Friday, December 21, 2012.
It’s well established that in tomorrow’s MAACO Bowl Las Vegas we have two solid defenses and two occasionally solid offenses. Regardless of claims to the contrary by each side, I think whatever statistical advantage the Boise State defense has is offset by Washington’s Justin Wilcox factor. Wilcox, the Husky defensive coordinator, knows what makes the Broncos tick more than he’s letting on, and it will be fascinating to see what he dials up. Boise State’s revamped offense has done enough to go 10-2 and get championship rings, but it has not scored 30 points on any of the five bowls teams it took on this season. UW has been spotty on offense as well, putting up 21 points or less in eight of its first nine games. The team that gets into a rhythm will probably win this game.
A possible blueprint for Washington in its zest to stop the Boise State offense tomorrow is the Huskies’ performance against eventual Pac-12 champion Stanford. UW held the Cardinal to 238 yards of total offense in a 17-13 upset in Seattle in September. First, the Huskies stopped the run, holding star running back Stepfan Taylor to 75 yards on 21 carries. Then they put the clamps on Josh Nunes, Andrew Luck’s successor (who was replaced later in the season). Nunes was just 18-of-37 for 170 yards with an interception. Washington has to envision a similar situation with the Broncos—stop D.J. Harper, make Joe Southwick depend on the pass, and see what happens.
The pressure on Washington quarterback Keith Price tomorrow will be similar to the pressure on Southwick. Price’s junior season was just a shadow of his sophomore year, when he threw for a school record 33 touchdowns. This season he has 18 TDs and 11 interceptions and doesn’t have a 300-yard game. And in Seattle’s harsher media environment, Price has taken some heat. Southwick, meanwhile, wants to prove that his last three games were not a mirage. He completed just under 71 percent of his throws in victories over Hawaii, Colorado State and Nevada, throwing for seven touchdowns with no picks. Here’s a stark difference between the two QBs, one the Broncos hope can play out today. Price lost seven fumbles during the regular season; Southwick lost zero.
Boise State defensive end Sam Ukwuachu will test his speed tomorrow against a Washington offensive line that has had its own ups and downs. The redshirt freshman is regularly reminded of his 6-4, 222-pound frame. “Even though I’m undersized, I feel like I’ve done my part,” said Ukwuachu. That he has, with seven tackles for loss, 4½ sacks, and three fumble recoveries this season. Ukwuachu says he can put on weight and still play as fast as he has this season. “Definitely I’ve got to get bigger,” he said. “I feel like if I put on a solid 10 to 15 pounds, I’ll be where I want to be for next year.”
The Broncos will end a rebuilding season at either 11-2 or 10-3. And either way, it has to be satisfying. “We’re pleased how the guys have played,” said coach Chris Petersen. “It’s been a different kind of a season—a little bit of a struggle, but I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way.” The seniors should feel good about it. It’s a 23-player senior class, but an odd one in that over half of it consists of guys who had been career role players for the Broncos. Only five are returning starters: Mitch Burroughs, Joe Kellogg, Chandler Koch, J.C. Percy and Jamar Taylor.
You could tell after the Nevada game that the legacy of this Golden Era that started in 1999 is important to Bronco players. Several talked about those that came before them when putting the day in perspective. Two accomplishments achieved in Mackay Stadium ensured this team belongs with its predecessors. Boise State sealed its 11th conference title and 12th 10-win season in those 14 years. The Broncos’ record during this run is now 156-24, and tomorrow they play in their 13th bowl game. The big picture: in 45 seasons as a four-year school dating back to 1968, there have been 39 winning seasons, 17 conference championships, 20 10-win seasons, and 22 trips to the postseason.
I’m here to tell you I can pronounce “Tutulepeata Mataele.” That’s the name of the newest Boise State recruit for the 2013 class. Fortunately, his nickname is “Deuce.” Mataele is a 6-3, 285-pound defensive tackle out of Mt. San Antonio College who chose the Broncos over Arizona State and BYU. He collected 14½ tackles for loss this season with 10½ sacks and three forced fumbles. Boise State’s crop of new junior college transfers now stands at six—highly unusual for this program. But nobody doubts the Bronco staff’s ability to determine what fits.
The Mountain West has traditionally fared well in bowl games, but the conference is now 0-2 this season after San Diego State’s 23-6 loss to BYU in the Poinsettia Bowl last night. Aztec quarterback Adam Dingwell, who managed the game well in SDSU’s 21-19 upset of Boise State last month, couldn’t manage much of anything against the Cougars. Dingwell turned the ball over five times, with BYU star linebacker Kyle Van Noy turning a fumble and an interception into touchdowns. There was just one offensive TD scored in the game.
At CenturyLink Arena last night, Boise State had no answer for Idaho in the first half. The Vandals, inspired by the loud half-and-half crowd, got out of the gate quickly. They crashed the boards, owned the lane and made their free throws while Kyle Barone was nailing all six of his field goal attempts. Idaho took a 10-point lead with 11½ minutes to go in the half and kept the Broncos at arm’s length from there, taking a 37-29 lead into the break. But after the intermission, Boise State started making its shots, clamped down on defense, and took the lead with 10½ minutes remaining. The Broncos pulled away on free throws and won their fourth straight over Idaho, 78-68.
When your shots aren’t falling, and you have other stuff going on (like Boise State did with Anthony Drmic battling the flu), you have to make other things count. It was defense that inspired offense in the second half. The Broncos cooled off Barone by flashing a second defender on him every time he touched the ball. They rested the scoreless Drmic during much of the first half—then assigned him to Stephen Madison, taking away Idaho’s most explosive point-maker. And Boise State trusted the offense to Derrick Marks, who contributed 21 of his game-high 25 points after halftime. It’s easy for me to say now, but I swear when I saw Drmic early in the game, I thought he looked green and appeared to have lost a few pounds. Drmic, who scored 34 points versus LSU a week ago, didn’t notch his first points until he canned a three with nine minutes left.
Same old story for the Idaho Stampede. They shot 40 percent from the field, went just 3-of-14 from three-point range, and were out-rebounded by six. The result was a 107-87 loss at Bakersfield that dropped the Stamps’ record to 1-9. Former Boise State star Coby Karl led the Stampede with 18 points. Sean Evans went from 34 points to six and from 22 rebounds to five in the second loss in two nights against the Jam. Idaho visits the L.A. D-Fenders tomorrow night.
CenturyLink Arena was not a friendly place for the Idaho Steelheads last season. Oh, the fans were fine. But the ice was not. The Steelheads didn’t even have a winning record at home in 2011-12, going 15-18-3. This year’s Steelies are already within three victories of last season’s total going into their final Boise performance of the calendar year tomorrow night against the Las Vegas Wranglers. The Steelheads are 12-2-1 at home and 18-7-3 overall, three points behind Alaska in the ECHL Mountain Division.
This Day In Sports…December 21, 2000:
UNLV upsets Arkansas in the Las Vegas Bowl, 31-14, in a battle between Rebels coach John Robinson and Razorbacks coach Houston Nutt, the former Boise State head man. UNLV surprisingly outrushed Arkansas by 187 yards as the Rebels won their hometown bowl game for the second time. UNLV hasn’t been to a bowl game since, though.
(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.)