Thursday, October 17, 2013.
Both starting quarterbacks Saturday, Boise State’s Joe Southwick and Nevada’s Cody Fajardo, having been living in a fishbowl for a while. It’s been going on longer for Fajardo, who replaced Wolf Pack icon and current 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick in 2011. But it’s been far more intense for Southwick, who in 2012 stepped in for the winningest quarterback in college football history, Kellen Moore. The expectations were high for Southwick after he backed up Moore for three seasons. He was a junior when he took over. Fajardo was able to ease into the spotlight a bit more, as he came on for Kaepernick as a redshirt freshman. The Pack doesn’t have the fan base the Broncos do, spoiled as the Nation sometimes appears. I haven’t heard of Fajardo being verbally assaulted at any grocery stores in Reno.
Southwick has persevered. Despite deep roots in the Bay Area, he has embraced Boise as a community—and maybe as his future home. He has also earned some accolades amidst the grousing. He’s one of 15 quarterbacks remaining now on the watch list for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award that goes to the nation’s top senior or fourth-year junior QB. Southwick, who’s fourth in the nation with a 72.3 percent completion percentage, has averaged 305 yards per game passing the past three games. Fajardo is also on the list, as are Fresno State’s Derek Carr and Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly, the former Eagle High star.
Fajardo is coming off the top two passing performances of his career, throwing for 782 yards and five touchdowns combined. He also has not thrown an interception this season—there are only four other quarterbacks in the nation who can say that. Fajardo’s streak of 158 attempts without a pick is the third longest in the country. But the junior’s running ability is what keeps opposing coaches up at night. Despite missing two games this season, Fajardo has rushed for 272 yards and five touchdowns. “He’s as good as we have in this league,” said Boise State coach Chris Petersen. “It’s hard—you get your eyes in the wrong spot, and he’s around the corner.”
I, for one, will pay some attention to Nevada coach Brian Polian’s sideline demeanor Saturday night. The guy gets worked up in the heat of battle. Chris Murray of the Reno Gazette-Journal has been following it. “In each of Nevada’s past two games, the television cameras have caught Polian on expletive-laden rants,” writes Murray. “During the game against San Diego State, the ESPN crew showed Polian every couple of plays, knowing there might be a money shot there. He’s getting a reputation already, although he reiterated (last) week that he’ll do a better job on the sidelines. ‘I apologize for my choice of words,’ Polian said at Nevada’s booster luncheon. ‘What I will not apologize for is my passion for this team. I will not apologize for my passion for my job. I need to do a better job of expressing it.’”
During Idaho’s bye week, let’s get a mid-term report on the Vandals. Topping the list of things that need to be fixed during this 1-6 season is the leaky defense, second-to-last in FBS with an average allowance of 540 yards per game. They’re fourth from the bottom in scoring defense, yielding 43 points per game. On the offensive side there are those dreaded sacks. Idaho quarterbacks have been sacked a staggering 36 times, 11 more than any other team in the FBS. Speaking of dreaded, the Vandals’ next game is a week from Saturday at Ole Miss.
With a winnable game against Northern Colorado decisively won, things get serious for Idaho State Saturday. The Bengals visit Northern Arizona, one of the Big Sky’s upper-echelon teams, ranked No. 19 in the FCS. The Lumberjacks have won eight straight over ISU. It’ll be strength against strength, as NAU leads the conference in pass defense, allowing only 173 yards per game. Quarterback Justin Arias and the Bengals average 327 yards through the air. Former Skyview High standout Luke Austin has 32 catches for 452 yards and already has six touchdown catches this season.
According to the New York Daily News, Jets coach Rex Ryan said yesterday that cornerback Kyle Wilson did indeed suffer a concussion in last Sunday’s loss to Pittsburgh. The former Boise State star’s status is uncertain for this week’s test at New England. Wilson’s potential absence is one of the many reasons the Jets signed veteran wide receiver Josh Cribbs this week. Wilson occasionally returns kicks, and that’s one thing Cribbs has specialized in during his career.
Athlon Sports released its 2013-14 basketball outlook for Boise State this week, and it’s more glowing than not. “Boise State should contend for a Mountain West championship in its third season in the conference,” writes Athlon. “The Broncos are tough to guard because of their ability to spread the floor with 3-point shooters, and that gives Derrick Marks space to operate. Scoring won’t be an issue, but defending and rebounding will determine how this season plays out—teams with size and superior athleticism will cause Boise State trouble.” Athlon noted the buzz surrounding the program. No better demonstration of that than the fact that coach Leon Rice is grand marshall of the homecoming parade Saturday. I don’t think even Bobby Dye ever did that.
Graham DeLaet was the subject of the home page feature story at PGATour.com yesterday as he goes into his first tournament of the new season, the Shriners Hospitals for Childen Open in Las Vegas. The theme of the piece? DeLaet’s quest for his first victory on the PGA Tour. This would be a good place for the former Boise State star, who’s coming off a remarkable 2013 campaign. Ten of the past 20 champions at TPC Summerlin were first-time winners. “I had a few good chances (to win in 2013), and I wasn’t able to really close the deal,” he said. “But I’m starting to feel a lot more comfortable being in that position.” DeLaet hopes to feed off his two dramatic chip-ins on No. 18 two weeks ago in the Presidents Cup. “The fact that I was able to pull off shots under pressure, that’s what it takes to win on this tour,” he said.
You may be hearing this guy’s name a lot out of the gate as the Idaho Steelheads season opens tomorrow night at Utah versus the Grizzlies. Steelheads observers say Justin Mercier is the real deal. He certainly looked like it last Friday in the Steelies’ exhibition win at Utah, notching a hat trick and adding an assist. An eyewitness at the game in Logan reports that Mercier’s three goals included “a re-direction on a point shot, a quick wrist shot from the slot and a back-door slam dunk on the power play. Had a potential fourth goal hop over his stick on a centering pass.” If all goes well, Mercier should be a mainstay for Idaho.
This Day In Sports…October 17, 1997:
The first game in the history of the Idaho Steelheads, who were making their debut in the West Coast Hockey League against defending champion San Diego. Alain Savage, who would be the Steelheads’ leading scorer and fan favorite during that first season, instantly endeared himself to the locals by registering a hat trick in the 7-3 Steelies win.
(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.)