Monday, November 28, 2016.
Powers like Oregon, Notre Dame and Michigan State fell off the cliff this season. Boise State did not. The Broncos finished the regular season 10-2, but they ended it with an agonizing 27-20 loss at Air Force Friday. It was all laid out there for them, a possible win in Colorado Springs and a loss by Wyoming at New Mexico that would get BSU into the Mountain West championship game. And the Cowboys did indeed lose, making Thanksgiving weekend even more frustrating. So a solid season with double-digit wins seems hollow right now. A quote I saw Saturday morning from Colorado center Alex Kelley made me think immediately of the Broncos. “In my eyes, if we don’t win and don’t become (division) champs, to me we just won a bunch of games,” said Kelley. “It’s cool, but that’s not our ultimate goal.” The Buffaloes reached theirs—Boise State did not.
Boise State picked a bad time to short-circuit on offense. How weird was that? All its weapons were stuck in neutral at Air Force, save for some wild accelerations. That made for a wildly inconsistent day. The Broncos gained 339 of their 400 yards on seven explosive plays, averaging a stunning 48.4 yards on those. Boise State's other 44 plays netted just 61 yards, an equally-stunning 1.4 yards per snap, as only one of 12 third downs were converted. It was unreal, and it extended to Jeremy McNichols, who busted off a 56-yard run on the first play of the game. After that: just 32 yards on 27 attempts, 1.2 yards per carry.
Brett Rypien hit some big plays in the passing game, but all those misses made for an agonizing afternoon. Rypien didn't complete a pass in the first quarter, finally getting one on his ninth try. Outside of several drops, his throws seemed to either go into coverage or simply out of the reach of open receivers. Over the game's first 51 minutes, Rypien was 6-of-23, a clip of just 26 percent. His final three attempts in the last nine minutes almost turned the game inside out. Almost. Rypien was 3-for-3 on those for 161 yards, including the 75-yard touchdown to Cedrick Wilson, who joined Thomas Sperbeck as the only two Broncos to catch a pass the entire day. The fact that Wilson now also joins Sperbeck as a 1,000-yard receiver, giving Boise State two in the same season for the first time, is small consolation.
Going into the game, you’d think the Air Force defense, the Mountain West leader in sacks, would get to Rypien multiple times, and that the Falcons would force turnovers (as they always have versus the Broncos). Well, there were no sacks, and Rypien’s fumble at the end of the game doesn’t really count (the play should have been blown dead). Instead, you saw a combination of lack of depth and altitude take its toll on the Boise State defense. Oh, and the Air Force offense. The Broncos did okay against the triple-option—the longest run of the day was 23 yards—but the Falcons gave it a steady drip-drip-drip, converting third downs and holding onto the ball all day. Air Force peeled off 77 rushing plays, and its time-of-possession was 41½ minutes.
Wyoming added insult to injury for Boise State Saturday night when it was pummeled 56-35 at New Mexico. The Lobos rolled up an astounding 568 yards on the ground. And the Cowboys’ opponent in the Mountain West championship game in Laramie this Saturday, San Diego State, was clobbered 63-31 by Colorado State. The conference lost some serious momentum over the weekend. So what now for the Broncos, who fell out of both polls yesterday? They could get back in the Top 25 with a solid win in their bowl game, and they have plenty of time to pick themselves up by the horseshoes. Boise State won’t know its bowl destination until this Sunday. Could be anywhere.
Another week, another clinch for Idaho. The Vandals added a winning season to their bowl-eligible status Saturday with a 38-31 win over South Alabama in the Kibbie Dome. With quarterback Matt Linehan in the throes of a so-so day with 50 percent passing and two touchdowns against three interceptions, Idaho put the game in the hands of Isaiah Saunders. The sophomore running back from Elk Grove, CA, has been a catalyst during the Vandals’ stretch run, and he gained 142 yards on 23 carries and scored three TDs. Idaho is now 7-4 overall, its first winning season since 2009 and only its second this century. The only cloud over the celebratory day was the attendance. It was announced at 9,049, and the Dome didn’t appear to have anywhere near that number of fans.
Justinian Jessup is already making his mark in Boise State hoops. The 2015 Colorado 4A Player of the Year put up 20 points Friday night to lead the Broncos to an 82-56 win over Presbyterian in Taco Bell Arena. Jessup wears Anthony Drmic’s old No. 3 jersey, and at times he looks like a lefthanded Drmic. Jessup isn’t as physical yet as the recently-graduated Aussie was, but he appears to be as good a shooter. He was 6-of-10 from the field and 3-of-5 from three-point range. And Jessup nailed all five of his opportunities from the charity stripe with his high-arcing free throws. That’s not to say that the experience in Oregon’s Matthew Knight Arena tonight might not be a sobering one. But it’ll be valuable for the true freshman.
In Oregon, Boise State faces its feature opponent of the season. The Ducks are ranked 13th in the AP Poll and finished the Maui Invitational with wins over Tennessee and UConn. They’re averaging eight blocked shots per game, which may alter what has been a hot shot from Paris Austin. The creative sophomore has made 15 of his last 16 field goals over three games since being plugged into the starting lineup. This will be a real test of Austin’s athleticism.
Then there’s the little matter of the Broncos’ 74-72 upset of the Elite Eight-bound Ducks last December in Boise. Another upset tonight would be quite a calling card. Coach Leon Rice remembers what a certain marquee road victory did for his team four years ago today when the Broncos took down the No. 11 team in the country. “Creighton stayed on our resume all season.” Last year’s win over the Ducks did, too, but it wasn’t enough to get Boise State into the NCAA Tournament or the NIT in the end.
The Idaho Steelheads have the right to feel good about themselves after a weekend home-ice sweep of the Allen, the defending Kelly Cup champion who ushered them out of the postseason last spring. The Steelheads beat the Americans 3-2 Friday night and 5-2 Saturday night, displaying balance throughout. The Steelies’ eight goals in the series came from eight different players. And the two victories in goal were split between Brandon Komm and Landon Bow. Thing is, Bow has been called up by the AHL’s Texas Stars, and why not? He has won seven of his last starts. In return, Idaho gets one of last season’s netminders back, Philippe Desrosiers. The Steelheads will be back on CenturyLink Arena ice Wednesday night against their longest-running rivals, the Alaska Aces.
More campus check: Boise State women’s volleyball is headed to the NCAA Tournament’s Stanford bracket, where it will open play Friday night against Conference USA champion Western Kentucky. WKU is 30-2 overall and has won 21 straight matches. The Boise State women’s basketball team picked up a couple of solid wins at the Hilton Concord Classic in Moraga, CA, over the weekend, beating host Saint Mary’s 83-78 and Charlotte 68-65. The Broncos’ Yaiza Rodriguez was tournament MVP while becoming the program’s career assists leader, Brooke Pahukoa went over 1,000 points in career scoring, and coach Gordy Presnell won his 200th game at Boise State. Elsewhere, the College of Idaho men split at the Domino’s Classic in Caldwell, topping Rocky Mountain 87-75 and falling to Montana Western 70-69.
This Day In Sports…November 28, 2008:
Boise State caps a perfect regular season with a 61-10 rout of Fresno State in Bronco Stadium. Bush Hamdan was honored with the Senior Night start at quarterback but threw a pick-six on the first series. Freshman Kellen Moore came back on after that, and it was 61-3 the rest of the way. It was also Ian Johnson’s final game on the blue turf, and he rushed for 128 yards, the only 100-yard game of his senior season. For the Bulldogs, it was more anguish against the Broncos. At that point, Fresno State fell to 1-7 versus Boise State in conference games (it’s now 2-13).
(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.)