BOISE – Wide receiver Khalil Shakir would be perfectly fine if Boise State took the lead every game before the offense even takes the field.
“Oh yeah, of course,” Khalil said with a smile.
Boise State blocked two punts and returned them for touchdowns, including one on the first possession of the game, and the defense had two turnovers and pitched its first shutout since 2015 in a 37-0 drubbing of New Mexico on Saturday night at Albertsons Stadium.
It was Boise State’s first shutout since a 55-0 win over Hawaii in 2015. And it sent the seniors off with wins in their final two home games after the Broncos uncharacteristically lost three straight on The Blue earlier this season.
“The guys did an unbelievable job preparing,” coach Andy Avalos said. “It was good for the seniors to be able to go out like that.”
The Broncos (7-4, 5-2 MW) won a fourth consecutive game to stay alive in the Mountain Division race, although the scenario remains somewhat bleak heading into the final week of the regular season. Boise State needs to beat San Diego State on Black Friday and have 2-9 UNLV beat Air Force to win the Mountain Division.
Boise State’s defense allowed just 103 total yards to New Mexico. It’s the fewest yards allowed by the Broncos since the 2015 Poinsettia Bowl, when Northern Illinois had just 33 yards. It’s just the fifth time in the last 20 years in which a Boise State opponent didn’t reach 105 total yards.
“There’s no doubt that doesn’t very happen,” Avalos said. “It was great to see. We had a lot of plays behind the line of scrimmage.”
And the Broncos needed it thanks to an offense that racked up 427 yards but had just two touchdowns.
Shakir did his part – hauling in seven catches for 116 yards in his likely final home game – and running back George Holani rushed for 114 yards on 14 carries for his third straight 100-yard game. Hank Bachmeier struggled some, completing just 11 of 22 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown.
But it was the defense and special teams that stole the show.
Boise State took the lead before the offense even ran a play and never looked back. It was that kind of night.
Kekaula Kaniho blocked a punt on New Mexico’s first possession of the game, and Tyreque Jones picked it up and ran six yards into the end zone for an early 7-0 lead.
“It was surreal,” Jones said. “I didn’t even know what to do when I got in the end zone.”
Jonah Dalmas connected on a 27-yard field goal late in the first quarter. The Broncos led 10-0 after the first 15 minutes despite only having 44 total yards. The reason? New Mexico only had five yards.
Boise State’s punt block team did it again in the second quarter. This time it was Alex Teubner who broke in and blocked the Aaron Rodriguez punt, and it was Timberline graduate Dylan Herberg who scooped it up and went seven yards into the end zone for another score.
It marked the first time since Boise State joined the FBS in 1996 in which the Broncos scored two touchdowns on blocked punts before reaching the end zone on offense.
“The momentum there with being able to get those explosive plays on special teams and not only that but to be able to get points on the board early in the game, it was a great job by coach (Stacy) Collins obviously finding something there,” Avalos said. “The last couple weeks we’ve been close on a couple and the boys were going to get it done for coach Collins this week.”
The New Mexico offense entered the game literally dead last in the country in scoring at just 13.6 points per game. They ranked No. 129 of 130 teams in total yards at barely 250 per game. They didn’t come close to either of those on Saturday – thanks in part to a dominant effort by Boise State’s defense.
The Lobos had just 46 yards of offense in the first half. Of their 21 running plays, 10 of them went for no gain or a loss.
And a costly turnover late in the second quarter helped the Broncos deliver the knockout blow. Shane Irwin forced a fumble with a hit of quarterback Connor Genal, and JL Skinner scooped it up and returned it to the Bronco 44 with 17 seconds left.
After an incomplete pass, Bachmeier heaved a perfect pass and hit Shakir in stride for a 56-yard touchdown on the final play of the half to send the Broncos into the locker room with a 24-0 lead.
“He slung that ball and I honestly didn’t think I was going to get there,” Shakir said. “Without him throwing that ball perfect and the o-line blocking it up, I don’t do what I do if it’s not for those guys doing their job.”
Boise State’s offense struggled to do much in the second half, settling for two Dalmas field goals in the third quarter to lead 30-0 heading into the fourth.
But it didn’t matter thanks to New Mexico’s painfully-hard-to-watch offense and Boise State’s dominant defense. New Mexico had just 67 yards of offense entering the fourth quarter.
Jack Sears relieved Bachmeier in the fourth quarter and scored on a 1-yard rushing touchdown to give the Broncos a 37-0 lead.
The defense did the rest, preserving the first shutout in six years with a dominant effort.
After starting the season 3-4, the Broncos will now look to close out the regular season Friday with a fifth-straight win at San Diego State – and hope to get some help from UNLV in Colorado Springs.
“We’ve emphasized to be back-half champs,” Shakir said. “After that bye week we all sat down and looked at each other and said how do we want to go out? How do we want to finish the season?
“We had to flip a switch. We could sit there and be sorry for ourselves and finish the season very average or we could turn it up a notch and that’s what we did. … Back-half champs and everybody is really believing that and if everything plays in our favor, we’re going to go do what we do.”