Chris Petersen hoped his return to Boise State would be welcoming, but the Broncos proved capable enough on offense to hold off Petersen’s Washington Huskies Friday night at Albertsons Stadium. Behind a strong all-around performance from running back Jeremy McNichols and a defensive effort that took advantage of Washington starting true freshman quarterback Jake Browning, No. 23 Boise State emerged with a 16–13 win.
Boise State looked much stronger in the first half, entering halftime with a 16–0 lead. Turnovers and defensive lapses allowed the Huskies back in it, but the Broncos were able to end the game in victory formation after Washington junior kicker Cameron Van Winkle missed a 46-yard attempt wide right with 0:21 left.
Here are three thoughts from Petersen’s Boise State reunion and the Broncos’ win:
1. Petersen’s return to Boise State was all business
The dominant storyline entering Friday’s game was how Petersen would be greeted by the Boise State crowd and how, of course, his Washington team would fare at the start of its second year with him at the helm.
ESPN’s Quint Kessenich reported from the sideline in the first half that Petersen and Bryan Harsin—Petersen’s successor as Boise State’s head coach—did not shake hands on the Broncos’ blue turf before the game. Coming out of halftime with Boise State leading 16–0, Kessenich asked Petersen about the warm reception the Albertsons Stadium crowd gave him.
“Great people here,” was all Petersen replied, obviously eager to get his Huskies back onto the field.
Harsin, meanwhile, led the Broncos to a win that was much closer than it should have been, considering their two-touchdown lead. With its remaining non-conference games coming against BYU, Idaho State and Virginia, Boise State seems primed for a hot start entering Mountain West play.
2. Boise State’s offense will revolve around McNichols until Finley is ready
McNichols received only 17 carries for 159 yards and one touchdown last season backing up Miami Dolphins fifth-round pick Jay Ajayi. He also only caught 15 passes for 155 yards and one touchdown.
Friday night, McNichols displayed both skills from the start, finishing with 24 carries for 89 yards and two touchdowns. Both of his scores came in the first half and capped lengthy scoring drives, something Washington was unable to replicate while going scoreless into halftime.
With Boise State breaking in sophomore quarterback Ryan Finley, McNichols figures to be at the center of the Broncos’ veteran offense, where most of the returning talent is along the offensive line.
Boise State stands to benefit from building around McNichols, as Friday night showed. Once Washington began to key on McNichols late in the first half and into the second, Finley was unable to extend the Broncos’ lead. After Washington scored its first touchdown on a 76-yard punt return by Dante Pettis with less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter, Finley overthrew Chaz Anderson on a pass downfield that could have led to a long catch-and-run touchdown. Washington eventually drew within three points of tying the game in the fourth quarter before Van Winkle's miss in the game’s final seconds.
One slight positive for Finley, who went 16 of 26 for 129 yards and one touchdown, is his mobility. The sophomore rushed 11 times for 30 yards, mostly on tuck-and-runs after plays had broken down.
3. Washington needs work, but can build around Browning
The true freshman flashed early in the first half, but was stronger in the second half, also using his mobility to keep plays alive while Washington made its comeback. He finished 20 of 34 for 150 yards and one interception. The Huskies’ offensive line, which did not allow Browning sufficient time to pass all night, deflated those numbers.
Petersen played Washington’s quarterback battle close to the vest up until the opener, but ultimately settled on Browning to become the Huskies’ first true freshman quarterback to start a season. Browning came to Washington after a prolific prep career at Folsom (Calif.) High School, passing for a national record 229 career touchdown passes.
Browning did have his share of mistakes, tossing an interception in the first half and taking a sack on Boise State’s half of the field as Washington was driving for what could have been a game-tying field goal. For a freshman debut, however, Browning should Petersen enough to build off moving forward.