Thursday, January 9, 2014.
No way anybody thought Boise State would have a chance to win this game on its final possession after the Broncos trailed by 18 in the first half. And looked bad doing it. But after watching his team come all the way back to trail 67-66, and get the ball for the final shot, coach Leon Rice put the game in Derrick Marks’ hands. Marks was one-on-one against San Diego State’s Xavier Thames, the best defender on one of the nation’s best defensive teams. Thames won, forcing a bad shot by Marks, and the Aztecs won, 69-66. But this is indeed a game Boise State can build on. “It takes a lot of moxie to come back in an environment like this,” said Rice on his KBOI postgame show as 12,414 fans filed out.
Conventional wisdom said this was a good time for Boise State to play No. 13 San Diego State, which could have a hangover after its landmark win at Kansas last Sunday. But the Aztecs, who came into the game leading the country in field goal defense at 34 percent, unleashed a suffocating shield from the opening tip. That caused epic offensive frustration. The Broncos went almost eight minutes without scoring midway through the first half and didn’t reach double digits until seven minutes remained. That they were able to stay the course and make it a game is amazing.
Marks was due for a big game. It happened last night, but it didn’t seem like it would ever come. He started the game 1-for-6 and looked like a turnover machine. During San Diego State’s 17-0 first-half run, Marks had a lazy inbounds pass stolen, resulting in an Aztecs bucket, and was promptly stripped on Boise State’s next possession. He didn’t make his first field goal until just over four minutes remained in the first half. But his three-pointer at the halftime buzzer gave the Broncos hope, getting their deficit down to single digits. During the rally down the stretch, Marks took over and scored Boise State’s final eight points, finishing with 21. The last play was Marks-against-the-world, and it didn’t happen. Still, said Rice, “I would like our chances right there.”
Bryan Harsin walked into his first regular press conference as Boise State football coach yesterday with his sleeves hiked up. Seems he always has his sleeves rolled up—he must like that look. That’s particularly appropriate now as he drills into the Bronco program. Recruiting is front-burner, do you think? The “dead period” in recruiting ends a week from today. “We look forward to hittin’ the road on the 16th and meeting them face-to-face,” said Harsin. “The next 30 days are extremely important for us now, (especially) those 2½ weeks before signing day.” New defensive coordinator Marcel Yates says his recruiting philosophy won’t change. “If I’m at Texas A&M or Boise State or wherever, I don’t ever look at what school I’m at and think, ‘I can’t get that kid.’”
I asked Yates if he’d be zeroing in again on Southern California, where he had so much success recruiting for the Broncos in the past. The answer was yes. “As soon as it was announced I was coming back, I got a bunch of calls from coaches there.” Yates said they had guys who were “already in the boat.” There’s one guy who’s out of the boat, as cornerback Brandon Lewis of Elk Grove, CA, one of Boise State’s earliest recruits, decommitted yesterday after getting an offer from Washington. That spot will be replaced, no doubt. “When you put together a new staff, everyone has relationships,” said Harsin. “I think I understand kids,” Yates said.
The other priority subject right now: what is the Boise State offense going to look like? “I think the No. 1 thing is execution,” Harsin said. “Tempo has become an in-vogue word—I hope we’re the best-executing team in the country. It really starts there.” New offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. chimed in with this: “I think the cornerstone of Boise State’s offense is creativity and multiplicity, to mesh different worlds of offense together.” He referred to “the cutting edge of creativity.” Sanford takes his Bronco post seriously. “With that great job title comes great responsibility,” he said. “When I was a redshirting freshman quarterback, the two guys in the position meeting room were coach Koetter (Dirk Koetter, now O-coordinator at Atlanta), and coach Helfrich (Mark Helfrich, now head coach at Oregon).”
Now that the 2013 college football season is officially over, we refer to Stewart Mandel’s College Football Mailbag at SI.com. A reader asks Mandel, “Who do you think will fare better his first year at a new position, Chris Petersen at Washington or Bryan Harsin at Boise State? Petersen has experience on his side, but Harsin seems like he will bring some much-needed energy to Boise, which was lacking this season.” Responds Mandel: “Ah, college football. For seven years, Petersen was the messiah in Boise. He leaves, and now he was lacking energy.” It was actually eight years, but we digress.
“They'll both do very well over the long haul,” continues Mandel. “Credit Boise State athletic director Mark Coyle for recognizing the ideal fit with Harsin, a former Broncos quarterback and Petersen assistant who can deliver continuity while also injecting new ideas from his stints at Texas and Arkansas State. But Petersen is walking into a gold mine in Seattle. He's inheriting an extremely talented roster, including a young quarterback (sophomore-to-be Cyler Miles) he can build around. It's far too early to make predictions for next season, but Petersen has the tools in place for a strong debut season. Harsin may have more question marks.” That’s why they play the games.
Incidentally, Mike Sanford’s final game as a Bronco was the 2004 Liberty Bowl against Louisville and coach Bobby Petrino. And now it appears Petrino, brother of Idaho coach Paul Petrino, is rejoining Louisville after one season at Western Kentucky. He coached the Cardinals from 2003-06—his path has been quite checkered since then (putting it kindly) through his stops in Atlanta and Arkansas. Louisville edged the Broncos 44-40 in Sanford’s finale in Memphis. He had a chance to score a touchdown in that game on a fake field goal, but he was tackled just short of the goal line. Elsewhere in tangled webs, Michigan has fired offensive coordinator Al Borges, the former O.C. at Boise State, and will reportedly hire Alabama O-coordinator Doug Nussmeier, the former Idaho quarterback, to replace him.
The Idaho Stampede ended their stay at the D-League Showcase in Reno yesterday with a 97-90 loss to the Erie BayHawks. Pierre Jackson, who’s still with the Stampede (the NBA trade deadline isn’t until February 20), led the team with 33 points, and Dee Bost put up a triple-double with 15 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. But Bost was just 6-of-18 from the field. Newly-acquired Kevin Murphy added 26 points but was just 9-of-24 from the floor as the Stamps shot less than 39 percent. The Stampede are back in CenturyLink Arena tomorrow night to begin a two-game series against the L.A. D-Fenders.
This Day In Sports…January 9, 1977:
The Oakland Raiders overwhelm the Minnesota Vikings, 32-14, in Super Bowl XI, played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. For the Vikings, it’s their fourth consecutive Super Bowl loss. For the Raiders, it’s the crowning moment of John Madden’s coaching career, with the lasting memory being Willie Brown’s 75-yard return of a Fran Tarkenton interception. In slo-mo.
(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.)