BOISE, Idaho — Boise State has a long way to go if it wants to crash the New Year’s Six bowl party, but the Broncos did what they needed to do Saturday night to check off another win and keep its early-season momentum rolling.
Jeremy McNichols accounted for 226 all-purpose yards, including 132 yards rushing and a 61-yard touchdown reception, to lead No. 24 Boise State to a 21-10 victory over Utah State.
“Having (McNichols) on the field is fantastic,” Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien said. “He can do so many different things because he’s strong in a lot of different areas.”
McNichols’ offensive prowess was on full display Saturday night, but he was almost overshadowed by wide receiver Cedrick Wilson. Wilson threw a touchdown pass to McNichols and hauled in a 36-yard touchdown pass from Rypien.
The Broncos (4-0, 1-0) led 7-3 at halftime before taking control in the second half with a pair of touchdown passes by Brett Rypien and a stout defensive performance.
“I think there were some demons we needed to exorcise, especially on the offensive side of the ball, and we did that,” Boise State coach Brian Harsin said, whose team lost 52-26 last season to Utah State. “But when your defense plays well, that’s always exciting. I certainly get fired up when we play well on defense like we did tonight.”
McNichols, who was named the Mountain West Conference offensive player of the week for his performance against Oregon State, continued to power the Broncos.
His 61-yard touchdown reception on a pass from Wilson gave Boise State a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. In the fourth quarter, Boise State turned to McNichols to grind out the clock and secure the victory.
Utah State (2-3, 0-2) didn’t get the help it received last season in its win over the Broncos when Boise State committed eight turnovers.
“I thought our defense played well, but the culture around Utah State now is that we gave up too many points,” Aggies coach Matt Wells said.
Utah State failed to score on Boise State’s lone turnover when it recovered a muffed punt at the Broncos 25. After the Aggies’ offense stalled in the red zone, Brock Warren pushed a 32-yard field goal attempt wide left just on the final play of the half.
“What hurts you is you miss that field goal and you know it’s going to come back to haunt you,” Wells said. “And sure enough, it came back to haunt us.”
With leading rusher Devante Mays out with a right knee injury, Utah State struggled to mount any sustained drives on offense. The Aggies were held well below their 26.2 points per game average and narrowly avoided their first game without a touchdown since 2012.
Utah State: The Aggies will have to readjust their goals in Mountain West Conference play moving forward. Back-to-back losses to division front runners Air Force and Boise State along with a remaining tilt with San Diego State puts a serious dent in Utah State’s hopes of emerging out of the Mountain Division and playing in the conference title game.
Boise State: The Broncos took a big step toward solving their second-half woes, which has been a point of emphasis for Harsin. Against both Washington State and Oregon State, Boise State was outscored in the second half and struggled to maintain its big lead. But against Utah State, the Broncos surrendered only one drive of more than four plays and outscored the Aggies 14-7 in the second half.
Playing in its first game since cracking the Top 25 for the first time this season, Boise State looks to rise this week after five of the seven teams directly ahead of them lost. The Broncos will likely also become the highest-ranked Mountain West team after No. 19 San Diego State lost to South Alabama.
Utah State: The Aggies stay on the road to face division foe Colorado State on Saturday.
Boise State: The Broncos have a shortened week to get ready for a divisional road game at New Mexico on Friday.
Utah State’s Anthony Williams was ejected for targeting near the end of the third quarter after hitting Boise State punt returner Akilian Butler as he was preparing to catch the ball. The officials on the field initially flagged Williams for kick-catch interference, but the replay official reviewed the play and ruled it more egregious.
AP college football website: http://collegefootball.ap.org