Wednesday, November 27, 2013.
“Triple option, dive-dive-dive, option, then they hit you outside.” That’s how Boise State defensive end Kharyee Marshall sums up the ordeal of facing New Mexico’s triple-option. In fact, outside was a big part of the Lobos’ comeback in Albuquerque last year. They’d line a player up at wide receiver and wheel him around the backfield in what they call the “orbit,” taking a pitch at the last moment. He inevitably found open territory as UNM rallied from a 25-0 halftime deficit to fall only 32-29 to the Broncos while rolling up 330 yards on the ground. New Mexico led the nation in rushing much of this season—it has fallen off to sixth now after injuries to starting quarterback Cole Gautsche and star running back Kasey Carrier. “You’ve just got to find your football—you’ve got to get your eyes right,” said Marshall of the triple-option challenge.
On paper, it looks like Boise State’s running game should be able to recover Saturday night from its 95-yard game at San Diego State last week. After all, the Broncos aren’t the only team in the world enduring an injury plague. New Mexico’s defense is a bit scotch-taped together right now, with the linebacker corps particularly hard-hit. That brings up the subject of Jay Ajayi. It was last year in Albuquerque that Ajayi had his breakout game. He ran for 118 yards and a touchdown on six carries, including a 71-yard run. He did it all on two possessions at the end of the first half. Now Ajayi is the feature back as a sophomore and goes into the regular season finale with 1,181 yards and 16 touchdowns.
It appears Shane Williams-Rhodes will be on hold Saturday as he nears a Boise State record for single-season receptions. Coach Chris Petersen calls Williams-Rhodes “questionable” for the New Mexico game after he suffered an injury late in the loss at San Diego State. SWR has 77 catches for the season, just five short of Jeremy Childs’ school record set in 2007. Williams-Rhodes has 59 receptions in the past seven games. Also, Matt Miller needs four catches Saturday night to reach 200 for his career. Miller is third all-time at Boise State with one full season to go.
Speaking of the Bronco passing game, one of the biggest surprises of the season has been the lack of involvement from the running backs and tight ends. Of Boise State’s 280 pass completions this season, only 20 have been gathered in by running backs, covering just 111 yards. And 47 of those yards came on Ajayi’s big play on the final drive of regulation last Saturday. The tight ends, believe it or not, have even fewer receptions, only 19. And between the two position groups this year there have been exactly zero touchdowns.
The College of Idaho football team will probably draw larger crowds in Caldwell next season than will see the New Mexico State-University of Idaho game Saturday in Las Cruces. Attendance has been abysmmal this year for an NMSU program that had set the bar low to begin with. At the end of September, university president Garrey Carruthers announced cash incentives as prizes to students who would stay through the fourth quarter of home games. The Aggies report an average of 16,281 fans per game, but Carruthers himself estimates the actual number to be about 2,500-3,000. And that’s probably what NMSU is looking at Saturday for a pair of 1-10 teams that sport the bottom two defenses in the country.
There’s no more football between Boise State and Idaho, so basketball is as good as it gets. And the Broncos and Vandals renew acquaintances tonight in CenturyLink Arena. This marks the third straight neutral-site holiday clash between the rivals, and the first during Thanksgiving week. Two years ago the game was played in the Idaho Center on New Year’s Eve, with the Broncos winning 76-73. Last year it became the downtown “Battle In Boise” five days before Christmas, when Boise State rallied for a 78-68 victory. The Vandals will be back in the facility December 20 to face Idaho State.
If sports are cyclical, here’s the cycle in the Boise State-Idaho hoops rivalry in the new century. The Vandals broke a 14-game losing streak to the Broncos by sweeping their rivals in 2008-09, UI coach Don Verlin’s first season. The following season the teams split, including a 79-55 Idaho win in Taco Bell Arena before 7,600 fans that essentially sealed the fate of then-Boise State coach Greg Graham. Leon Rice took over the following season and swept the Vandals in BSU's final year in the WAC, followed by the neutral site victories the past two Decembers.
Boise State is leading the nation in scoring at 104 points per game. Of course, the season is just four games old, and a lot can happen. The more telling statistic right now for the Broncos is steals per game. They’re averaging 11.3, first in the Mountain West and third in the country. That’s at the core of the leap Boise State appears to be taking on defense, and it’s allowed the Broncos to compile a turnover margin of plus-5.5, 22nd in the nation. One thing that’s clear about Idaho is, Verlin likes his depth. And he’s developed it with just three returnees from last season’s squad and 10 newcomers. Out of the 11 Vandals who have seen action so far this season, 10 are averaging 11 or more minutes per game.
As a 6-8, 260-pounder, Dallas Lauderdale would naturally command the attention inside for the Idaho Stampede this season. But teammate Richard Howell has been matching him stride-for-stride and board-for-board. Howell has posted double-doubles in each of the Stampede’s first two games, both of them wins over Bakersfield last weekend. The former North Carolina State star has been the picture of consistency, scoring 21 points with three steals and two blocked shots each night. The Stamps are back in CenturyLink Arena Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. against the Reno Bighorns.
The Idaho Steelheads enjoy welcoming goalie Josh Robinson back from Texas. They’ve done it again and again. Last night Robinson celebrated another return from the AHL by stopping 23 of 24 shots in a 4-1 win over Las Vegas in CenturyLink Arena. It was the third straight Steelheads start in which Robinson has allowed just one goal—not surprisingly, all three have been victories. He has four straight wins overall, wrapped around his trips to Austin. Patrick Cullity scored twice for the Steelies, and William Rapuzzi, the ECHL’s scoring leader among rookies, kept it going with a goal and an assist. The Wranglers will hang around Boise for Thanksgiving and get back on the Idaho ice Friday and Saturday nights.
This Day In Sports…November 27, 2004:
With six inches of snow having been cleared off the field at Mackay Stadium, and Boise State fans literally outnumbering Nevada fans, the Broncos proceed to pummel the Wolf Pack 58-21 to complete their first undefeated regular season. Jared Zabransky threw for three touchdowns and BSU scored three more on the ground to set a team season rushing TD record with 46, as the Broncos notched their third straight WAC championship.
(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.)