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Boise State head coach Andy Avalos, wide receiver Khalil Shakir and safety JL Skinner address the media following their 54-13 win over UTEP in their home opener.

BOISE — First-year Boise State offensive coordinator Tim Plough said his goal was to ‘hang half-a-hundred’ points on the scoreboard each game.

He can thank the Bronco defense for helping make it happen for the first time Friday night.

The Boise State defense had six takeaways and the offense took advantage in an impressive 54-13 win over UTEP at Albertsons Stadium.

After a disappointing 36-31 loss at UCF to open the season, the Broncos (1-1) bounced back in a big way in front of 35,518 fans — the third-largest for a home opener in school history.

"It was awesome — man it was fun," Avalos said. "That's what makes the experience here to be a Bronco, to be able to go out in that stadium and have it packed the way it was and have everyone buy into the 'white out'.

"When you are out there on the field and there's that type of energy in the stadium and how loud the crowd was when the defense was on the field, it was awesome. That's a home field advantage now."

It was Boise State’s 20th straight win in a home opener, the sixth-longest active streak in the country. More important, it helped give the Broncos some confidence heading into a monster game next week.

Quarterback Hank Bachmeier passed for 340 yards and two touchdowns in one of his best games as a Bronco. Bachmeier threw a costly, ill-advised interception late in the loss to UCF, but he looked great Friday. He completed 17 of 24 passes and helped the Boise State offense to a season-high 461 yards.

Boise State’s defense had an absurd six takeaways and now has eight in two games after finishing the 2020 season with just three in seven games.

Stefan Cobbs provided a pair of highlight plays for the Broncos, scoring on an 81-yard punt return and on a 61-yard reception from Bachmeier before leaving with an apparent lower leg injury in the second quarter.

Khalil Shakir had seven catches for 166 yards including a pair of crazy one-handed catches in the first half. 

"It was a nice upgrade from last week," Shakir said of the offense. "But definitely not even close to what we could be."

The Broncos also got the ground game going a bit. After rushing for just 20 yards in the loss in Orlando, Boise State had 37 rushes for 121 yards and three touchdowns. Tyler Crowe had seven rushes for 45 yards to lead the Broncos.

But the bigger story may be the defense. Seyi Oladipo had two interceptions and Tyreque Jones had another, while Ezekiel Noa had two fumble recoveries and Scott Matlock had one. It marked the first time since 2013 in which the Broncos had six turnovers on defense in one game.

"That's insane," Shakir said. "But those guys work it every day in practice. They kind of get annoying in practice because whenever they get a takeaway they get loud and we're like 'man, another one?' So it's not a big surprise."

Boise State will now turn its attention to arguably the biggest game of the season when Oklahoma State visits The Blue next Saturday at 7 p.m. It’s the first time a Big 12 team has visited Boise for a regular-season game.

"The confidence it builds is awesome," Avalos said. "It's an unbelievable win for the whole team, all three phases, and it gives us some things we can keep building on."

Cobbs’ 81-yard punt return gave the Broncos an early 10-3 lead. The game turned on UTEP’s next possession, when the Miners settled for a field goal on 4th-and-goal inside the 5 to cap a 15-play, 72-yard drive that took more than eight minutes.

A 27-point underdog won’t win on the road settling for field goals — and UTEP proved it once again. The Miners made the short field goal to pull within 10-6 early in the second quarter, but the Broncos had a 31-7 scoring advantage the rest of the second quarter to pull ahead 41-13 at the break.

After missing last week’s game due to injury, Boise State running back George Holani returned in limited action and followed up the UTEP field goal with a 10-yard touchdown run. Matlock then recovered a fumble near the goal line and Andrew Van Buren punched it in from 3 yards out on the next play to put Boise State up 24-6.

Cobbs then broke free for a 61-yard touchdown pass from Bachmeier to make it 31-6.

After a 48-yard touchdown pass for UTEP thanks to multiple missed tackles, Jonah Dalmas added a field goal to make it 34-6. Boise State’s defense then got a pair of late interceptions from Jones and Oladipo during a chaotic final few minutes of the second quarter.

Another nice catch from Shakir set up Van Buren’s second short touchdown run of the half, this one from 1 yard out with 14 seconds left, to give the Broncos a commanding 28-point halftime lead.

Boise State eased up in the second half but got a 23-yard touchdown pass from Bachmeier to tight end Tyneil Hopper — the first touchdown of Hopper’s career — and field goals of 29 and 34 yards from Jonah Dalmas to go up 54-13.

Maybe the only negative from Friday's game? It appeared very few fans complied with the mask mandate. Despite several messages on the video board asking fans to wear masks, very few fans were seen wearing them in the stands.

The city of Boise and state of Idaho are dealing with rising COVID numbers and limited hospital bed space. Many on social media voiced disappointment with the lack of masks worn at the game, which was played barely a mile from the downtown St. Luke's Hospital. 

The crowd did make plenty of noise though, forcing three false starts on UTEP and helping the Boise State defense limit the Miners to 5 of 13 on third down and just 336 total yards for the game. 

"I loved it," Skinner said. "I missed the fans man. The fans make the game way better. Having the crowd there, the false starts, they just have a big impact on the game and I love having them there."

Boise State now gets a shot at a potential season-changing win against Oklahoma State. The Broncos suffered a 44-21 loss in Stillwater to the Cowboys in 2018 thanks in part to a pair of blocked punts that both led to Oklahoma State touchdowns. 

Getting a Power 5 team to come to Boise is rare. The Broncos hope to build off the 41-point win over UTEP and make the most of it. 

"It's going to be really exciting to have a team from the Big 12, especially Oklahoma State coming in here," Skinner said. 

Limited tickets remain for the Oklahoma State game at BroncoSports.com. The game is expected to be a sellout by next Saturday.

This article originally ran on idahopress.com.

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