Boise State football back to its old tricks under head coach Bryan Harsin

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BOISE, Idaho — Last year, for the first time since 2005, the Boise State football team didn’t score a touchdown on a pass thrown by a non-quarterback.

New coach Bryan Harsin, who called a slew of successful trick plays as the offensive coordinator from 2006 to 2010, didn’t waste any time getting the Broncos back on the trick-play track.

Boise State wide receivers already have thrown four passes this season, including senior Matt Miller’s touchdown throw to quarterback Grant Hedrick in last week’s win at Connecticut.

Harsin — not offensive coordinator Mike Sanford — called the play, which came on third-and-goal at the Huskies’ 7-yard line late in the first half.

“It was a gutsy call by our coaching staff,” said Miller, who caught and threw a touchdown pass in the same game for the second time in his career. “I’m proud of our guys for executing.”

The Broncos have entertained fans with their trickery for more than a decade, but perhaps no coach likes the “funk” plays more than Harsin.

A non-quarterback threw a touchdown pass in each of his five seasons as the Broncos’ offensive coordinator, beginning with wide receiver Vinny Perretta’s famous, fourth-down toss to tight end Derek Schouman in overtime in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. That game also included the hook-and-lateral to force OT and the Statue of Liberty handoff on the game-winning two-point conversion.

Harsin’s offenses at Texas in 2011 and Arkansas State in 2013 also registered non-quarterback touchdown passes. The 2012 Texas offense got shut out — but not for lack of trying.

The peak of the trickery was in 2010 at Boise State and 2011 at Texas, when wide receivers Austin Pettis (Broncos) and Jaxon Shipley (Longhorns) were a combined 8-for-8 with five TDs in Harsin’s attack.

“Coach Hars has an unlimited book of trick plays,” said Boise State tight ends coach Eliah Drinkwitz, who was the play-caller much of last season at Arkansas State. “The guy’s got a great knack for calling the right play at the right time. He just knows it. You’ve got to credit Mike for listening to the head coach and the head coach for sticking with his gut and knowing it’s a good call. That’s why he’s here. He’s called some big-time plays in some big situations.”

The wide receivers are 1-for-4 passing this season — but that’s more an issue of execution than play call.

The Broncos tried a double pass in the second quarter against Ole Miss. Hedrick flipped a lateral to Miller, who threw downfield to tight end Alec Dhaenens. The ball slipped through Dhaenens’ hands as he fell to the turf.

Miller tried an end-around pass in the second half of that game. Wide receiver Dallas Burroughs was double-covered and the pass fell incomplete.

The Broncos double-dipped again at UConn. After Miller’s touchdown pass in the second quarter, walk-on wide receiver Terrell Johnson took his shot in the third quarter. Wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck was open but the throw was late and incomplete.

“Just having fun,” Harsin said.

The Broncos have about 15 trick-play staples in the playbook, Sanford said. They expand with plays from each coach’s past, plays they saw somewhere else and new ideas.

At Stanford, Sanford said, the staff once used a play the coaches found on YouTube. It worked.

But the best way to teach the plays is off coaches’ video — and Boise State has an extensive collection.

“There’s a pretty awesome catalogue of trick plays that we can pull from — and we’re always looking for new ones,” Sanford said. “Shoot us an email. We’ll gladly field any requests.”

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