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Boise State on top of the world at rock bottom

Photo by Steve Conner/Icon Sportswire

Still undefeated. Not bad for what might end up being Boise State’s worst performance all season.

Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin can exhale after surviving a 28-27 win over BYU Thursday night, which included a clock-stopping pass on third down to close the Broncos’ final possession; the Cougars driving into Boise State territory with a chance to win; and the combination of both a field goal try and a Hail Mary attempt.

But unlike last year, when the Broncos lost to BYU on a Hail Mary, there was to be no Cougar rally. Last year, the Broncos were also vulnerable at home, with losses to New Mexico and Air Force. One of those was paid back in kind. The defeat of BYU was Boise State paying back another receipt from the 2015 season, albeit in ugly fashion.

If Harsin has reason to breathe a sigh of relief, there’s more than the outcome itself. To survive a rock-bottom kind of performance means there’s nowhere for Boise State to go but up.

Thursday’s effort was the bizarre kind of performance one only gets from college football. The Broncos were thoroughly dominant for much of the night, limiting BYU to a single offensive touchdown and outgaining the Cougars a whopping 571 yards to 322.

The lows were especially low, however.

Boise State finished minus-5 in the turnover battle. That would be tough to replicate at any point this season, even if the Broncos tried.

In fact, Boise State’s remaining five opponents are a combined -1 on turnover margin for the season. It’s safe to say the Broncos won’t endure another night so heavy on giveaways.

On top of losing the turnover battle by five, Boise State also failed to capitalize on a gift-wrapped scoring opportunity, when BYU attempted a fake punt on 4th and 19 from the Cougars’ own end zone in the second quarter.

All told, Boise State could have won by a few touchdowns. The margin’s irrelevant to the bigger picture, though.

The Broncos survived against arguably the most talented opponent it will see for the remainder of the season, and did so in a poor showing.

Not that it was all bad for the Broncos. Running back Jeremy McNichols proved unequivocally that playmakers deliver when it’s most needed.

Despite BYU stymieing the Boise State rushing attack for the first three quarters, McNichols carried the Bronco offense on his back on what proved to be the game-winning drive. His touchdown rush capped a 140-yard night.

College football’s most prolific scorer over the last two nights demonstrated what big-time players do in the clutch. McNichols’ place in the Bronco offense will continue to guide Boise State as quarterback Brett Rypien continues to grow.

Thursday demonstrated that the true sophomore has plenty of room left.

Rypien passed for 442 yards, but his two pick-sixes gave life to a BYU team that was badly overmatched in the game’s opening minutes. The Broncos built an early 14-0 lead that could have turned much more lopsided.

That opening quarter did manage to show Boise State’s a legitimate heavyweight, despite some close games through the first half of the Broncos’ schedule.

Boise State hasn’t won as cleanly as it could in games against Washington State, Utah State, Colorado State and now BYU, but the final result is all the same. The Broncos are 7-0. Still undefeated.

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