Plenty to like: Broncos finish spring practices on high note in spring game

April 7, 2019 GMT

BOISE — It was tough for Boise State coach Bryan Harsin to be completely pleased.

Sure he liked that his offense didn’t turn the ball over once during Saturday’s Spring Game at Albertsons Stadium. But that meant his defense didn’t force any turnovers.

He didn’t like that his quarterbacks were sacked eight times. But the flip side was the defense was getting into the backfield and causing problems.

Several wide receivers impressed and the offense finished with 367 passing yards. But that meant the secondary struggled to slow them down through the air — something that was a problem last season.

There were plenty of things both good and bad for the Broncos to take away from the final spring practice Saturday in front of 6,841 fans. But nobody would argue there’s still plenty of improvement needed before they open up the season on Aug. 31 against Florida State.

“I thought the guys finished up spring ball really well,” Harsin said. “A lot of things we’ve talked about and some positions we needed to see, I thought they showed up today. We’ll go back and watch it and study it and bring all the cut-ups together and evaluate that going into the offseason.”

The obvious storyline going into Saturday — the quarterbacks — proved to again have some ups and downs. Senior Jaylon Henderson got the first action with the starting offense and was the best of the group, completing 9 of 13 passes for 187 yards.

But Hank Bachmeier, the highly-touted freshman most fans were excited to see Saturday, finished just 3 of 7 for 33 yards. His 33 yards were the fewest among all five quarterbacks that saw action, including walk-on Zach Matlock.

“A few too many sacks, but I thought overall those guys came out prepared pretty well and executed and some of their fundamentals we’re working through are showing up,” offensive coordinator Zak Hill said. “The young guys are getting reps and starting to figure it out. I thought they all were focused and executed pretty well. ... There were a lot of good things.”

Playing time may have provided a hint for the leader in Boise State’s search for a starter at running back. Andrew Van Buren had 12 carries for 47 yards, while Robert Mahone had just five carries for 26 yards. Mahone scored one of the three offensive touchdowns in the game, while Van Buren provided the longest run of the game with a 20-yard burst.

At wide receiver, both Khalil Shakir and John Hightower reminded how much they were missed late last season when they were out due to injuries. Both appeared to be back at full strength Saturday — and both had highlight reel plays.

Shakir had three catches for 96 yards, including a nifty 53-yard touchdown in which he made a player miss and tip-toed his way down the sidelines. Hightower had impressive catches of 37 and 36 yards from two different quarterbacks — Kaiden Bennett and Matlock.

“It was my first time in a game atmosphere stepping on the field since I was out last season, so it was good to get out there and play with the team,” Shakir said. “Making plays gets everybody going and everybody feeds off the energy. ... It felt really good. I’m all smiles today.”

On defense, the Broncos had plenty of positives despite allowing some yards through the air. Curtis Weaver, who had 20.5 sacks the past two seasons, was credited with two sacks Saturday and probably would have had a couple more as quarterbacks weren’t allowed to be tackled and instead were ruled down when a defensive player touched them.

Tyreque Jones had five tackles and a pass breakup and provided one of the highlights on defense when he stripped the ball from Henderson as he was getting ready to throw it. The ball bounced out of bounds before he could pick it up, but Jones was credited with a sack on the play.

Chris Mitchell had six tackles to lead the defense, while STUD Dylan Herberg had three tackles, a sack, a quarterback hurry and two pass breakups.

“Especially with the first group, I saw the ability to pressure and confuse the quarterback, there’s no question,” new defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding said. “We have a pretty good idea now of what we have and how to improve going forward.”

Boise State’s next team practice will come sometime around Aug. 1 when it starts fall camp. That’s almost four months of summer conditioning workouts, player-run-practices and film study before the Broncos will get back on the field together as a group.

And the Broncos hope to use that time wisely.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” corner Avery Williams said. “Even though spring ball is over, we can still watch film, we can still do one-on-ones with receivers and get better.”


Boise State was without 19 players for Saturday’s scrimmage due to injury. Those players were: tight end Garrett Collingham, tight end Cole Ramseyer, wide receiver Billy Bowens, wide receiver Octavius Evans, running back Spencer Keene, running back Danny Smith, offensive lineman Dalton Lins, offensive lineman Donte Harrington, quarterback Chase Cord, STUD Demitri Washington, STUD Casey Kline, STUD Aisa Kelemete, STUD Sam Whitney, safety A.J. Smith, cornerback Tyric LeBeauf, linebacker Riley Whimpey, defensive lineman David Moa, defensive end Chase Hatada, linebacker Phillip Mills.

Whitney and Harrington are the only two that sat out Saturday that shouldn’t be back by the start of the season. Both are dealing with ACL tears.