Air Force Falcons quarterback Jaleel Awini (12) fakes a handoff to running back Jon Lee (24) at Bronco Stadium on Sept. 13. (Brian Losness / USA Today)
BOISE, IDAHO — At a school with a long list of pretty good quarterbacks, Joe Southwick’s passing performance Friday night lifted Boise State to a second straight win and set a new standard for pinpoint passing.
Southwick was sharp from start to finish, completing 27 of 29 passes for 287 yards and one touchdown, the most efficient passing game in school history and breaking the previous mark set when Jared Zabransky finished 21 of 23 in 2006.
Southwick, who completed his first nine passes, also ran for a touchdown in helping the Broncos (2-1, 1-0 Mountain West Conference) to a 42-20 victory over Air Force. For Southwick, who took over last year for highly-respected Kellen Moore and has struggled to win the hearts of fans, any serious reflection on his record-setting performance and his place in school record books will have to wait.
“Someday, looking back on it ... it’ll be pretty cool,” said Southwick, who has a 13-3 career record at Boise State. “There have been lot of great quarterbacks here.”
The Broncos, fueled as well on offense by Jay Ajayi’s four rushing touchdowns, pulled away in the second half after figuring out at halftime a formula for slowing down the Falcons’ rushing attack. Air Force and its triple option attack came into the game averaging 285 yards on the ground, second best in the conference.
Led by quarterback Jaleel Awini, making just his second career start, Air Force (1-2, 0-2) rolled up 139 yards rushing in the first half, dominated time of possession, scored on all three possessions and trailed the Broncos just 21-17 at the half.
But the Boise State defense stiffened in the second half, held the Falcons to a field goal and built up a big enough lead to force the Falcons and Awini to take more chances through the air.
Awini finished with 107 yards rushing on 23 carries and two touchdowns, but he was just 4 of 9 passing for 99 yards. He was intercepted by safety Darian Thompson with 8:12 left in the game and Air Force trailing 35-20, ending any hope of a late rally.
“As a defense it’s very frustrating,” Boise State linebacker Ben Weaver said of the first half. “We battled and came back in the second half. At halftime, we said we just can’t rely on our offense as much. For us it was about knowing your job and staying with your job.”
Meanwhile, the Broncos offense rolled up 533 total yards and 8 of 10 on third downs. A pair of turnovers scuttled scoring drives, and Ajayi rushed for a career-best 125 yards on 17 carries. He scored on long runs of 35 and 20 yards after beating defenders to the edge and racing down the sideline untouched.
Southwick spread the ball around to six different receivers. His favorite target was Matt Miller, who had 10 catches for 112 yards.
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said it was frustrating to see his defense struggle and fail to force a single Boise State punt.
“We have to come up with defensive stops and we didn’t,” said Calhoun, who has lost two straight to Boise State since the Broncos joined the Mountain West. “You have to force stops and field position, something you have to do to compete. Especially when you play against an excellent opponent.”
The Falcons had 287 total yards on offense, but struggled to move the ball consistently late. Awini was 4 of 9 for 99 yards and his one interception in the fourth quarter squelched any chance of getting closer to Boise State, which led 35-20 at the time.
The Broncos have won two straight after a disappointing opening loss at Washington. They play at Fresno State next week.