BOISE, Idaho — With the smell of Thanksgiving dinner still lingering in many homes in Bronco Nation, the Boise State football team traveled to southern California to take on Top 25-ranked San Diego State to end the 2021 regular season Friday morning.
Boise State lost 27-16 to the No. 22 San Diego State Aztecs to end the 2021 regular season with a 7-5 overall record and a 4-3 Mountain West Conference record.
The Broncos appeared to be cooking up a feast of their own early in the game, but ghosts of this team's past started creeping back and snuffed out whatever chances Boise State had at getting a third win over a Top 25 team this season.
Once again, the offense's inability to find consistency and tendency to settle for field goals rather than touchdowns to finish drives was the team's biggest weakness.
After the game, head coach Andy Avalos said there were no moral victories from Friday's loss against the Aztecs.
"We played an unbelievable team today and they're better than us today. They finished, they played for four quarters. They're the best team today, that doesn't take away from anything that we built, it doesn't take anything from what we've grown on," Avalos said. "We got we'll have one more opportunity this year too and true competitors, they learn from situations like this. They learn from days like this, and they're able to grow forward."
The Broncos jumped out to an early 10-point lead with 11:45 left in the second quarter after senior wide receiver Khalil Shakir caught a 13-yard pass from junior quarterback Hank Bachmeier, but sophomore kicker Jonah Dalmas' extra point hit one of the goalpost's uprights and left the score at 13-3.
On the following Aztec possession, San Diego State went for it on their own 27-yard line on fourth and eighth, giving the Broncos the ball back on the Aztecs' 31-yard line. The Broncos marched down to the five-yard line but Boise State decided to kick a 22-yard field goal, rather than going for it on fourth and two yards to go.
Dalmas made the following 22-yard field goal attempt and put the Broncos up 16-3 with 8:39 left in the second quarter. Those three points would be the last Boise State would score until late in the fourth quarter.
The Broncos and Aztecs traded punts but then San Diego State scored their first touchdown of the day on a 29-yard pass with 1:30 left in the first half. After a quick five-play, 19-yard drive by the Broncos, the Aztecs quickly scored again on a 37-yard field goal to make the game 16-13 at halftime.
After halftime, the Aztecs received the ball to start the second half and wasted no time adding to their score. On the opening drive of the third quarter, San Diego State went 75 yards on 11 plays to score a two-yard rushing touchdown to put the Aztecs up 20-16.
On the Broncos' next possession, quarterback Bachmeier threw his second interception of the day, which set up the Aztecs for a 43-yard scoring drive that would increase their lead to 27-16 with 7:46 left in the third.
Slideshow: Boise State vs. San Diego State
For the rest of the game, Boise State failed to do much of anything on offense, going three-straight drives ending in punts before Bachmeier was benched for senior quarterback Jack Sears with just under four minutes left in the game. The Broncos' first drive went nine yards on four plays before the offense turned the ball back over to the Aztecs on downs.
The entire Boise State offense combined for 71 yards on 32 plays in the second half, which head coach Andy Avalos pointed to the run game for the cause of the low offensive output.
"We just got to commit and commit to the run. I mean, when we've done well guys, we've come out in the second half and run the ball. We're able to adjust to get into some different packages within the run game. We got to do a better job and it's really on us as coaches making sure that we commit ourselves to establishing that run game so they can open up the rest of the offense," he said during the post-game press conference.
By establishing the running game, Avalos said it opens up opportunities for the passing game to attack the defense. The Broncos' total rushing attack was once again lackluster with 91 yards on 35 total carries against the Aztecs.
Boise State's inconsistency on offense helped the Aztecs' 24-point run and eliminated their chances of a second-half come-back-from-behind victory.
However, with the offense's troubles, sophomore kicker Jonah Dalmas has kicked his way into the program's history books. With his 22-yard field goal, he made 26 made field goals in a single season, breaking the previous Boise State record of 25 set by Tyler Rausa in 2015.
Bachmeier finished the game with 21 completions on 40 pass attempts for 222 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The junior was also sacked four times and hurried five times by the Aztecs.
Running back George Holani showed that he can make an impact on the running and passing attacks, racking up 70 rush yards on 20 carries and six receptions for 52 yards.
Senior wide receiver Khalil Shakir once again finished atop of the Broncos' wide receiving corps with six receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown.
During the post-game press conference, Shakir said the team quickly put up 16 points but struggled after that.
"We just couldn't execute. We just couldn't do our jobs we couldn't win our one-on-ones, when it comes down to us as players executing on there and doing our jobs, we know what it's supposed to look like," he said.
With Friday's win, the San Diego State Aztecs clinched the West Division and will now likely host the Mountain West Conference Championship game on Saturday, Dec. 4.
With Friday's loss, Boise State drops to 7-5 overall and 4-3 in conference play to end the 2021 season. Since 2000, the Broncos only had one five-loss season. In 2013, during Chris Petersen's final year as Boise State's head coach, Boise State finished the season 8-5 after losing to Oregon State in the Hawaii Bowl.
Since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision ahead of the 1996 season, Boise State has only one season with five or more losses. In 1997, the Broncos finished the season 4-7 and the program has never had more than five losses in a single season since then. Depending on how the bowl game goes, Boise State could be flirting with history to end the year.
The Broncos should learn of their bowl destination in the coming days but with a five-loss season, they may likely stay home for the bowl season and play in the Idaho Famous Potato Bowl.
For players like senior nickel Keakula Kaniho and Shakir, a bowl game will be the Broncos' final chance to end the year on a high note in what has been a largely underwhelming season.
Kaniho said during the post-game press conference, "Obviously, we'll digest this, think about and look out the things that we need to fix. But we know we'll have one more opportunity to finish this season and we're excited to do that. We won't stay stuck on this too long. We'll learn our lessons and move on."
"We have one more chance to come out the way we want to come out, right. Obviously, today didn't go the way we wanted to go but with the bowl game, we have another opportunity to come out with the W and end the season in the right way so we're all excited to get right back to work," Shakir said.
Shakir added that while he has NFL dreams on the horizon, he still plans on playing in the Broncos' bowl game.
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