BOISE — The first word out of Boise State offensive line coach Brad Bedell’s mouth Wednesday during an interview after practice may have said it all when it comes to describing how his group has played lately.
“Rough,” Bedell said. “Not going to sugar coat it.”
Boise State’s offensive line has struggled mightily for much of the season and had another rough game last Saturday against San Diego State. The Broncos rushed for just 51 yards on 36 attempts and also gave up four sacks and 6.0 tackles-for-loss.
The last three games have been particularly bad. Boise State has allowed 13.0 sacks, 25.0 tackles-for-loss and rushed for an average of just 82 yards per game. The Broncos are 1-2 in those games.
“Extremely frustrating,” Bedell said. “But I can’t take back the games. I can just get them better. Understand what the standard is, understand what the expectations are and let’s go. … We understand that we have to raise our game in the run game and protect the quarterback. It’s no secret. They are determined, eager, and they are working extremely hard. I give them a lot of credit. I’m working them extremely hard. We have to get things fixed and they understand that.”
Bedell said struggles in both pass protection and the run game have been equally upsetting, especially for a group that returned four starters and was expected to be a strength of the offense.
Boise State ranks 90th out of 130 FBS teams with an average of just 151.4 rushing yards per game and also ranks 90th with 14 sacks allowed. The Broncos rank No. 82 with an average of 6.4 tackles-for-loss allowed per game.
“We want to run the ball and we’ll keep saying that because that’s what we believe and that will never change, but right now we’re no good at it,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “For our standard we’re no good at it. We have a lot of football left and it better change. It better change, because if you’re one dimensional that’s not going to be good for any type of offense and we’ve made our selves way that at times. It’s not good enough, and it’s not going to get us into a position to be successful offensively.”
The offensive line has received more criticism and negative attention than any other position on the team in 2018. They got off to a similar slow start last year but were able to regroup and get better as the season went on.
That hasn’t happened, at least to this point. After a strong start — the Broncos allowed just one sack and seven tackles-for-loss in impressive wins against Troy and UConn — they’ve taken a significant step back the last three weeks.
“Let’s revisit the expectations of this offensive line for the past decade,” Bedell said of a group that has had three offensive linemen drafted in the past five years. “That right there is one thing that these guys need to realize and they work and they understand it. It’s not like we’re hiding from it. They are working. They understand it’s not right. I understand it’s not right. I have to get it fixed, and we will get it fixed.”
Bedell certainly didn’t shy away from the struggles Wednesday. He took questions for more than 12 minutes and gave thorough, honest answers as to why his group hasn’t played up to level many expected them to be at.
“I’m not going to hide,” Bedell said. “I understand I coach these guys and I love them to death and they are my guys, but I understand that I’ve got to get them better and we’ve got to get them better. … When things don’t go our way and you don’t have great offensive production, the majority of the guys on the field at one time are from the offensive line. I understand that. I’m in my office, I’m watching film, I’m doing the things in our process to win a football game and evaluating myself on some things I’ve done and where I can change to get things better.”
The simple answer, Bedell says, is that “we’ve got to get better at overall consistency.”
Bedell pointed out that some, including left tackle Ezra Cleveland, have played well, but said the group hasn’t had enough plays where all five guys did their job at the same time.
“That’s one thing about the offensive line, you can have four guys have a great play and one guy breaks down and we have a tackle-for-loss,” Bedell said. “I think we’re getting some of that. We need to play better and more consistent as a unit.”
Both Bedell and offensive coordinator Zak Hill left open the possibility that changes could be coming to the lineup. The Broncos could do a number of things including shifting guys on the line to different spots, or replacing someone altogether.
Right guard Eric Quevedo and right tackle Andres Preciado have received the majority of the criticism from fans for the struggles up front.
“We’re going to have an intense week of practice and guys have a chip on their shoulder and we’ll see what that starting five looks like,” Hill said. “Every week you’re looking at who gives us the best chance to win, and if that’s mixing things up, that’s what it is.”
Quarterback Brett Rypien said Wednesday that he feels the offensive line is “close” to figuring things out in the run game and opening up some big holes for running back Alexander Mattison.
The line no doubt has to improve if the Broncos are going to go on an extended winning streak and overcome a disappointing 3-2 start. They are hoping it starts Saturday.
“We’re digging deep,” Bedell said. “Sit in a bunker, hunker down and get better and be determined to raise our standard. … It’s not like I’m just frustrated. These guys are not hiding either. They understand we have to get better and they understand what the expectation is and what the standard is and let’s go, and a new opportunity against Nevada is a great way to start.”