the offense's playmakers. When it doesn't, the Broncos are held scoreless and struggle to pick up any momentum. The shift in play starts in the third quarter, which their offense has struggled starting back up in.
Plough said on Monday that everyone on the field and on the sidelines is still learning the offense.
"I think the whole offense, there's a learning curve there. I know people would love to see that end in victories, no one would want to see that more than us," Plough said. "Those guys are going to learn a lot about what we're trying to do offensively and our staff's still learning a lot about what we're trying to do there because it is new, and there are some bumps there along that road."
Boise State is known for its history workhorses at tailback, which stretches over a decade with 11-straight seasons of having a 1,000-yard rusher before the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the 2020 season.
The 2020 season might be considered a mulligan for the Broncos' streak since Boise State only played seven games due to COVID-19, but the 2021 season has been far short of the standard, which the coaching staff acknowledges.
"It's not consistent enough. I understand the legacy here of running the football and having 1,000-yard tailbacks, man. No one gets that more than me and no one wants it more than me," Plough said. "And we're looking for ways to help our guys up front be successful. We're looking for ways for it to be consistent. And we're just going to keep working on it's going to start with us as a coaching staff, making sure we're consistent with our approach."
Through three games, the Broncos have a total of 202 rushing yards on 91 attempts, a poultry 2.2 yards per carry average. Per game, the Broncos are averaging 67.3 yards through three weeks.
Oregon transfer running back Cryus Habibi-Likio is leading the Boise State stable of running backs with 61 yards on 23 carries.
Plough said during Monday's press conference that it's only a matter of time before the offense's running game starts to take off.
"I do think it's gonna come," he said. "I'm a believer in it, hopefully everyone's not jumping off the ship. I do believe that running games gonna come, we have talent like you said, I believe in the guys, and what we're doing, I believe in the staff. We just got to stick with it, it's gonna come. I know it's gonna burst."
Leading up to the Oklahoma State game, Plough explained the X's and O's behind the running game in his offense.
"But how you run the football in a shotgun offense is going to be categorized into three ways, right? So I can choose to have the wide receivers block on the perimeter and that's how they're going to handle the extra tacklers in the box," Plough explained. "You can choose to have the quarterback keep the ball and read the extra defender decide if he's gonna run with the ball or you can run an RPO which if they have an extra defender."
With only nine regular-season games left on the schedule, the Boise State offense will need to find their next gear and start running the ball in overdrive to have another 1,000-yard running back.
A wrinkle to the Broncos' offense this year is Plough's introduction of run-pass option plays, or RPOs, which is when the quarterback can either hand the ball of the running back or keep it himself and throw a pass, depending on what the defense shows.
For starting junior quarterback Hank Bachmeier, RPOs are a new concept to him since he played in a spread offense in high school and under former Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin, who left the program to be the head coach of the Auburn Tigers last December.
"This is the first time I've ever done RPOs ever in my life I didn't do it in high school, Hars didn't do it," Bachmeier said before the Oklahoma State game. "So it was a big adjustment for me but I think it's finally clicking for us and for myself, and I think it's such a great weapon to use especially within the offensive and the playmakers we have."
RPOs, according to Plough, can impact the running game because an RPO called with a run in mind could turn into a big passing play, which happened several times against the University of Texas-El Paso in week two.
Against Oklahoma State, Plough thought Bachmeier played well against a Big 12 Conference defense but added that the offense can't have 50 to 60 passes a game since that is "not championship football."
"I think we throw the football as well as anyone if we really wanted to get that going, but I think we want to be a balanced offense," Plough said. "I do think we throw the football well, I do think we're more in tempo, and we get going, I think we're as good as anybody."
According to Bachmeier, Plough has been helping him learn and lead the offense by working with him and listening to his ideas.
"I think it's huge for me to just be able to have that relationship with my offensive coordinator and be able to ask him questions that communicate with him and [have] him bounce ideas off of me," Bachmeier said. "I haven't really had that before so I have to be prepared for me to be able to answer his questions instead of being told what to do and going out there. It's different in that aspect that he values my opinion I think."
Through three games, Bachmeier has completed 66% of his pass attempts for 845 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions.
Before joining Andy Avalos' coaching staff last winter, Plough was the offensive coordinator for UC Davis at the FCS level of college football. The Aggies and the University of Idaho Vandals both call the Big Sky Conference home.
When he oversaw the Aggies' offense, Plough explained that their running backs would get close to 1,000 yards on the ground and get about 50 receptions every season.
If Boise State's offense can start firing on all cylinders under Plough's West Coast offense, the Broncos can beat anyone in the Mountain West Conference. If they can get it going heading into their game against Utah State on Saturday morning, Boise State could very well make a fifth-straight appearance in the conference championship.
"We're going to climb that mountain together, I think the adversity that we're facing right now is going to make us a better team, a stronger unit going forward, hopefully, that leads to more victories," Plough said.
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