Thursday, December 26, 2013.
Boise State has to get at least a slight pass for this one, the 38-23 loss to Oregon State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve. In 2½ weeks’ time, the Broncos had endured the loss of their iconic coach and the processing of a new regime under Bryan Harsin. They were short-staffed going into the game against the Beavers, with Chris Petersen and running backs coach Keith Bhonopha already at Washington and interim coach Bob Gregory holding it together. And there had to be some internal strife after Joe Southwick was sent home following an incident on the Broncos’ first night in Honolulu, the handling of which Southwick publicly questioned. Then Boise State was blindsided by its own mistakes and fell behind 38-6 in the third quarter. To their credit, the Broncos did not mail it in, ending the game with 17 unanswered points.
Boise State wide receiver Matt Miller lived up to every bit of his pregame billing, and there was a lot of it. Miller needed six catches to break the Bronco single-season record of 82, and he had 11. He needed 66 yards to hit the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career, and he racked up 206. It was Miller’s first 200-yard game, and the first by a Bronco since Tim Gilligan did it twice 10 years ago. And his 85-yard touchdown catch from Grant Hedrick broke a 40-year-old Boise State postseason record set on an 80-yard throw from Jim McMillan to John Smith against Louisiana Tech in the 1973 Division II semifinals.
Merry Christmas, Beavers. Boise State’s two turnovers in the game were as killer as it gets, two fumbles returned for touchdowns. The first one by Hedrick was gift-wrapped, returned by Rashaad Reynolds for all of three yards. Reynolds also scored on the second one, a ball security gaffe by wide receiver Troy Ware (right in the middle of new coach Bryan Harsin’s live phone interview on ESPN). Boise State’s offensive performance was symbolic of the season. There were lots of yards and first downs—538 and 28, respectively—but the giveaways and the inability to get a key third (or fourth) down when they needed it and settling for field goals instead of touchdowns did in the Broncos.
What was striking about this game was how much stronger Oregon State appeared to be physically. The Beavers dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, continually pushing the pile for extra yards on offense. A rushing-challenged OSU team averaged 5.9 yards per carry on Boise State and didn’t allow a single sack of Sean Mannion. On defense, the Beavers got after Hedrick from the get-go and sacked him five times. They had five quarterback hurries on top of that. It was not a game Ress Odhiambo will keep in his digital library. The sophomore right tackle was singled out by the ESPN crew as the Bronco struggling the most. For better or for worse, the slate is wiped clean for every player on the team in the eyes of new strength and conditioning coach Jeff Pitman. Things will get serious in mid-January.
The Hawaii Bowl loss was not only the worst in a bowl game in Boise State history, it was also the worst ever in the postseason for the Broncos, going all the way back through the Division I-AA and Division II playoffs to the 1971 Camellia Bowl. But it was still only 15 points. That tells you that things have always been pretty good around this program, and they continue to be. When so much is made of the fact that Boise State suffered its most losses in 15 years, and that number is five, certainly all is not lost.
Utah State tries to put the Mountain West back over .500 in the postseason as it takes on 24th-ranked Northern Illinois tonight at the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego. The matchup is interesting—Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch against the Mountain West’s best defense. The Aggies held Fresno State’s Derek Carr reasonably in check in the MW title game but couldn’t muster enough offense to get past the Bulldogs. The Huskies have been non-BCS darlings for over a year, a run that included their appearance in the Orange Bowl last January. So the “Football Power Index” on ESPN is perplexing, picking USU to win “by an average of 10 points.” That index had the Broncos winning on Christmas Eve, too.
It was another perfect night of conference game prep for Boise State last night in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic. The Broncos lost to No. 14 Iowa State, 70-66, but there were plenty of good takeaways. Playing high-energy defense, the Broncos never trailed ISU in the first half and led 34-27 at halftime. The Cyclones didn’t take their first lead until 13½ minutes remained in the game. Boise State was able to tie it at 60-60 on a Derrick Marks three-pointer with just over four minutes left but could never re-take the lead. Marks led the Broncos with 21 points but it was a feast-and-famine night. Marks had some big buckets as usual, but he also had some untimely misses in the second half, both from the field and the free throw line.
Boise State got what it wanted out of its trip to the prestigious Hawaii tournament. The Broncos won two of their three games, and for RPI purposes their strength-of-schedule got a bump from the rout of South Carolina Monday night and the strong showing against the nation’s 14th-ranked team. They also picked up two more ESPN2 appearances, the competition against Monday Night Football and the NBA Christmas Day marathon notwithstanding. And they placed Anthony Drmic on the Diamond Head Classic all-tournament team. The Australian junior scored 67 points in the three games. Now it’s on to Mountain West play—Boise State has nine days to prepare for Fresno State a week from Saturday night in Taco Bell Arena.
The Idaho Stampede hope the home court at CenturyLink Arena brings some normalcy back to what had been an abnormally good start to the 2013-14 season. The Stampede have lost three in a row after an 8-0 start, and the past two games have been especially glaring. During their winning streak, the Stamps scored 111.8 points per game and hit 47.5 percent from the field. The last two losses have seen them shoot just 38.6 percent, scoring 91 points each time. The Stampede host the Texas Legends tomorrow and Saturday.
Going into the final weekend of the NFL regular season, there are some Boise State and Idaho alums peaking. Cincinnati’s George Iloka, a starting safety who has become a key defensive component, is coming off his first career interception in last week’s rout of Minnesota. Carolina’s Cinderella run has been helped by Quintin Mikell, the 33-year-old veteran who had seven tackles, a sack and a pass deflection in a crucial win over New Orleans last Sunday. As Dallas tries to save its season, Orlando Scandrick contributed five tackles and a deflection in a victory at Washington. Houstons’ Shiloh Keo tantalizingly close to an interception of Peyton Manning last week, one of his two pass breakups in a loss to Denver. And Justin Veltung has settled in on special teams in St. Louis, returning three more punts for 34 yards in a win over Tampa Bay.
This Day In Sports…December 26, 1943, 70 years ago today:
At Wrigley Field, Sid Luckman is a one-man wrecking crew for the Chicago Bears. Playing against Washington for the NFL championship, Luckman ran the T-formation to perfection, becoming the first player to throw five touchdown passes in a playoff game. On defense, he intercepted two passes to help dismantle Sammy Baugh and the Redskins, 41-21. It was the Bears’ third NFL title in four seasons.
(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.)