Friday, November 13, 2009.
If you’re new to this Boise State-Idaho thing, a little history is in order. If you’re a veteran of these skirmishes, memories—good or bad—are invigorating going into the 39th meeting of these rivals tomorrow. It started in 1971, when Boise State was entering only its fourth season of football as a four-year school, a former junior college finally getting a chance to play the university that had been around since 1889. The Broncos ambushed the Vandals, 42-14, and sporting life in the state has never been the same. You had Idaho’s pre-game march through Boise State’s locker room in Moscow in 1973, inspiring a 47-24 Bronco win. There was Jim Criner’s onside kick in 1977 after BSU had taken a 27-point lead, and the subsequent field goal in the closing minutes to make the final score 44-14, Broncos.
Idaho’s 12-game winning streak started in 1982, inflicting untold pain on Boise State fans. Vandal assistant coaches pulled chairs out to the Bronco logo and smoked cigars after their 21-14 victory in 1990. The Broncos finally broke The Streak in 1994, with offensive coordinator Al Borges climbing the goal posts. With a 43-6 lead in 1996, Idaho executed a fake punt for a 47-yard Joel Thomas touchdown, six weeks before the death of Pokey Allen (note: it was not in the final minutes of the game as the story is often told; there were almost 12 minutes left in the third quarter).
One of the brilliant calls in the rivalry’s history came in 1998—the surprise two-point conversion in overtime that produced a 36-35 Vandal triumph. But that was Idaho’s last win over BSU. Boise State’s 10-game winning streak in the series started in 1999, and the 10th victory began with Doug Martin taking “the hammer” to the Vandal logo before last year’s game. The irony tomorrow is that the aforementioned Criner will be in Bronco Stadium tomorrow wearing black and gold as he watches his son Mark, a one-time Boise State ballboy and linebacker, operate as Idaho’s defensive coordinator.
Idaho coach Robb Akey drew his line in the sand Monday with his vow to try to deny the WAC any BCS money this year and beat Boise State. But Akey is just trying to do the same thing he did going into the New Mexico State opener—encourage his team to go into the game with some swagger, expecting to win instead of delivering soundbites that heap praise on the opponent. It worked in September, as the Vandals dominated the Aggies, 21-6, looking like they belonged. Tomorrow’s opponent may take this kind of talk a little differently, though. It’s been pointed out that the last team to be so blunt in such pre-game discussions was Oregon.
Boise State has been a little spotty in short yardage running situations. Idaho has not. The guy they call “The Diesel,” DeMaundray Woolridge, has been close to automatic, especially near the goal line. The transfer from Washington State is spending his senior year with the Vandals—and is spending a lot of time in the end zone. Woolridge is tied for the WAC lead in rushing touchdowns with 14, and they’ve been critical ones. For example, the one-yard run that gave the Vandals their 31-29 win over Colorado State, the five-yard burst that lifted Idaho past San Jose State 29-25, the three TDs against Hawaii, and the two-yard power run that won the Louisiana Tech game, 35-34. If the Broncos are going to keep the Vandals from moving the chains, and the scoreboard, Woolridge is assignment No. 1.
Could tomorrow’s game come down to a field goal? Could it? Would it? You know where I’m going with this one. The subject of Boise State kicker Kyle Brotzman and that dastardly left hash. After two more misses from that side of the field last week at Louisiana Tech, you have to wonder about mental blocks, although the once-automatic junior from Meridian says there are none. Brotzman, who went 16-of-18 as a freshman, is now 15-of-21 this season. That doesn’t sound terrible, but three of his six misses have been from inside 40 yards. Once Brotzman makes a left hash kick again, his ills will probably be cured. Then again, let’s see if the Broncos run to the right when they’re in the red zone tomorrow.
It’s rare for the WAC to have two marquee conference games like this in the same week, but there’s another big one in Reno tomorrow. Nevada hosts Fresno State in a battle between the top rushing attack in the nation (Wolf Pack) and the top individual rusher in the country (Fresno State’s Ryan Mathews). Both teams are 6-3, with the Pack having won six in a row and the Bulldogs five straight. Elsewhere, San Jose State’s season of discontent continues tomorrow at Utah State, and Hawaii hosts New Mexico State a week after rushing for 360 yards (that still seems like a typo) in the win over USU.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, much like Chris Petersen, won’t talk about it. But everybody else is in Utah. Let’s say the Utes upsets TCU tomorrow in Fort Worth. Boise State celebrates—unless it loses one of its four remaining games (starting tomorrow). Then Utah, whose only loss is to Oregon, could climb into position as a BCS buster again. Thing is, I do not see the Utes functioning very well against that Horned Frog defense. Especially when they’re 19½-point underdogs. From there, it’s a layup for TCU. The last two weeks of the regular season could not be any easier—at Wyoming and home versus New Mexico.
The Boise State men’s basketball team is dealing with a recent sour memory right out of the gate tonight. The Broncos open the season against Loyola Marymount at a round robin tournament in Missoula. The Lions threw some cold water on an otherwise stellar 2007-08 pre-conference campaign, beating BSU in Taco Bell Arena, 76-74. It’s important that the Broncos start with a win tonight, considering LMU was 3-28 last season. Tomorrow Boise State faces host Montana, coming off a 17-12 campaign. Sunday the Broncos go against North Dakota.
The Idaho Stampede open training camp Sunday, and a player who came off the bench last season may morph into a regular this season. The report card on Lanny Smith’s stay in Sacramento’s camp earlier this fall was positive, and the Stampede’s source is good, as former coach Bryan Gates is now on the Kings’ staff. NBA callups from the NBADL don’t really get going until after the D-League Showcase, which will be held in Boise in January. So the first six weeks of the season will be crucial for Smith. The former Houston standout averaged six points and three assists for the Stamps last season.
In the plus-minus category, Evan Barlow has been a big plus for the Idaho Steelheads. In hockey, of course, the plus-minus statistic measures the scoring advantage your team has when you’re on the ice, and Barlow shared the ECHL Plus Performer of the Month award for October after leading the league with a plus-minus rating of plus-9. The left wing out of Cornell was also tied for second among ECHL rookies with four goals in October. The Steelheads open a three-game series tonight at Stockton, which is off to a lukewarm 4-5-2 start. The Steelies remain atop the ECHL West Division at 8-2-1.
This Day In Sports…November 13, 1993:
Number one against number two—Florida State and Notre Dame in South Bend. The Fighting Irish won 31-24 after fighting off a Seminole desperation drive led by eventual Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward, who the year before had played for the FSU basketball team in the NCAA Tournament at the BSU Pavilion. But the Irish would lose the following week to Boston College, opening the door for Florida State’s run to the national 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 1350 KTIK/The Ticket. He also handles color commentary on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football.)