Friday, August 31, 2012.
You know you shouldn’t, but you know a lot of people will. They’ll watch Joe Southwick tonight in Boise State’s season opener at Michigan State and say after a play that doesn’t work, “WWKD?” What would Kellen do? Kellen Moore will cast a large and entirely unfair shadow over Southwick this evening at Spartan Stadium. There will never be a quarterback like Moore at Boise State. But Southwick doesn’t have to be Moore. I’ve mentioned this before, but if Southwick is better than Jared Zabransky was—and it’s possible he will be—won’t that be good enough? The Broncos posted two undefeated regular seasons under Zabransky. On the surface, Southwick looks like he’s more in the mold of Bart Hendricks. Now that would be good enough.
You know that old adage: surround yourself with good people. Well, Southwick has been surrounded with good people. Tonight that starts with his receivers, at both the wideout and tight end spots. Guys like Matt Miller and Gabe Linehan can almost “will” Southwick to some good things. While Miller and Linehan play like seniors, Mitch Burroughs and Chris Potter actually are seniors, and it’s hard to fathom any of them being intimidated. The wild card is Aaron Burks. With Geraldo Boldewijn beginning his four-game suspension tonight, Burks becomes the one larger body who has the speed to stretch the field, yet he hasn’t done that yet in his career. “We’d like his role to change this year,” said Chris Petersen of the 6-3, 200-pound junior. Make that tonight.
The game to compare this one to is not the Georgia, Virginia Tech or Oregon games of the past three years. I liken it to Boise State’s trip to Washington in 2007. The re-made Broncos weren’t quite ready for prime time two games removed from the Fiesta Bowl, and their 14-game winning streak came to an end in a 24-10 loss to the Huskies. The young Broncos didn’t know how good they could be (and UW didn’t know how bad it would be), and new quarterback Taylor Tharp was a bit daunted by the atmosphere in front of 70,000 fans in Seattle. Boise State’s newbies have to avoid that frame of mind tonight.
Some national perspective on tonight’s game from ESPN.com’s Brian Bennett, who notes how the Broncos have turned things inside-out. “If you're a traditionalist, it probably sounds wrong that a Big Ten team must use Boise State as a measuring stick,” writes Bennett. “But Chris Petersen has helped turn the Broncos into a force, especially in openers. So this is a program accustomed to playing giant-killer on Labor Day weekend.” Bennett intimates there’s a little more pressure on the Spartans than the Broncos. “Powerhouses plug in new quarterbacks and move on. They also win their openers at home. Michigan State wants to get to the level Boise State has achieved and can move a big step closer with the country watching. If the Spartans beat the giant-killers, they might be giants.”
SI.com’s Stewart Mandel had predictions for all the key games on opening weekend. And, like a number of prognosticators, he doesn’t think it’s going to be particularly close tonight. Michigan State 38, Boise State 20. Mandel’s more worried about the Bronco defense than the offense. “Boise's ultra-diverse offense will prevent William Gholston, Marcus Rush and the rest of Michigan State's loaded defense from teeing off on new quarterback Joe Southwick,” Mandel writes. “The problem is on the other side: A powerful Spartans rushing attack will be too much for the Broncos' green defensive line to handle, creating play-action opportunities for new starter Andrew Maxwell.”
Can Boise State draw inspiration from this? Naw, the Broncos won’t bother with something that happened 15 years ago. But their only other game against a Big Ten opponent was at Wisconsin in Camp Randall Stadium in 1997, and it was a doozy. Boise State had lost its opener in newly-expanded Bronco Stadium the week before. A record crowd of 26,824 had to suffer through a 63-23 waxing at the hands of Cal State Northridge in Houston Nutt’s debut as head coach. That made the Badgers downright scary for the Broncos. But a fumble recovery for a touchdown and a fake punt helped BSU carry a 24-21 lead over Wisconsin into the final minute. With 49 seconds left, Badgers quarterback Mike Samuel slipped out of a possible sack and scrambled 13 yards for a TD. Wisconsin 28, Boise State 24.
It very well could be the last time Kellen Moore plays in a game for a long while, and he made the most of his final chance to impress the Detroit coaching staff last night in the Lions’ 38-32 win over Buffalo. With a goodly contingent of Boise State fans urging him on at Ford Field, Moore was 17-of-30 for 211 yards and accounted for the winning touchdown on…a one-yard run on a bootleg. That capped an 80-yard fourth quarter drive. Moore had three rushes for seven yards on the night (the best rushing game in his four-year Bronco career was 14 yards). Moore and Titus Young are planning to car-pool to East Lansing today, with Kellen wondering if he’s done enough to make Detroit’s 53-man roster.
Of the 26 former Boise State players in NFL training camps, 25 made it through the first cut. Expect some carnage today when clubs have to get down to their 53-man rosters. Each team has to release 27 players. Basic math tells us that’s 864 guys. Beyond Kellen Moore, BSU’s undrafted free agents with the best chances to stick are Chase Baker in Minnesota, who had six tackles and a sack last night, and Kyle Efaw in Oakland. Both are long shots, though. This will be a nerve-wracking day for guys like Jarrell Root, Brandyn Thompson, Derek Schouman, and even Korey Hall (although Schouman had six catches for 74 yards and Hall three grabs for 27 yards last night for the Saints).
You can’t believe everything you read on the Internet, but it turns out the web rumors about Idaho quarterback Dominique Blackman were true. After all the buildup, Blackman did not play in the Vandals’ opener against Eastern Washington. All we’ve been able to cull from his absence is that it’s “an off-field issue,” and he’s expected be back next week The Idaho offense did not function well without Blackman, as it was smothered by the Eagles in a rather demoralizing 20-3 loss in the Kibbie Dome. Coach Robb Akey opted to go with Logan Bushnell at QB as opposed to Taylor Davis, and Bushnell was just 10-of-24 for 123 yards with an interception as the Vandals were held to 237 yards overall. This is not how they wanted to come out of the gate after overhauling their offensive staff.
In the Mountain West last night, UNLV almost got it done against Minnesota before falling in three overtimes, 30-27. There are some ominous matchups tomorrow—Hawaii at No. 1 USC and Wyoming at No. 15 Texas. Nevada helps Cal christen the remodeled Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, and San Diego State goes to Washington. Elsewhere, Eagle High grad Taylor Kelly threw for 247 yards and rushed for 43 more in his starting debut for Arizona State against overmatched Northern Arizona in a 63-3 rout. And BYU, less than three weeks away from a trip to Bronco Stadium, ran roughshod over Washington State, 30-6.
The Boise Hawks are a 2012 playoff team thanks to a magnificent second half. But there won’t be a winning season this year for the Hawks, as Everett finally cooled off their bats last night in a 4-3 victory at Memorial Stadium. That doesn’t mean Boise went homerless, though, as Rock Shoulders blasted a two-run pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the ninth, the Hawks’ 63rd of the season. Stephen Bruno went 2-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to 20 games and improve his average to .356—he has all but locked up the Northwest League batting title. The Hawks have two games left before the playoffs start Monday night. If they beat Everett in both of them, they can still finish at .500 for the first time since 2008.
The Idaho Stampede don’t have a head coach, but they do have a schedule for the upcoming season. The Stamps open their 15th season after Thanksgiving weekend this year, on the road against the L.A. D-Fenders November 28. The Stampede’s home opener is the latest in franchise history, not until December 7 against the defending D-League champion Austin Toros. Good news for the Stampede front office staff: 17 of 24 home games will be played on Friday and Saturday nights.
This Day In Sports…August 31, 1996:
Boise State and Idaho make their debuts in Division I-A. The Broncos fell at home to Central Michigan, 42-21, while coach Pokey Allen was away in Vancouver, BC, undergoing alternative cancer treatment. The Vandals led Wyoming into the fourth quarter before falling 40-38 at Laramie. Ryan Fien broke Ken Hobart’s Idaho single-game passing record in his debut with 543 yards.
(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.)