Tuesday, November 22, 2016.
If there’s one player who can stir bad memories in Boise State’s Bryan Harsin era, it’s Weston Steelhammer of Air Force. It was Steelhammer who intercepted three passes in the game two years ago to help the Falcons stun the Broncos, 28-14. The fact that everything worked out in the end for Boise State is beside the point. The Broncos are playing Friday against a nemesis who’ll be all geeked out for Senior Day. And oh by the way, Steelhammer is the new Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week after grabbing two second-half picks, the second one with 16 seconds left, to secure a 41-38 win at San Jose State. He didn’t have an interception last year in Air Force’s 37-30 win on the blue turf, but he did make seven tackles. The Broncos’ Brett Rypien hasn’t thrown a pick the past three games. Beware.
On the other side is Boise State’s Jeremy McNichols, who has earned his fourth Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week honor this season. In the 42-25 win over UNLV, McNichols became the first Bronco running back ever to record three 200-yard games in the same season. The 206-yard night brings his season total to 1,575, 248 yards short of Jay Ajayi's school record. It is do-able. McNichols, the nation’s leading scorer with 156 points and 26 touchdowns, is six TDs short of Brock Forsey’s school single-season record. With 22 rushing scores, he’s also six short of Ajayi’s Bronco mark in that category. Those two chases will probably depend on whether Boise State has two games left—or three.
GAME DAY GUIDE: Boise State vs. Air Force
What do you need when you play the triple option? Linebackers. What is Boise State theoretically lacking going into the Air Force game? Linebackers. The UNLV game was “moving parts night” for Bronco defensive coordinator Andy Avalos. When Tanner Vallejo ran onto the field for Senior Day introductions last Friday, he was not suited up. It was a bad omen, and it panned out that way when it was revealed Vallejo is out for the year due to wrist surgery.
Then Joey Martarano went down in the first quarter against the Rebels with what Harsin says is a “fractured fibula.” Martarano is gone until at least the bowl game (probably longer, though). “He’s going to be okay—that’s the important thing,” said Harsin. So into the triple-option pressure-cooker go Darren Lee, who has answered the call all season, and Blake Whitlock, the one-time junior college transfer walk-on who has played his way into scholarship status. Note: sophomore Leighton Vander Esch hasn’t played since the Utah State game. Can the Broncos get him back on the field?
Doug Martin is still getting his formidable legs under him as he returns to action for Tampa Bay. In his second game back from a frustrating hamstring injury, Martin had 24 carries for 63 yards Sunday. But the former Boise State star also made three catches for 42 yards, and he had a victory to celebrate as the Buccaneers upset the Chiefs 19-17 in Kansas City. Jay Ajayi was steady for Miami, gaining 77 yards on 16 attempts in the Dolphins’ 14-10 win over the L.A. Rams. Ajayi has settled in as a consistent contributor since his back-to-back 200-yard games. Twelve tailbacks were taken ahead of Ajayi in the 2015 NFL Draft, and he’s playing as well as any of them. The Rams’ Todd Gurley, the first running back drafted last year, had numbers almost identical to Ajayi’s Sunday—76 yards on 20 carries with a touchdown.
Former Boise State coach and renowned Boise resident Dan Hawkins is likely headed for Florida International as offensive coordinator under Butch Davis. It’s not done yet, but it’s close. “He definitely wants me to do it, and I want to do it,” Hawkins said yesterday on Idaho SportsTalk. “I do want to coach. I have a tremendous passion for mentoring kids—I have a tremendous passion for schemin’ it up.” Outside of a brief stint as head coach of the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL, this will be Hawkins’ first real coaching position since being fired at Colorado late in the 2010 season. Hawk went 53-11 in five groundbreaking seasons with the Broncos from 2001-05.
Idaho State was game against FCS Playoffs-bound Weber State in the Bengals’ season finale Saturday at Holt Arena. But the 2016 season still ended at 2-9 for the second straight season after a 34-28 loss to the Wildcats. The Gueller brothers, who have two seasons left together in Pocatello, at least gave fans some hope for the future. Tanner, the sophomore quarterback, threw for a career-high 362 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Mitch, the freshman wide receiver, made 10 catches for 187 yards and a TD. But ISU’s 8-4 campaign in 2014 is looking purely like an aberration. Idaho State has not played in the postseason in 33 years.
Boise State men’s hoops made major progress from the beginning of the Gildan Charleston Classic to the end. One area of emphasis for the Broncos, though, is turnovers. They’re turning the ball over an average of 16.5 times during their first four games. Turnovers can be a figment of a young team. Then again, the top three in turnovers are junior Chandler Hutchison, senior Nick Duncan and sophomore Paris Austin. Look for that category to improve during the non-conference season. Boise State has a chance to work on that Friday night against Presbytarian College in Taco Bell Arena. The visitors have one of the more interesting nicknames we’ll see this season, the “Blue Hose.”
The storied Canyon County college basketball rivalry heats up again tonight, as College of Idaho hosts Northwest Nazarene in the first leg of the United Heritage Mayors’ Cup Series. It’s the oldest oldest basketball rivalry in the Gem State, dating back to 1933. The two teams split a couple of thrillers last year, with the Crusaders winning a 100-96 overtime tilt in Nampa and the Coyotes taking a 75-71 decision in Caldwell. The C of I-NNU series, heading into its 201st game, has been a home-and-home affair since 2009. Before that, the schools faced off for seven years in a one-time-only game in the Idaho Center after the Crusaders left the NAIA and went NCAA Division II.
More weekend wrap: if the Ford EcoBoost 400 Sunday was the final race of Brian Scott’s career, he has a nice takeaway. Scott, who started in the 22nd spot, finished a respectable 15th in the 2016 Sprint Cup finale. “Very thankful to have been a part of this great sport since 2007, & Im looking forward to the future. Honored to be there 4 Smokes last race,” Scott tweeted Sunday. “Smoke” is 45-year-old Tony Stewart, who is also retiring from the sport. Nampa’s Tyler Aldridge won’t be playing many PGA Tour events this year, but he did seize his opportunity at the RSM Classic. Aldridge tied for 45th and earned $16,253. He was in the hunt until a 73 on Sunday. Troy Merritt missed the cut at Sea Island, GA.
The Boise State women’s volleyball team guns for the outright Mountain West championship tonight when it hosts Air Force in Bronco Gym. The Broncos have won 13 matches in a row and are headed for their first NCAA Tournament. And NNU volleyball has made the NCAA Division II Tournament for the second time in three years. The Crusaders, 20-7 overall, will play at the West Regional next week in Anchorage, AK, opening versus Simon Fraser.
This Day In Sports…November 22, 2003:
Utah ends BYU's NCAA-record streak of 361 consecutive games without being shut out when the Utes, under first-year coach Urban Meyer, edge the Cougars 3-0 in Provo. Blustery winds and bouts of snow limited both offenses as a 41-yard Bryan Borreson field goal was enough for Utah to clinch the Mountain West conference title, its first outright conference championship since 1957. The Cougars, who had scored in every game dating back to October, 1975, ended with their first back-to-back losing seasons in 32 years.
(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.)