Instant analysis: Blowout loss at No. 10 Washington an instant gut-check for Broncos

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Boise State opened its 2023 football season Saturday with a lopsided loss at No. 10 Washington, 56-19. Here’s a quick look inside the game.

Main takeaway: The defense, which had to replace several starters, will be a work in progress. And will need a lot of work.

But let’s be fair here — the Broncos, who last season held opponents to under 20 points per game, won’t see a passing offense like this again the rest of the season, and certainly won’t see a quarterback like Michael Penix Jr., who threw for 450 yards and five touchdowns.

To start the game, the defense actually looked well-schooled and well-prepared, blowing up bubble screens and intermediate throws from Penix, attacking and tackling hard, and forcing two first-quarter punts quickly. But then the deep throws and big plays became a problem, so that’s where the work will have to be focused. Too many receivers — and make no mistake, Washington has high-caliber receivers — were open behind and in the secondary.

There also was an inability to pressure Penix with any consistency. Boise State had just one sack, and that came in the first quarter.

Next week’s opponent, UCF, boasts a big offense as well, meaning the start of the Broncos’ season already has extra urgency. Coach Andy Avalos talks a lot about the importance of responding to adversity, and his team will need to do that.

Main question: Was Boise State’s pass-heavy offense a sign of things to come or just a one-off for the opening game?

Each college football game takes on a life of its own. The score, the defense, the pace, the feel, the injuries — they all dictate what gets called. But new offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan almost seemed to be saying from the start, hey, everyone thinks we are a rushing team first, we’ll show them otherwise.

Leading 9-7 in the second quarter with the ball on their own 10-yard line, the Broncos went pass, pass, pass, punt. Every first-half drive except one featured more passes than runs.

There is no shame in being a run-first team, of course. And there is no shame in having a quarterback whose strong suit is his legs rather than his arm. Taylen Green (19-for-39 passing with 2 interceptions) looked very much as he did last season, missing throws low, high and wide. A couple of times his receivers bailed him out by scooping up low balls; at least four times they had drops.

Green is still an incredibly dangerous runner, something he did just five times officially, and a couple of those were scrambles.

Once the score got lopsided, more throws would be expected. But this seemed to be an offense determined to be pass-first Saturday. Next week should give a much better indication of where the Broncos are headed in the long run.

Main drive: After Boise State opened the second half with a 75-yard TD march to cut Washington’s lead to 28-19 and try to grab momentum, the Huskies went 80 yards in four plays, with a 50-yard strike from Penix to Ja’Lynn Polk burning the defense and setting up the score. Just like that it was a big lead again.

Main stat: Washington had 12 plays that went for 20 yards or more among its 550-plus yards of offense.

Up next: Boise State has its home opener against UCF, a pretty good team that opened the season with a 56-6 win over Kent State, a pretty bad team. The Broncos opened the Andy Avalos era in 2021 with a tough 36-31 loss at UCF in 2021. Kickoff is 5 p.m. at Albertsons Stadium.

Jim Keyser is the Idaho Statesman’s assistant editor, including overseeing sports. He was a sportswriter and sports copy editor in Kentucky from 1990-97, 2003-06 and 2010-11, covering high schools, the universities of Kentucky and Louisville, and the Kentucky Derby and other events.