By Frank Forza
Two games into his college career, Hank Bachmeier has made one thing abundantly clear: When the football is in his hands, you have absolutely no idea what he’s going to do next.
Often for better, and occasionally for worse, the Broncos signal-caller mesmerizes with his unpredictability and gunslinger mentality. Friday night’s gritty 14-7 victory over Marshall further showcased the chaotic beauties and blemishes of the true freshman’s fearless skill set.
For the second straight week, Bachmeier rallied the Broncos to a come-from-behind win over a formidable foe. And for the second straight week, his “Let ‘er Rip” performance was far from pretty and littered with malfunctions and miscues.
The announced crowd of 31,951 at Albertsons Stadium was relatively flat for the first 25 minutes of the ESPN2 nationally televised showdown as Boise State’s offense repeatedly sputtered and squandered opportunities. Boise State’s collective spirits awakened in the first quarter after a lost fumble by Marshall quarterback Isaiah Green gave the Broncos the ball in Marshall territory.
On 3rd and 9, Bachmeier dropped back, scanned his options and seemed to have ample time; receiver Khalil Shakir was wide open near the end zone for what would have been a 32-yard touchdown. Instead, Bachmeier seemed to hold the ball just a touch too long, allowing the Thundering Herd pass rush to harass him into misfiring to Shakir. On fourth down, Broncos kicker Eric Sachse missed a 49-yard field goal, and Marshall stole the momentum by marching 68 yards for the game’s first touchdown.
Though still a work-in-progress, and expected to grow leaps and bounds, so far Bachmeier has shown a reluctance to throw the ball out of bounds when under heavy duress. He’s protected by a gifted group of veteran lineman and loathe to quit or give up on a play. The 20-year-old isn’t afraid to bravely stay in the pocket and hold onto the ball for an extra second if it gives him a chance to move the chains or make a big throw down field. Sometimes that special breed of Backmeier stubbornness (holding onto the ball too long) will drive fans to madness, and sometimes it means witnessing something magical.
Undisputed is Bachmeier’s resilience. Whenever adversity unfolds on the field — a Boise lineman got beat badly and Bachmeier was blindsided and fumbled, or throwing an interception in the red zone (as Bachmeier did near the end of the third quarter) — No. 19 remains unfazed and unflappable.
“On the sideline, when he messes up, we’re going to stick by his side. We’re with him 100 percent,” Shakir said afterward. “He’s always smiling, he’s always a happy guy. He’s always high energy and telling us, ‘Let’s go get it!’”
But the best of Bachmeier, the playmaking that demonstrates his extraordinary will to win, can amaze and convert skeptics — highlights that indicate we could well be watching a legend in the making.
One glorious glimpse into the shape of Bachmeier’s heart erupted in the second quarter. With the Broncos trailing 7-0, and looking grossly out-of-sync, Bachmeier scrambled on third-and-long. The odds of Bachmeier gaining the 19 yards needed for a first down? Highly unlikely. Yet with his arm not quite doing the trick, the California native tucked the ball and charged full steam ahead in a sort of “Hank The Tank” mode — barrelling into four or five Marshall defenders.
Bachmeier rummaged 14 yards, well short of the first down marker. But running with such reckless abandon into a pile of Marshall players seemed to serve notice: ‘I’ll do whatever it takes to win.’
Many in the Twitterverse, in the press boxes, and in the stands, cringed at the sight of a supposed pro-style passer charging head-first into 1,000-plus pounds of flesh rather than sliding feet-first. But you had to admire the rookie quarterback’s sheer audacity and tenacity.
In the second half, Bachmeier flashed more ferocity after a Marshall rusher grabbed hold of his facemask and violently ripped off his helmet — prompting another Thundering Herd pass rusher to run Bachmeier over.
Bachmeier’s reaction? He popped to his feet ready to go as a referee hit Marshall with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
“I was actually right there when it happened,” Shakir said of the nasty neck-torquing facemask. “I ran up to him and said, ‘Are you good?’
“He’s screaming and yelling, so that really got me hyped up for the next play. To see how tough he’s been, it’s amazing to see him fight through everything. It gets the offense going.”
Make no mistake, the line between an 0-2 record and 2-0 can be a thin one. In many respects, Boise State is rather fortunate they’re not 0-2 right now given their rash of turnover and missed opportunities inside their opponents’ red zone. A great deal of credit belongs to the Broncos super-stout defense, which pitched second-half shutouts against both Florida State and Marshall. Those defensive clamp-downs opened the door for Hank and Co’s. clutch-time heroics.
With the second quarter winding down, Bachmeier and the offense marched 88 yards, capping the drive with a well-executed quarterback keeper that faked out the Marshall defense and allowed Bachmeier to dive into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown.
A Bachmeier 47-yard touchdown toss to John Hightower put the Broncos up 14-7 to start the second half, and to protect that lead, Bachmeier and the offense marched 75 yards and killed the final 7 minutes and 36 seconds of game clock, preventing Marshall from getting the ball back and sealing the Broncos victory.
Bachmeier’s final stat line is a bit mixed: 22-of-34 passing, a touchdown in the air and another on the ground. One interception and a fumble.
Against Florida State, Bachmeier threw for 407 yards but only one touchdown pass (two touchdowns were called back due to penalties, and the refs wiped out yet another Broncos touchdown on Friday, famously setting Coach Bryan Harsin into unforgettable chest bump and staredown mode with a ref).
But when you add everything up, Boise State football is ranked No. 24 in the current Associated Press and Coaches Polls, with the potential to climb even higher in next week’s rankings.
The fact that Boise State often struggled on Friday, “a lot of that had to do with Marshall,” Harsin said. “They made it tough.”
As Harsin noted, a lot of pundits and fans predicted Boise State “should have rolled over” Marshall; indeed, oddsmakers pegged the Broncos as 11-point favorites. But Marshall, themselves a perennial Power of Five powerhouse, went toe-to-toe for much of the night with the Broncos. They diagnosed and snuffed many of the Broncos X’s and O’s schemes and largely matched the Broncos physicality.
Through all of Friday night’s twists and turns, there was Bachmeier, ever-dangerous no matter the situation or the odds. Every move he makes, must-watch entertainment. A compelling mix of finesse and street fighter, with a knack for making everyone wonder, “What’s he going to do next?”
Even when Bachmeier commits mistakes, Harsin indicated “I don’t say a lot to him.”
No one is pushing panic buttons, not with the Broncos next slated to host Division I-AA Portland State. If he stays healthy and doesn’t leave early for the NFL draft, Bachmeier could start another 50-plus games, and looks perfectly poised to follow in the footsteps of Jared Zabransky and four-year starters Kellen Moore and Brett Rypien.
“Brett (Rypien) showed his toughness, Brett took shots. Brett got better at it — Hank will get better at it,” Harsin said. “He showed his competitiveness in these two games. There’s been no backdown, no laydown from him. He’s fun to be around and I love being around guys that are ultra-competitive.
“As we get better at teaching what we’re doing, and he gets better at learning it, and we combine that, (we) can just let this guy go out there and play. When he does, you saw some of the things he’s capable of doing.“