Even though Boise State is no longer a pass-happy, high scoring offense, the Broncos are still finding ways to win.
Gone are the days when the offense put up 40 points or more on the arms of quarterbacks throwing for 400 yards and a fistful of touchdowns — at least for now.
On Saturday, the No. 24 Broncos rushed for 215 yards and the defense forced two turnovers, notched three sacks and didn't allow a touchdown until the final minutes en route to a 20-10 victory over Fresno State.
For the Broncos (5-1, 2-0 Mountain West), it doesn't matter how the wins come.
"It starts with our defense. Those guys are playing really hard and to hold Fresno to 10 points is really impressive," said coach Chris Petersen, who beat Fresno State for the seventh straight time.
"We had a couple things where you don't like to be kicking field goals on the 1-yard line, but we just kind of felt like it was going to be that type of game. Our defense was playing well and we took the points" from field goals.
Senior D.J. Harper led the offense, rushing for 122 yards on 21 carries — his third game this year topping the 100-yard mark — and he put the Broncos up 17-0 two minutes before the half with a nifty 28-yard touchdown run. After breaking through the Fresno State line, Harper spun away from a linebacker, raced down the sideline and dove and stretched the ball just enough to break the plane of the goal line. The score was upheld after an official review.
Harper's backfield counterpart Jay Ajayi added 82 yards on 14 carries and the Broncos amassed 335 total yards on offense.
Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick was 11 of 22 for 113 yards passing and one interception. Southwick put the Broncos up in the first quarter when he fired a 10-yard touchdown to Geraldo Boldewijn, who got open on an out move in the left corner of the end zone. Southwick didn't make any big mistakes in the game, but he struggled again to turn some promising drives into touchdowns.
But Southwick's struggles were masked by another impressive performance by the defense.
The Broncos held Fresno State scoreless in the first half, the fourth straight game the Broncos defense has held foes scoreless in the first two quarters, and allowed just 56 yards rushing.
The defense also squelched a Bulldog scoring drive in the opening minutes of the third quarter when Dextrell Simmons jumped a route in front of Rashad Evans and picked off Derek Carr's pass deep in Boise State territory.
Then midway through the fourth quarter, Broncos defensive end Demarcus Lawerence chased down Carr and stripped the ball, which was recovered by nose tackle Mike Atkinson on the Bulldog 21. Michael Frisina, who hit a pair of 19-yard field goals, missed a chance to tack on more points when his 37-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.
"We talk about being the best defense every week, and we show up to practice with that mentality," said linebacker J.C. Percy, who had a game-high 14 tackles. "Practice carries over into the game time situations. This whole week of practice was by far the best week of practice for us. We wanted to go out there and prove that we're a great defense, and we were able to do that again."
For the Bulldogs, the loss dropped them out of a tie for first with Nevada. But it was also a game of missed opportunities and costly mistakes. The defense, number one in the nation heading into the game with 20 turnovers, got just one. As a team, the Bulldogs were penalized nine times for 85 yards, including a roughing the passer call that wiped out an interception that could have stopped a Broncos drive that ended with a field goal.
The Bulldogs' no-huddle offense got on track in the second half, got into scoring position several times and the defense was holding Boise State within reach.
Fresno State finally got on the board late in the third quarter when Quentin Breshears nailed a 39-yard field goal to pull within 20-3. Then late in the game, Carr engineered a nine-play, 80-yard drive capped by a 3-yard TD pass to Evans to get within 20-10.
But the Bulldogs failed to capitalize on the ensuing onside kick when Boldewijn leapt high to bat the ball out of bounds.
"I'm extremely disappointed. We came into this game expecting to compete, we expected to win," said first-year coach Tim DeRuyter. "We didn't do a good enough job coaching. It's a credit to them, they did, give them credit. It's frustrating because we had the capability to get it done and we didn't."
Carr was 29 of 43 for 266 yards and the Bulldogs amassed 322 yards of total offense.