BRADEN JOHNSON | Evergreen columnist
One can argue that Boise State junior Brett Rypien is in an unenviable position for a quarterback entering Saturday’s matchup with WSU.
Making his return to Eastern Washington, Rypien, a native of Spokane and the nephew of former WSU and Super Bowl-winning quarterback Mark Rypien, is tasked with piecing together a Broncos’ offense that saw him sacked four times and struggled to put away Troy University on Saturday, scoring just 24 points in the win.
Oh, and there’s the fact that Rypien, a two-year starter, did not play in the fourth quarter of the game, as BSU head coach Bryan Harsin inserted senior transfer and read option threat Montell Cozart to “spark the offense.” Harsin said there is no quarterback controversy and Cozart was expected to play.
“In this game, it was the plan to play [Montell] all along,” he said. “Each week is different. Every single opponent is a little bit different.”
However, there’s a colloquial wisdom that if you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterback. No matter how you spin it, that’s not good for Rypien’s psyche as he prepares to face an aggressive WSU front seven in a hostile environment that recorded three-and-a-half sacks against Montana State on Saturday.
“It depends what you’re trying to do,” WSU head coach Mike Leach said of playing two quarterbacks. “I probably wouldn’t. I always worry it makes the team disjointed.”
On the flipside, despite Harsin’s sentiment that there are areas Rypien needs to improve on as a quarterback, the Shadle Park High School graduate is still the biggest reason the Broncos, eight-and-a-half-point betting underdogs, can knock off the Cougars for the second time in as many years.
With a cannon for an arm, Rypien threw for 3,646 yards last season and can test a WSU secondary that saw just 12 pass attempts from Montana State quarterback Chris Murray on Saturday.
In the Broncos’ 31-28 win over WSU last season, Rypien threw for 299 yards and connected with then-senior wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck for a 47-yard touchdown pass over the top of the Cougars’ defensive backs in the third quarter to put the Broncos up 24-7 and essentially seal the win.
Regardless of week-one issues with a young offensive line and the fact that Sperbeck and former running back Jeremy McNichols, who gashed the Cougars’ front seven for 126 yards and two scores last year, have since departed for the NFL, Rypien has been in this environment before. Also, with the way WSU bottled up Murray, a similar read option quarterback to Cozart, Boise State’s best chance to score is via the air.
After the loss last season, Leach went on record in criticizing the overall toughness of his program. WSU committed 10 penalties in the game and showed marginal improvement from its week-one loss to Eastern Washington.
Building off last week’s win over Montana State starts with pressuring Rypien in a similar fashion as the front seven did with Murray.
It’s certainly a unique opportunity for Rypien — a chance to reestablish himself as the face of Boise State football, settle whatever quarterback conundrum there may be and spring an upset in front of his uncle, whom Leach “hopes will be wearing crimson.” With that, though, comes perhaps Rypien’s greatest test as a signal caller and leader.
Harsin said he has not yet talked to Rypien about the magnitude of playing in a homecoming game of sorts.
“We just finished our last game,” he said. “We’re correcting a lot of things from that one. There’s a personal side of it to it. The focus is how we get him better and how we’re doing. We had that conversation last year playing against Washington State. Brett’s mature, he’s played in this environment before, and I’m sure we’ll talk about it before the game.”
As Harsin alluded to, the Broncos have a host of issues offensively, ranging from youth and inexperience to molding a new cast of players together. Rypien is the figure who can bring the bunch together.
BSU faces a WSU team that saw redshirt senior quarterback Luke Falk rattling off a string of 20 consecutive completed passes in its win over the Bobcats, redshirt sophomore James Williams setting a program record for most single game receiving yards by a running back (138) and a defense that allowed just five completed passes. The tables have certainly turned from where they were a year ago for Boise State.
Yet, one thing remains constant – the rematch will be decided by quarterback play. The Air Raid thrives as Falk does, and with better protection from his offensive line, Rypien has the arm to stretch the WSU secondary deep.
There’s no doubt Rypien will hear it from the WSU faithful when Pullman Mayor and public address announcer Glenn Johnson announces his name. That comes with the territory of returning home alongside somewhat of a rival team.
WSU has all the intangibles in place to spoil Rypien’s homecoming. The nephew of a Cougar legend, however, is the one person who can make this game interesting and save it.