Monday, October 1, 2012.
Was Chris Petersen prophetic last Monday or what? After fielding questions about the Boise State offense following the escape act against BYU, Petersen talked about the difficulties of preparing for the triple option. “We could be having the same conversation about our defense a week from now,” he said. And so it is. The Bronco defense was gashed by New Mexico’s pistol triple option Saturday night, surviving 32-29 in a game Boise State led 25-0 at halftime. Of course, it was a couple fumbles that almost gave the game away. The first one, by Dallas Burroughs on the second half kickoff, was a huge momentum swing. The second, coughed up by Shane Williams-Rhodes and returned 47 yards to the BSU one-yard line, opened up the floodgates.
Every once in a while this kind of thing happens to the Broncos on defense. Fortunately for them, it's once in a great while. The 330 rushing yards rolled up by the New Mexico running game Saturday night were the second-most allowed by Boise State in the Chris Petersen era, topped only by the 396 yards Nevada had in the 69-67 four-overtime donnybrook five years ago. The Lobos averaged 6.1 yards per carry and rolled up 171 yards on the ground in back-to-back touchdown drives in the second half. New Mexico topped some pretty stout performances against the Broncos—the 322 yards by East Carolina in the 2007 Hawaii Bowl when Chris Johnson ran wild, the 320 yards by Fresno State in 2009 when Ryan Mathews ran wild (Boise State won that game by 17 anyway), and the 275 yards on the ground by TCU in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl.
The Boise State offense certainly put the delicious upset taste in New Mexico’s collective mouth with the Williams-Rhodes fumble Saturday night, but really the offense saved the day in the second half because of this: some crucial third down conversions. Who knows what would have happened in those instances had the Broncos given the Lobos’ ground-mashing offense the ball back more? Five consecutive times on third down in the second half, Joe Southwick connected for first downs, the first four of them with throws of 10 yards or more. It was imperative the Broncos hang onto the ball at that point, as University Stadium was in a frenzy that fans after the game would say hadn’t been seen in years.
Southwick had the best night of his still-developing career. He was 24-of-34 (71 percent) for 311 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. His execution was solid on play-fakes, and he hit his second deep ball of the season, the 50-yarder to Dallas Burroughs. Southwick recognized the big cushion New Mexico was giving Williams-Rhodes near the goal line (then was able to admire SWR’s spin move that should live as one of the highlights of this season). Still, it was another learning experience. Southwick got away with a throw dropped by a Lobo corner that could have been a pick-six. And he’d like to have back the fourth-and-one play that saw him overthrow a wide-open Dan Paul for what could have been a monstrously important breathing-room TD in the third quarter.
Did everyone get a nice, formal introduction to Jay Ajayi Saturday night at New Mexico? Ajayi had one carry for two yards 11 days ago when he made his Boise State debut against BYU. Career carries number two through seven came in Albuquerque, and they were very interesting indeed for Ajayi. The redshirt freshman running back came into the game late in the second quarter and broke off a 71-yard scamper on his first attempt. When it was all said and done (he didn't have an attempt after halftime), Ajayi rushed for 118 yards and averaged 19.7 yards per carry. He also scored his first collegiate touchdown. And this all happened in two minutes and eight seconds of possession time. Oh, and how about this nugget? Ajayi’s 71-yard run was the longest non-scoring run in Boise State history.
Boise State is very fortunate in the polls this week. The Broncos are still ranked in one of them—this time it’s the Coaches Poll, as they got back in at No. 25. Boise State dropped out of the AP Poll and is second in line among those also receiving votes. The Broncos are living dangerously, but as long as they’re hanging around in the rankings, they still have a chance to make hay this season if they can fix what ails them. Michigan State was dropped from both polls this week.
In the feature game in the Mountain West, Fresno State made a sterling debut in conference play, rallying from first half deficits of 14-0 and 21-7 to pelt San Diego State, 52-40. The Bulldogs showed how coach Tim DeRuyter’s new spread offense can go off, as Derek Carr put two interceptions returned for touchdowns behind him to go 42-of-56 for 536 yards and five TDs. Carr had a Fresno State and Mountain West record 567 yards of total offense, and three Fresno State receivers topped 100 yards. Elsewhere, Southern Miss braved a Hattiesburg deluge for as long as it could Saturday night before 19th-ranked Louisville rallied through the standing water for a 19-17 victory. Boise State visits the Golden Eagles this Saturday. Hope the field’s dried out.
The former coach at Southern Miss is Larry Fedora. He is now at North Carolina, where it also rained in buckets Saturday. And the points came down cats ‘n dogs, too, as the Tarheels beat Idaho 66-0 in Chapel Hill. It was over in the first quarter when the North Carolina offense ignited and the Vandals helped out by having two punts blocked, putting the Heels up 28-0. At that point Idaho had 18 yards of total offense. The total for the day would be only 189. Dominique Blackman was 19-of-36 for just 109 yards with four interceptions. It was the most points ever scored in a game by North Carolina. For the Vandals, it was the fifth-worst loss in program history behind Houston in 1968 (77-3), Houston in 1967 (77-6), Arizona in 2008 (70-0), and Utah in 1961 (69-0).
Legedu Naanee’s woes continue in his maiden season with the Miami Dolphins. Naanee did catch his first pass of the season, a 19-yarder from Ryan Tannehill at Arizona. But at the end of the play, Naanee fumbled and the Cardinals recovered. And it came midway through the fourth quarter of a game the Dolphins trailed 14-13—and lost in overtime, 24-21. This should tell you something: the former Boise State star was targeted only twice in the game by Tannehill. Brian Hartline was targeting a whopping 19 times and caught 12 of them for a franchise-record 253 receiving yards. Tonight on Monday Night Football, two of the three BSU defensive linemen drafted last April will be on the field, Shea McClellin of the Bears and Tyrone Crawford of the Cowboys.
Idaho Steelheads training camp opens today, with open practices for fans tomorrow and Wednesday. One of the most pleasant sights for Steelheads faithful will be forward Ron Meyers. New coach Brad Ralph has done his homework on the Steelies’ season-ending roster last spring, signing the 5-9, 170-pound sparkplug several weeks ago. Meyers made his pro debut for Idaho late last season, just four days after playing his final collegiate game for the Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks. Nicknamed “The Cowboy,” Meyers became an instant fan favorite, scoring five goals and seven assists between the regular season and postseason. The Steelheads have exhibition games this Friday and Saturday against the Utah Grizzlies.
Former Boise State star Troy Merritt was a contender at the beginning and an afterthought at the end of the Web.com Tour’s Chiquita Classic in Weddington, NC. After beginning the tournament one shot off the lead with a five-under 67 Thursday, Merritt ballooned to a six-over 78 yesterday to finish tied for last among those who made the cut. Merritt went birdie-less in the final round while posting four bogeys and one double-bogey.
This Day In Sports…October 1:
An historic day involving Babe Ruth and Roger Maris. In 1932, eighty years ago today, Ruth makes his famous “called shot” in Game 3 of the World Series. Ruth gestures toward the centerfield stands at Wrigley Field—then deposits Charlie Root’s next pitch into the centerfield bleachers to break a 4-4 tie with the Cubs. The Yankees went on to win the game, 7-5. Then in 1961, on the last day of the season, Yankee Roger Maris hits his 61st homer of the season—breaking Ruth’s 1927 record of 60…with an asterisk.
(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.)