The rash of turnovers ceased a few months back and an impressive completion percentage has dropped off only slightly — but still leads the nation.
Quarterback Grant Hedrick might have been viewed as a liability to Boise State’s offense before, particularly after throwing four interceptions during each of the Broncos’ two losses in the season’s first five weeks.
But the fifth-year senior has proved he’s more than just a game manager whose primary responsibility is to hand off the ball to star running back Jay Ajayi.
Hedrick has developed into a reliable playmaker, helping push No. 22 Boise State (10-2, 7-1) to the brink of making a New Year’s Six bowl with a victory against Fresno State (6-6, 5-3) in the Mountain West championship Saturday.
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Since Hedrick completed 21 of 30 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown in Boise State’s 37-27 win against Fresno State on Oct. 17, the Broncos quarterback has averaged 280.2 passing yards per game while completing 70.9% of his passes. Hedrick also has thrown 14 touchdowns to three interceptions and helped Boise State generate an average of 53.2 points per game in that same stretch.
“Grant has done a great job of just putting together a game plan, how we want to execute the game plan and actually doing it,” first-year Broncos coach Bryan Harsin said. “Grant is a guy that’s got a lot of ability. He runs the ball. He can throw the ball effectively. I think he’s understanding what we’re trying to accomplish.”
For the season, Hedrick has completed a nation-best 71.3% of his passes (261 of 365) for 3,041 yards (253.4 average) and 20 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. But of his interceptions, 10 were committed before Boise State played Fresno State in their first meeting.
The 6-foot, 195-pound Hedrick also has rushed 138 times for 482 yards (40.2 per game) and six touchdowns. Against the Bulldogs, Hedrick rushed for 56 yards and gained three first downs and also created a few third-and-1 situations all with his legs.
“I think he’s playing as well as anybody in this conference,” Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter said. “He’s always been a threat running the game. He’s extremely fast. He hurt us in that game extending drives with his feet. But he’s really throwing the ball in rhythm and on time and hurting people with his feet. He’s a big-time difference from a year ago or even halfway through the season when we played them.”
Earlier in the season when Hedrick was still getting familiar with Harsin’s offense that featured several pre-snap shifts and motions, the Broncos quarterback got picked off four times in Boise State’s 35-13 season-opening loss against Ole Miss in Atlanta. Then after throwing just one interception in the next three games, Hedrick again was hit by the turnover bug and threw four more interceptions in a 28-14 loss at Air Force.
At home on Boise State’s blue turf, Hedrick has kept his mistakes to a minimum, completing 73.1% of his passes for an average of 261.2 passing yards and with 10 touchdowns to four interceptions.
The only game in which Hedrick threw multiple interceptions at home was Boise State’s 38-29 win against San Diego State on Nov. 15. The Broncos trailed by 20 points with Hedrick throwing two picks in the first half before going on a 31-3 run. Boise State made a field goal with 3:25 to go in the first half then Hedrick threw a 14-yard touchdown just before halftime and Ajayi followed with three straight rushing touchdowns.
In addition, Hedrick and the Broncos have shown a proficiency inside an opponent’s 20. Boise State has scored in each of its past 42 red-zone opportunities and has come away with a touchdown 34 times. Boise State was ranked No. 112 in the nation in red-zone efficiency following its loss to Air Force but has since climbed to No. 17 after converting 59 of 66 (.894) chances inside the red zone into points.
“They’re really attacked it when we’ve been down that area; Grant has made high-percentage throws and precise decisions in that area,” Harsin said. “As you gain confidence as a player, you gain confidence in a system, then you start getting confidence that you are going to get down there. And when we do, we’re going to score. There’s a mindset that goes along with that of getting six points instead of three.
“They understand we worked so hard to get there. We’re going to get there.”