Thursday, December 13, 2012.
A year ago, the Boise State men’s basketball team was laden with freshmen, some of them in the “true” category, and coach Leon Rice was trying to find the right combination. Injuries didn’t help. The net result was 15 different starting lineups in 30 games. Rice knows what he likes this season going into tomorrow night’s big matchup with LSU in Taco Bell Arena. The 6-2 Broncos have used the same starting five in all eight games: Derrick Marks, Jeff Elorriaga, Anthony Drmic, Ryan Watkins and Kenny Buckner. Then you have two players getting big minutes off the bench, Igor Hadziomerovic and Mikey Thompson. On the other hand, LSU has a new coach, Johnny Jones, and he’s still experimenting despite a 6-0 record. Ten different Tigers have started this season.
In case you don’t remember why LSU is coming here, this game was arranged as part of a home-and-home series when Trent Johnson was the Tigers’ coach. Johnson, of course, is a former Boise State player—part of the Broncos’ first NCAA Tournament team in 1976 and a member of the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame. Too bad Johnson won’t be here. After a disappointing 18-15 season last winter, he left to take the head coaching job at TCU. Johnson, who started his coaching career as sophomore coach at Boise High, had successful stints at Nevada and Stanford before going to LSU but was just 67-62 in Baton Rouge.
There’s one college football All-America team that takes a different tack. It’s from Pro Football Weekly, which describes it as being “based on extensive evaluation and considerable feedback from NFL evaluators." PFW’s team seeks “to recognize players we expect will become outstanding pros.” There’s only a first team and an honorable mention group, and the latter includes Boise State senior cornerback Jamar Taylor. Early projections have Taylor going in the second or early third round in next April’s NFL Draft. The senior standout has three interceptions, 2½ sacks, eight pass breakups and three forced fumbles this season.
Quarterback Joe Southwick knows a good performance in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas will seal this season as a good one. Southwick partially credits his late-season surge to his offensive teammates rallying around him all fall. “They’ve been awesome,” said Southwick. “There’s been some trials for me this season, going through the year as a quarterback in this town. The offense has been super supportive.” Southwick says he’s getting more film work in for this game than he has all year. One Husky that has jumped out on tape is 6-2, 225-pound nickel Shaq Thompson, who started his first college game in September and has started every game since. “He’s a pretty big kid for a true freshman, I’ll say that,” observed Southwick. Thompson has 66 tackles, two sacks and three interceptions this year.
We need to talk about Chuckie Keeton, the Utah State quarterback who’s going to be a centerpiece of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Saturday. Beginning with the narrow miss at Auburn to start the 2011 season, Keeton has made a name for himself with his shifty feet, but his passing has made the difference in the Aggies 10-2 championship season. While rushing for 527 yards and seven touchdowns, Keeton also passed for 3,144 yards and 27 TDs while tossing only nine interceptions. Fans in Boise hardly saw him last December when Utah State lost to Ohio 24-23 on the blue turf. Keeton was coming off an injury and carried the ball once for 10 yards. He has a chance to energize Bronco Stadium this time.
So how does a defense that is ranked 105th in the country hang in there enough for its team to post a 9-3 season? Through playmaking. Toledo has 17 interceptions this season and has returned four for touchdowns, most of them game-changers. Two of the picks were taken to the house by safety Jermaine Robinson. The senior All-MAC safety returned one 75 yards for a score to key the Rockets’ 29-23 upset at Cincinnati. The playmaking designation also fits linebacker Dan Molls, an honorable mention SI.com All-American who has three interceptions himself this season. Utah State coach Gary Andersen says Molls reminds him of former USU star Bobby Wagner, who’s had a huge NFL rookie season in Seattle. “(Molls) is always around the football, and he is sideline to sideline and behind the line of scrimmage,” said Andersen.
Another sportswriter got caught in the coaching carousel crevasse this week. Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal was trying to connect the dots after he found out Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez traveled to Northern Ohio Tuesday. Certainly he was there to interview Toledo coach Matt Campbell, right? Campbell, of course, was at Wahooz Tuesday for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl’s bowling fundraiser. Mulhern apologized for the misinformation.
Bryan Harsin referred to Boise State a lot yesterday at his introductory press conference at Arkansas State—if only because he was asked about it a lot. The point has been made that the Red Wolves weren’t attracted to Harsin as their new head coach because he was offensive coordinator at Texas the past two years. It’s because he was on the inside of the Broncos’ Golden Era, from player to position coach to O-coordinator. Harsin saw how Dirk Koetter changed Boise State’s mindset, how Dan Hawkins made it think big, and how Chris Petersen perfected it all. Arkansas State wants to replicate that, of course.
And a guy who was tutored by Harsin is reportedly seeking his own head coaching gig in the Treasure Valley. Former Boise State quarterback Bush Hamdan has interviewed for the College of Idaho job, sources told KTVB’s Jay Tust. Hamdan is currently wide receivers coach at Florida. The Coyotes reinstated football last spring and will field a team again in 2014 as a member of the Frontier Conference.
In what has already been an impressive start to the 2012-13 season, this might have been tops for the Idaho Steelheads. The ECHL Mountain Division-leading Alaska Aces made a brief one-game visit to CenturyLink Arena last night. The Aces lead no more, as the Steelheads leapfrogged into first place with their first shutout of the season, 4-0. Goalie Tyler Beskorowany turned in his best performance of the campaign, turning away all 29 Alaska shots. On the other end for the Steelies, Ben Ondrus started the scoring with his first goal of the season, and Austin Smith clocked his 15th tally in 16 games. Idaho plays at Bakersfield Friday and Ontario Saturday.
The Idaho Stampede need some inside grit, and coach Mike Peck hopes he has acquired some with the addition of former Stanford standout Josh Owens. The 6-8, 240-pound forward finished his college career last spring, starting 96 games for the Cardinal with averages of 8.7 points and 4.7 rebounds. Just as important, Owens shot 57 percent from the field in his career. He played in the NBA Summer League this year for the Charlotte Bobcats. The Stampede are searching for answers after an 0-6 start—they host the Santa Cruz Warriors tomorrow night and Saturday night.
This Day In Sports…December 13, 1980:
Before a crowd that for almost 20 years was considered the loudest in Bronco Stadium history, Boise State shocks the legendary Grambling Tigers 14-9 in the semi-finals of the Division I-AA playoffs. The Tigers dominated the game statistically, but were psyched out by the foggy 25-degree weather—coughing up four costly turnovers. A 63-yard touchdown pass from Joe Aliotti to Kipp Bedard off a flea-flicker (with Bedard dragging Everson Walls into the endzone) provided the winning points.
(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.)