At the start of the 2008 college football season, one of the last things anyone expected from Boise State was the program’s third undefeated regular season in five years, what with the team’s inexperienced offensive line and concerns about its ability to perform consistently and protect an equally green quarterback.
But a stellar performance by the Bronco defense throughout the entire ’08 campaign allowed redshirt freshman quarterback Kellen Moore and his young offensive line to gain valuable experience each week and help head coach Chris Petersen and Boise State to yet another landmark regular season. The year included another unblemished record (12-0), the No. 9 position in the national rankings, another Western Athletic Conference championship (six in seven years), the program’s first road win over a Pac-10/BCS-conference team (37-32 at Oregon), its seventh straight trip to a bowl game, and the latest opportunity to establish itself as perhaps the best Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division 1-A) mid-major football program in America.
As the 2008 season progressed, Moore continually displayed the skill and poise of a seasoned veteran as the offensive line took shape and the Broncos’ talented running backs and wide receivers came up with big plays week after week. In the first half of the season, the offense struggled at times to get into a groove. But by the second half, it was putting up Bronco-like numbers: 33 points against Hawaii, 49 against New Mexico State and Utah State, 45 against Idaho, 41 against Nevada, and 61 against Fresno State.Following Boise State’s 61-10 win over Fresno State in its regular-season finale on Nov. 28, the Broncos were ranked ninth in passing efficiency and 12th in passing offense (294 yards per game), total offense (456 ypg), and scoring offense (39.4 points per game) among the nation’s 119 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
But it was the Bronco defense that was largely responsible for the team’s undefeated regular season. Following the Fresno State game, the Broncos were ranked third nationally in pass defense efficiency, fourth in scoring defense (12.3 points per game), 15thin both total defense (294.5 yards per game) and rushing defense (105 yards per game), and 37thin pass defense.
With its defense leading the way, Boise Statereclaimed the WAC championship with an 8-0 league record and finished as one of just four FBS unbeaten teams, joining Alabama, Ball State and Utah.
But it wasn’t always easy and there were plenty of unanswered questions as the season began.The 2008 Broncos were coming off a 10-3 season that created a number of concerns, especially in regard to the offensive unit.Gone were starting quarterback Taylor Tharp and four of the five starting offensive lineman from the 2007 squad, including consensus All-American tackle Ryan Clady who left the program early for the NFL draft. (He was Denver’s first-round selection and the 12th pick overall in the ’08 draft.) While most of the Broncos’ running backs and wideouts were returning, many experts thought the offense was nevertheless facing a rebuilding year in ’08 with a new quarterback and O line. (The lone returning lineman was senior Andrew Woodruff, a three-year starter.) In fact, those sentiments were reflected in the 2008 preseason poll when the league’s coaches picked Boise State to finish second behind Fresno State (although the media did pick the Broncos to win the WAC title). One reason was because most observers expected the talented but unproven Moore to struggle, as freshman quarterbacks often do.
But in the Broncos’ 49-7 season-opening win over Idaho State, Moore quickly showed the crowd of 32,318 why he got the nod as the starting quarterback with an impressive college debut, passing for 274 yards and touchdowns of 80 and 56 yards. As the first freshman to start in the season opener for the Broncos, the left-handed Moore used his quick release and rifle arm to complete 14 of 19 passes and no interceptions. Another freshman, wide receiver Tyler Shoemaker, also had a memorable first game, hauling in a 56-yard touchdown pass from Moore and catching a 17-yard TD pass from backup quarterback Bush Hamdan.
In Boise State’s second game senior running back Ian Johnson rushed for 97 yards and two touchdowns as the Broncos beat Bowling Green 20-7. But it was the Boise State defense that stood out, holding the Falcons of the Mid-American Conference scoreless until the fourth quarter. Moore completed his first 11 passes and went 18 of 23 for 180 yards. Boise State’s defense had two takeaways and a pair of sacks.
It was called a landmark win, and it was just that as the Broncos went on the road for the first time in 2008 and came away with an exciting 37-32 win over 12th-ranked Oregon in Eugene. The Broncos led 37-13 after three quarters, but had to withstand a furious rally by the Ducks in the final quarter to get the win, which was a first for Boise State in two categories: It marked the Broncos’ first victory over a Pac-10 team on the road and its first win over a team in a Bowl Championship Series conference on their opponent’s home field. Moore completed 24 of 36 pass attempts for 386 yards and three touchdowns to lead Boise State. Wide receiver Vinny Perretta caught three passes for 91 yards and a touchdown and tight end Chris O’Neill added four receptions for 31 yards and a TD.
Playing at home on a Wednesday evening on national television, the 17th-ranked Broncos opened WAC play with a 38-3 rout of Louisiana Tech, improving their record to 4-0 and winning for the 16th straight time at home. A fourth-quarter goal-line stand, a stifling run defense, and constant quarterback pressure led the Broncos over the Bulldogs for the seventh straight time. Moore completed 20 of 28 passes for 325 yardsand two touchdowns 13 yards to wide receiver Julian Hawkins and 44 yards to O’Neill and running back D.J. Harper rushed for two more scores.
Boise State’s defense continued its dominant ways 10 days later with a 24-7 road win over Southern Mississippi, which gave the No. 15 Broncostheir 14th victory in their last 15 regular-season games.Moore completed 21 of30 passes for 170 yardsand three touchdowns, and the Boise State defense held Damion Fletcher, the Golden Eagles’ star running back who rushed for a career-high 260 yards the previous week against UTEP, to 69 yards on the ground.Southern Miss entered the game as the nation’s No. 17 offense, averaging 457 yards a game.But the Bronco defense stymied the home team’s no-huddle spread offense, holding the Golden Eagles to 278 total yards.The Broncos also stopped the Golden Eagles on fourth down twice in Boise State territory in the fourth quarter to halt potential rallies. George Iloka batted down one pass to end a drive and Jeron Johnson ended another with an interception.The Broncos rolled up 464 yards of total offense and Harper scored twice in the second half, both on 3-yard runs.
The Broncos remained at No. 15 in the Associated Press media poll, and the following Friday evening they gained a measure of revenge with a 27-7 win on the blue turf over Hawaii. The Warriors’ win over the Broncos in the previous year’s regular-season finale denied them the WAC title and halted Boise State’s consecutive league championship streak at five. Moore completed 25 of 34 passesfor 256 yards and threw three touchdown passes, and the Bronco defense intercepted Hawaiiquarterback Inoke Funaki five times, including three picks by cornerback Brandyn Thompson. The Broncos held a slim 13-10 lead at halftime, but their smothering defense pressured Funaki the entire game, sacking him five times and holding the Warriors to just 288 total yards.Boise State had 367 total yards,and the victory kept the Warriors winless in Bronco Stadium.
The seventh game of the ’08 season brought 13th-ranked Boise State to San Jose State, site of close calls in the Broncos’ last two visits. San Jose State nearly derailed bids for undefeated seasons by the Broncos in2004 and 2006, and the 2008 Spartans hoped to pull off the upsetthis time with what coach Dick Tomey considered his best team at SJSU. But Boise State proved to be too much for the Spartans to handle, winning 33-16 for its seventh consecutive win. Moore threw two touchdown passes and Ian Johnson ran for two scores while Jeremy Childs blocked a punt to set up one touchdown and caught a TD pass. Johnson’s two scores were the 50th and 51st rushing touchdowns of his career, breaking Brock Forsey’s school record.Jeremy Avery led the rushing attack with 96 yards on 21 carries.The Spartans trailed only 20-16 in the third quarter, but Boise State methodically closed out the game with three long drives that led to field goals by Kyle Brotzman and Johnson’s second TD run.Moore completed 26 of his 40 passes for 242 yards.
Boise State neared the nation’s top 10 with a No. 11 ranking the week it met New Mexico State on the road. And as it had since the third week of the season, the Bronco defense was overpowering as it limited the Aggies to just 150 yards total offense and registered six sacks. Boise State’s defense also limited Chase Holbrook, NMSU’s standout quarterback, to 12 of 20 passing for just 64 yards in the air with one interception. Moore, meanwhile, threw for 246 yards and three touchdowns in the win, which gave Boise State its sixth winning streak of at least eight games in the last seven seasons.Ian Johnson and Avery took turns ripping off long runs, each scoring a TD, and Kyle Wilson had a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Boise State cracked the top 10 the next day, vaulting to the No. 9 position, and the Bronco defense put on another impressive display the following Saturday at home with a 49-14 rout of Utah State. Moore threw for 362 yards and two scores and receivers Tanyon Bissell and Vinny Perretta threw touchdown passes to Childs as the Broncos rolled up 563 total yards and held the Aggies to 44 yards rushing and forced six turnovers.Childs led Boise State receivers with seven catches for 135 yards and Austin Pettis had seven catches for 57 yards and two TDs. Moore was 27 of 36 for 362 yards and one interception.
In-state rival Idaho usually gives Boise State its best shot, especially at home, and the 10th game of the’08 season would be no exception as the Broncos held a slim 17-10 lead over the Vandals at halftime. But the Boise State ground game, behind the running of Avery, got untracked and scored the first four times it had the ball in the second half as the Broncos coasted to a 45-10 triumph in Moscow for their 10th straight win over the Vandals in the heated rivalry. Avery rushed for a career-high 156 yards and scored two touchdowns and Boise State piled up 315 yards on the ground as the Broncos improved to 10-0. Moore was his usual efficient self, completing 23 of 31 passes for 210 yards as BSU clinched at least a share of its sixth WAC title in the past seven seasons.Childs made 11 catches for 99 yards while the Bronco defense limited Idaho to 329 yards and one touchdown.The Bronco defense, as it had done to opposing quarterbacks all season, made life miserable for Vandal signal caller Nathan Enderle with four sacks and two interceptions.
Like it did in 2007, Nevada threw a scare into Boise State, but the ninth-ranked Broncos survived a second-half rally by the Wolf Pack in Reno to run their record to 11-0 with an exciting 41-34 win.Trailing by seven with 28 seconds remaining, Nevada was on the verge of forcing another overtime thriller against Boise State.But the Broncos, who held the nation’s best rushing attack to just 31 yards in the first half, did just enough, knocking down a pass in the end zone as time expired to remain unbeaten. Moore passed for 414 yards and three touchdowns, including 319 yards by halftime when the Broncos led 24-3, but threw three interceptions in the third quarter to let the Wolf Pack back in the game.Ian Johnson broke free for a 66-yard touchdown run in the third quarter for Boise State, which clinched its sixth WAC title in seven years.The Wolf Pack entered the game averaging 325 yards a game on the ground, but managed only 144 against the Bronco defense. Nevada’s Vai Tau, the WAC’s leading rusher who entered the game averaging 128 yards per game, managed only 75 yards on 14 carries. Moore completed 29 of 48 passes while Pettis had nine receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns. Perretta also had 126 yards receiving on five catches.
The Broncos achieved their perfect regular season the day after Thanksgiving on national television with a 61-10 rout of Fresno State, scoring 48 unanswered points in the second half. Kyle Wilson returned a punt 90 yards for a touchdown and Ian Johnson tied San Diego State’s Marshall Faulk for the WAC all-time career touchdown rushing record at 57 with a pair of scoring runs. Johnson finished the game with 128 yards rushing as the Broncos gained 247 yards on the ground and 247 through the air.Wilson’s punt return for a score was his third in November and the fourth-longest in Boise State history. Moore was 17 of 23 for 213 yards and two touchdowns. The game ended with many from the jubilant crowd of 32,412 rushing field to celebrate the Broncos’ third perfect season in five years.
During their 12-game winning streak in 2008, the Broncos never trailed at any time in the second half. With a 12-0 regular-season record, the 2008 Broncos certainly helped continue Boise State’s tradition of excellence. Not bad for a team that was considered in a rebuilding mode.