In the middle of the second quarter in Boise State’s game against Wyoming, any viewers still awake saw the Broncos pull off a perfectly executed Statue of Liberty play. Quarterback Grant Hedrick dropped back and faked a pass to the right, but he handed the ball with his off hand to Jay Ajayi, who was running to the left. Ajayi dashed 20 yards to the end zone, and Boise State was able to extend its lead to 28-7.
That type of play brought back memories of what made Boise State famous. Arguably the most memorable play in Boise State football history also came on that Statue of Liberty play. It occurred in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl on the two-point conversion that finished off the incredible upset of Oklahoma.
When Chris Petersen accepted the Washington head coaching position last December, the Boise State program could have easily lost its edge. However, with Bryan Harsin now calling the shots, the opposite has happened.
Harsin, who played quarterback at Boise State from 1995-1999 and was on the Bronco coaching staff from 2001-2010, has reinvigorated a team that seemed to digress toward the end of Petersen’s tenure. The Broncos lost four games in 2013, which amounted to one-third of Petersen’s total losses in his eight seasons at Boise.
This year’s Boise State team looks very formidable—one that a power conference team would not like to face in a bowl game. The Broncos are loaded with weapons on the offensive side of the ball, and Harsin has made sure that creativity and trickery remain BSU staples.
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Senior Grant Hedrick has blossomed into a lethal dual-threat quarterback, passing for 20 touchdowns and rushing for six more so far this season. He ranks 10th in the nation in passer rating, according to ESPN.com, and has continued to improve throughout the year.
However, Hedrick has greatly benefited from the presence of Jay Ajayi. Ajayi leads the nation with a whopping 276 carries and forces defenses to put more people in the box to stop the run, allowing Hedrick plenty of space to operate his aerial attack. Ajayi has also been an integral part of the passing game, recording the third-most catches on the team and four touchdowns.
In the third quarter of the Broncos’ 63-14 romp of Wyoming on Saturday, Ajayi caught a screen pass and raced 73 yards for a touchdown. With that terrific catch-and-run, Ajayi set the school record for yards from scrimmage in a single season.
A receiving corps consisting of Shane Williams-Rhodes, Thomas Sperbeck and Chaz Anderson has responded admirably since star wide receiver Matt Miller was lost for the season with an ankle injury. Williams-Rhodes leads the team in catches, Sperbeck leads the team in receiving yards and Anderson leads in yards per catch.
The defense has struggled mightily at times, but the offense has been good enough to bail the team out in most games. The Broncos sit at 9-2 on the season and are one win away from the Mountain West Conference championship game. Should they win out, the Broncos have a solid chance of sneaking into a top-tier bowl.
In ESPN.com’s most recent bowl projections, both Mark Schlabach and Brett McMurphy picked Boise State to play UCLA in the VIZIO Fiesta Bowl. Also, the Broncos worked their way into the AP Top 25 for the first time in 2014. It marks the 13th consecutive season that Boise State has been ranked in the AP or coaches poll at least once in a season.
This year’s team is not quite as dominant as the Broncos were in Petersen’s prime—when Kellen Moore was handing off to Doug Martin and throwing to Austin Pettis and Titus Young—but it is playing remarkably better than it did the past two seasons.
And Harsin deserves a ton of credit for the transformation. He has made the offense more efficient and productive while at the same time keeping the Boise State edge that Petersen developed.
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The Broncos have not cracked either of the first two of the College Football Playoff rankings, but with their recent impressive play, that may change on Tuesday when the new polls will be released.
BSU lost its season opener to an Ole Miss squad that was in the playoff conversation until this weekend and then got outplayed by Air Force four weeks later, losing 28-14. In that game, the Broncos turned the ball over seven times, including four Hedrick interceptions. Since then, though, they have won six straight games, averaging more than 50 points per game, and Hedrick has thrown only four interceptions.
They are playing their best football in three years, peaking at just the right time, and if they are picked to play in a premier bowl, they will be a tough matchup for whomever they play. They might not be as talented as their opponent, but that has never intimidated them before.
If it’s a close game at the end, the Broncos have shown they have a knack for an exciting finish. Whether it’s the hook-and-ladder, Statue of Liberty or another trick play, Harsin will not be afraid to pull the trigger.
Watch out for the Broncos—not only this year, but in the future—because Bryan Harsin has picked up right where Petersen left off.