Fresno State has watched Boise State’s trick plays on film and seen a few in person.
From either view, it’s been tough to stomach.
The last time the Bulldogs fell victim, Boise State pulled off a reverse pass as quarterback Grant Hedrick caught a touchdown for the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter of the Broncos’ 37-27 regular-season victory in October.
“They can confuse some defenses, mess with their minds,” Bulldogs safety Derron Smith said. “They got one on us.”
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Fresno State can take some solace in the fact that Boise State has abused plenty of teams with timely trickery that has become as much of a Broncos trademark as their signature blue turf.
The Bulldogs are spending a portion of each practice this week, ahead of Saturday night’s rematch in the Mountain West Championship game, stressing trick-play defense.
They won’t necessarily have the scout team attempting double passes, statue-of-liberty runs or hook-and-laterals. But the defensive staff will make sure to point out the possibilities while practicing for the more typical components of the Boise State playbook.
“You got to show and tell your kids to expect the unexpected,” defensive coordinator Nick Toth said. “Some of it is our call matching up right. Some of it is crazy effort, which can overcome them. There are some things they’ve shown and repeated that you work on at practice. And discipline is a huge part of it. Getting lucky helps, too.
“You’re trying to coach against their offense and a portion of their offense are trick plays, gadget plays, that we’ll spend time working on.”
Boise State actually attempted three trick plays against Fresno State in their prior meeting this season.
The Broncos tried a double pass that the Bulldogs sniffed out and turned into a 1-yard loss. Boise State tried another double pass that receiver Thomas Sperbeck completed for 29 yards on a drive that eventually led to a field goal.
On the touchdown play, Boise State faked a fly sweep to the left as Hedrick handed off to Jeremy McNichols, who pitched to Sperbeck on a reverse to the right. Sperbeck then tossed 9 yards to a wide-open Hedrick in the end zone just as the Bulldogs defense closed in.
“We just need to stay disciplined,” Smith said. “Trick plays are nothing but trying to get your eyes in the wrong spot, get you out of position, and then hit you where you’re supposed to be.”
Toth added that an aggressive approach could help the Bulldogs defense not just stop trick plays but slow down the Broncos offense overall. Boise State has averaged 53.2 points in five games since playing Fresno State.
Running back Jay Ajayi is averaging 134.9 rushing yards and 44.7 receiving yards per game and has scored 28 total touchdowns, including five in Boise State’s 50-19 win against Utah State last week.
Hedrick has a nation-best 71.5% completion percentage while throwing for 22 touchdowns and an average of 269.3 passing yards. The fifth-year senior threw 10 interceptions through the first six games but only three in the past six outings.
Shane Williams-Rhodes, a 5-foot-6, 158-pound junior, is the top receiver with 585 yards and seven touchdowns.
“They’re at full speed right now,” Toth said. “They’re better than they’ve been all year. Their execution has been most impressive. You can tell they’re detail-oriented as players and coaches.
“It’s going to be a challenge. We’ve got to not be reacting the whole time. We can’t be on our heels. You’ve got to say, ‘Hey, we’re coming after you a little bit.’ And hopefully that changes things up.”