BOISE, Idaho — If this is the new, improved running offense that Cal State Northridge first-year Coach Ron Ponciano envisioned, please go back to the drawing board. It won't work without linemen.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Brady did plenty of running Saturday night--in circles trying to elude bright orange and blue jerseys.
It was an ugly, futile scene, an 18-year-old making his first college start and unable to ignite an offense that rolled up 63 points last season against Boise State.
Don't blame the Matadors' 26-13 season-opening loss to the Broncos on Brady. His mobility and decision-making qualities won him the starting job over last season's backup, Josh Fiske. But where was the blocking support or the play calling to help the inexperienced Brady get through the night unscathed?
Too much emphasis was placed on Brady's legs. He was forced to repeatedly scramble and improvise when the Matadors' line couldn't provide adequate protection.
And where was the Matadors' short-passing game? With four receivers on the field in a one-back attack, somebody is usually open. But Brady either couldn't find them or didn't have time to get them the ball. He completed five of 12 passes for 32 yards in the first half and was sacked three times for 33 yards when the Matadors fell behind, 20-0.
In the second half, he started releasing the ball quicker, which helped take pressure off the line. His final statistics were no reason to put his head down. Brady completed 25 of 46 passes for 289 yards with no interceptions and one touchdown.
"I think what you saw was a guy baptized by fire," Ponciano said.
But the Matadors had no business placing so much responsibility on Brady's arm and legs in the opening game. He needed help.
Ponciano vowed to improve the Matadors' rushing attack, feeling more balance was needed to succeed.
Melvin Blue, a transfer from Utah State, showed at times he has the physical, punishing running style to provide the Matadors a lift. He rushed for 67 yards on 28 carries, but he couldn't deliver in the third quarter when the Matadors had first and goal from the three and he was dropped twice for three-yard losses.
"I'm surprised Mel Blue didn't wave the white flag," Ponciano said of the lack of blocking.
The Matadors' defense held its own against the run, with linebackers Cos Abercrombie, Brennen Swanson and Jack Heaslet effectively filling holes and chasing down ballcarries.
The secondary, though, twice broke down in allowing Bronco touchdowns.
Cornerback Chazz Moore was beaten by receiver Rodney Smith on a 27-yard pass play in the second quarter and cornerback Mel Miller, a transfer from Washington, was burned on a 79-yard pass play by Corey Nelson with 34 seconds left in the half.
One disappointing game against the only Division I-A opponent on their schedule doesn't guarantee the Matadors are headed for a losing season, but Ponciano needs to do some re-evaluating this week when his team has a bye.
Priority No. 1 is the offensive line. Brady was sacked five times and hit numerous other times.
"As the game went on, the offensive line, with only one guy with any experience, started playing its [butt] off," Ponciano said. "Do we have problems? Yes, and they will be solved."
Ponciano started a tight end, Ryan Schatz, at tackle, plus two freshmen. Add to that, starting center Beau Cherry went down with a sprained knee.
Help on the line should come in the form of Mike Barnes, a transfer from Arizona State, who couldn't play Saturday because he's still waiting for a knee brace.
Ponciano offered a strong voice of confidence for Brady, who only won the starting quarterback job this fall.
"It doesn't matter if the receivers are good," Ponciano said. "If the quarterback has one, two guys in his face, we're going to have problems.
"I saw progress as the game went on. Guys, he was a freshman. That's why we have great hope. Put our second half in the first half, and we have a great chance."