(Tom Scott’s column will return Monday.)
Wednesday, November 23, 2016.
You hear it every time Boise State (or anyone) faces a predominantly triple-option team. “We’ve gotta have our eyes right.” That means ye shall not be fooled by play fakes and pitch fakes. And Air Force has done it all in winning its past two games over the Broncos. Last year’s 37-30 win on the blue turf saw the Falcons rush for 328 yards (another day at the office). But they threw for 279 yards and averaged a staggering 31 yards per completion as Boise State bit on the storied Air Force run and allowed the Academy’s receivers to run free. One of them was Jalen Robinette, whose two catches went for 79 yards and a touchdown. How about this: Robinette has 2,528 career receiving yards. That number would be great at Boise State. In the Air Force program, it’s stunning—the best in AFA history.
How will sophomore quarterback Arion Wortham factor for Air Force Friday? The season’s original starter, Nate Romine, went down in the Fresno State game five weeks ago, and it looked like bad news for the Falcons offense. But Wortham came on to rally the Falcons to victory that night, and he’s been in control since. He’s only thrown 24 passes all season, but he’s completed 13 for 294 yards—an average of 22.6 yards per connection. But most significantly, Wortham rushed for 215 yards in a come-from-behind win at San Jose State last week. It’s all hands on deck for the Bronco defense.
GAME DAY GUIDE: Boise State vs. Air Force
Boise State got a glimpse of the future on Senior Night last Friday in another solid contribution from cornerback DeAndre Pierce. Watch for the true freshman from Long Beach Poly in California to play a significant role this week in Colorado Springs. Coaches trust Pierce in the heat of the battle, and he made two big third down plays in the win over UNLV. The first was a tackle-for-loss early in the second quarter to end a Rebels possession. The Broncos scored on the following drive. The second was a pass breakup on a third-and-six in the third quarter. Boise State again got into the end zone on its ensuing possession. Pierce is a defender who’s older than his years.
If the Boise State offensive line can do what it has mostly done all season, protect Brett Rypien in the pocket, some good things can happen Friday. The O-line has a calling card now, as it has collectively been named a semifinalist for the Joe Moore Award, given to college football’s most outstanding offensive line unit. Center Mason Hampton, guards Travis Averill and Steven Baggett, and tackles Mario Yakoo and Archie Lewis have yielded just 15 sacks this season and have opened the door for the nation’s leading scorer and third-leading rusher, Jeremy McNichols. The Broncos lead the Mountain West in total offense at 487.1 yards per game.
Boise State remains the top-rated Group of 5 team in the College Football Playoff rankings, coming in at No. 19 last night. But’ of course, the Broncos still need help to get to the Cotton Bowl. Houston re-entered the list at No. 20 after demolishing Louisville last week, but the Cougars are already out of the running for a New Year’s Six Bowl, with Navy having clinched a spot in the AAC championship game. So it’s No. 21 Western Michigan who’s in the driver’s seat for the Cotton Bowl, provided Wyoming beats New Mexico. The “other” Broncos from WMU just have to beat Toledo at home Friday afternoon—although the Rockets will be no easy task—then win the MAC championship game next week.
Rivalry weekend isn’t what it used to be around the country, what with the conference upheaval of the past 10 years and TV’s influence on scheduling. The only rivalry game in the Mountain West is Saturday’s Nevada-UNLV game. Or, as they say in Las Vegas, UNLV-“UNR.” They will not call the Wolf Pack “Nevada” down south. Not even in the newspapers. In Pullman, it’s the much-anticipated Apple Cup on Saturday, with a spot in the Pac-12 championship game on the line. Washington State coach Mike Leach is known as “The Pirate,” and this summer he coined his own name for Washington’s Chris Petersen: “The Bishop.” Says Coach Pete: “I always laugh at it—usually everything he says I’m laughing at.”
Idaho makes a triumphant return to the Kibbie Dome Saturday to host South Alabama. The Vandals are bowl-eligible for the first time since 2009 and are all revved up coming off a bye week. Projections for Idaho range from the Cure Bowl in Orlando to the Arizona Bowl in Tucson. Other than an upset of San Diego State, the Jaguars have been middle-of-the-road this season. They come in at 5-5, but only 1-5 in Sun Belt play. Now, hopefully Idaho fans have warmed up to this team. The Vandals’ last game in Moscow, the rout of New Mexico State last month, drew an announced crowd of 10,278. According to the Spokesman-Review, “actual attendance was closer to 6,000” that day.
Chandler Hutchison brings his sizzling start back home Friday night when the Boise State men’s hoops team hosts Presbyterian in Taco Bell Arena. Hutchison has already posted three games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in the young campaign, as many as James Webb III had all last season. The last time a Bronco had more 20/10’s in a season was 2007-08, when Reggie Larry recorded nine. Hutchison has been Webb, Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic all rolled into one so far. He could really use a buddy to take over at least one of those roles. Presbyterian is 2-2 after a 77-67 win last night over VMI.
Last year there were a couple barnburners between College of Idaho and Northwest Nazarene in the United Heritage Mayors’ Cup series. Part I of this year’s Cup was all Coyotes last night, with C of I romping to a 77-53 win over the Crusaders in Caldwell. True freshman Talon Pinckney out of Centennial High scored 19 points as the Yotes’ posted their largest margin of victory over NNU in 27 years. The Canyon County rivals meet again in Nampa on December 6.
The Idaho Steelheads have had a chance to recharge after a successful trip to Norfolk, VA. They now return home for two games this weekend against the defending Kelly Cup champion Allen Americans. The Steelheads and Americans are now together in the ECHL’s Mountain Division. Last season the two teams met in the first round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs, with Allen winning in seven games. The first-place Steelies currently hold a six point lead over Allen in the division. On Idaho’s potent power play front, Will Merchant leads the ECHL with five power play goals (all of his pro goals have come on the power play), and Brandon Anselmini is tied for second in the league with six power play assists.
It’s all theirs. The Boise State women’s volleyball team swept Air Force last night in a packed Bronco Gym to win the Mountain West championship outright. The Broncos will take a 14-match winning streak into the NCAA Tournament—they’ll learn their destination Sunday night on the NCAA selection show on ESPNU. Boise State is ranked 29th in the latest NCAA RPI ratings.
This Day In Sports…November 23, 1974:
In Jim McMillan’s final game at Bronco Stadium, Boise State beats Idaho, 53-29, winning its second straight Big Sky championship. McMillan had the final 300-yard day of his career and turned in one of the most efficient days ever as a Bronco quarterback, going 30-of-42 on the afternoon. McMillan’s Boise State finale would be the following week at Central Michigan, a 20-6 loss in the first round of the Division II playoffs.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)