BOISE, Idaho — Boise State's hopes for a trip to California for the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl fell short Saturday on The Blue, as the Broncos fell to Fresno State 28-16 in the Mountain West Championship.
The Broncos (9-4, 8-1 MW) will learn their bowl-game fate on Sunday, with a variety of options on the table as the conference's No. 2 squad. The unfortunate loss at Albertsons Stadium to the Bulldogs (9-4, 8-1 MW) marks Boise State's first Mountain West loss of 2022.
When Boise State knocked off Fresno State 40-20 back on Oct. 8, the Broncos muscled their way to 316 rushing yards. George Holani and Ashton Jeanty combined for 266 yards on 36 attempts.
The 6.1-yard per-rush average opened things up for quarterback Taylen Green in his second game as the starter, and Green threw for a pair of scores against the Bulldogs.
Early in Saturday's Mountain West Championship, the Broncos seemed to lean heavy on Green's ability behind center. The second-year passer threw the ball 24 times in the first half, completing just 11 passes for 85 yards and an interception.
Meanwhile, Holani only carried the ball 10 times in the first 30 minutes, but ran for 56 yards. Jeanty also collected 29 yards on just five carries.
"In this game, it's about what the defense is giving you, opportunities you have," head coach Andy Avalos said. "When the defense is playing with certain numbers in the box, then they're going to give you the space, we just gotta execute, and that comes down to us making sure that we put our guys in a position to rep the things they need to, to execute the plays that are being given to us by the defense."
Entering the title bout, a lot of the talk surrounded Fresno State's star quarterback Jake Haener and All-Mountain West First Team running back Jordan Mims.
The game had shootout written all over it, considering Haener's 300 or more yards in four of his last five games, and the Bulldogs' 79th ranked rushing defense.
As they have for the majority of 2022, Boise State's defense stood its ground and dominated the Bulldogs early. With just over four minutes to play in the first half, the Broncos led 3-0, thanks to a 26-yard field goal from Jonah Dalmas five minutes into the second quarter.
However, Boise State was put into tough positions back-to-back within minutes of one another. With 3:54 left in the second quarter, Fresno State's Nikko Remigio's 70-yard punt return for a touchdown gave the Bulldogs a four-point lead.
Three plays later, Green was intercepted by Cameron Lockridge at Boise State's 42-yard line. The Bulldog defender returned the pick for 25 yards, setting up Haener and Co. at the Broncos' 17-yard line.
Again, three plays later, Mims worked his way into the end zone on a two-yard trot, to put Fresno State up 14-3 quickly with 1:18 left in the first half.
Fortunately for Bronco Nation, Boise State found its offensive footing enough to set Dalmas up for another field goal just before halftime. The Meridian native drilled his second try, to keep it a one-score, 14-6 game at the break.
After forcing a Fresno State three-and-out to start the second half, Green and the Boise State offense looked rejuvenated. Back-to-back carries for Holani put the Broncos inside the Bulldogs' 40-yard line.
Green completed two straight tosses, and it looked like Boise State was grooving its way towards the end zone. However, once again, the Broncos' drive stalled near the red zone, and they were unable to capitalize on the defense's continued effort.
Dalmas made it three-for-three on the day from 44 yards out with 10 minutes to play in the third frame and the Broncos were suddenly knocking at the door in a 14-9 contest.
Despite Dalmas' perfect efforts, he was the only Boise State player to score.
At the time of the 44-yard kick, Boise State had outgained Fresno State 225 to 95 in total yards. The Broncos also owned a seven-minute advantage in time of possession, with 53 offensive plays to Fresno State's 28.
The Broncos defense made it extremely tough on Haener and Mims all day.
At the end of the third quarter, Mims – who was picked over Holani for the conference's first team honors – had totaled just 33 yards on 12 carries (2.8-yard average). Haener was also held to 149 yards and no touchdowns in the first 45 minutes.
It appeared Boise State was going to give its offense another opportunity to take the lead entering the fourth quarter, but an untimely mistake – similar to the punt-return touchdown – gave Fresno State the momentum back.
On the Bulldogs' punt on fourth-and-15, Boise State's Jaylen Clark was called for roughing the kicker. The play appeared to be closer to running into the kicker, but the call on The Blue gave Fresno State a first down on Boise State's 35-yard line.
"Gave them a whole set of downs and they ended up scoring on that series," Avalos said. "So, we got to be, we got to be aggressive, we got to get ourselves some momentum on our side too, but we also gotta be able to execute the proper fundamentals and techniques and be able to make calls to go attack the pocket of the punter and not have any worry about roughing the guy and being able to finish. If we don't get the ball, then obviously we gotta stay off his foot."
The momentum shift led to a 22-yard hookup from Haener to Zane Pope in the back of the end zone, extending Fresno State's lead to 21-9 with 14:49 to play.
Looking to bounce back in a hurry, Lockridge took advantage of another Boise State mistake, grabbing his second interception of Green. Lockridge returned the pick for 21 yards, and the Bulldogs were back in business at the Broncos 34.
Even with in-game injuries to linebacker Ty Tanner, nickel Tyreque Jones and cornerback Kaonohi Kaniho, Boise State's defense seemed to be the most-physical unit on the field.
However, another golden opportunity for Fresno State proved to be too much, as Mims' three-yard touchdown carry put the Bulldogs up 28-9.
After rolling through Mountain West opponents en route to a freshman of the year award, it was a surprising outing for Green, who will likely be one of the best quarterbacks in the country in years to come.
The Broncos dug themselves deep and it was difficult to recover. Additionally, playing from behind, Boise State's backfield was unable to ever get going late, with Holani and Jeanty combining for just over 100 yards on the day.
Boise State was able to score late on a 52-yard toss from Green to Davis Koetter to make it 28-16 in Koetter's final game on The Blue.
Photos, statistics and Boise State's full post-game press conference are included below:
Photos: Mountain West Championship
Injury note: After last week's list included 12 players, only wide receiver Stefan Cobbs and safety Zion Washington were not dressed for the Broncos Saturday.
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