Monday, November 30, 2009.
One of the first distinctions anyone draws between a mid-major team and a BCS program is depth. The elite schools have it—the second-level doesn’t. Boise State showed Friday night why it is the exception to the rule in winning the WAC championship game, 44-33 over Nevada. Nowhere was that evident more than at linebacker. The Broncos, trying to slow the nation’s No. 1 rushing offense, lost middle ‘backer Daron Mackey to an injury in the first quarter. Derrell Acrey stepped right in and played well. Then Acrey was carted off the field with a knee injury in the fourth quarter. But BSU still had Aaron Tevis, Hunter White and J.C. Percy, who combined for 20 tackles, one sack, four tackles-for-loss, and that huge forced fumble by Tevis in the fourth quarter.
Fullback Richie Brockel, the only senior starter on offense, is out for the season with a foot injury. So what does backup Dan Paul do? He scores the first three touchdowns of his college career on delay route passes out of the backfield from Kellen Moore. Paul was a red zone substitute of sorts for Austin Pettis, who went out in the first quarter with an ankle injury. The conventional Bronco air attack did not flourish without Pettis. To be able to muster 427 yards of offense without him and keep the Wolf Pack at arm’s length was striking. Pettis left the game before he could make a catch, breaking a streak of 32 games in a row in which he had a reception. Pettis had also recorded multiple catches in 16 straight games.
If you really dissect Doug Martin’s night, it’s all the more impressive. Martin rushed for 128 yards on 16 carries. Usually when a guy averages eight yards a carry like Martin did, he’s helped by a long run or two. That’s what has kept Jeremy Avery’s average up all season. But Martin’s longest run against Nevada was 18 yards. And he still managed to peel off eight yards a tote. That is remarkable consistency and effectiveness. There was no play more awe-inspiring than the 16-yard run by Martin in the fourth quarter that helped set up the Broncos’ final touchdown. He was primed to be nailed for a four-yard loss but shook off one would-be Wolf Pack tackler. Martin then broke three more tackles and dragged two Pack defenders down to the 11-yard-line. The sophomore from Stockton was the first running back to rush for 100 yards against Nevada this season.
Colin Kaepernick has gone from 420 yards of total offense against Boise State in 2007 to 311 last year to 172 this season. Credit defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox…again. The Broncos probably didn’t get Kaepernick to throw as much as they wanted him to (22 attempts Friday night versus 50 last November). But they contained his scrambles and option runs, limiting him to 31 net yards on the ground. BSU gave up a little to Vai Taua in the process, like the 71-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. But other than that, the Broncos held Taua to 89 yards on 23 carries.
The Bronco victory just translates into more misery for Nevada, which had Boise State’s number during most of the 1990’s. Since BSU abruptly turned the tables on the Wolf Pack in 1999, the Broncos have won 10 in a row in the series (the teams didn’t play in 2000). The Pack did earn a share of the WAC championship with Boise State in 2005. But now the Broncos have won seven WAC titles in the last eight years and are poised to go undefeated in WAC play for the sixth time with a win this Saturday.
With one week to go, Boise State remains No. 6 in the BCS standings, as well as in all the major polls. Oklahoma got Oklahoma State out of the way with its 27-0 rout of the Cowboys. There appears to be a clear path to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl for the Broncos. So why the twinge of doubt? There are still what-ifs out there. Like if Nebraska upset Texas in the Big 12 championship game. Or if Pittsburgh upends Cincinnati to win the Big East title. The only certainty right now is BSU going undefeated (it’s hard to spin this Saturday’s regular season finale against New Mexico State as anything but win No. 13).
Idaho ended the regular season with a flat tire in its 52-49 loss to Utah State Saturday. The Vandals have lost four of their last five games, allowing an average of 50 points a game during this stretch as they fall to 7-5 on the season. It was a positive having Nathan Enderle back at quarterback, but it couldn’t offset the negative of the Vandal defense being gashed by big plays from USU’s Diondre Borel and Robert Turbin. The Aggies scored three touchdowns of 48 yards or longer and rolled up 539 yards, with Borel averaging just under 20 yards a completion. Idaho still appears headed to the Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl a month from today, but Hawaii remains a wild card in the WAC’s bowl picture after its 24-17 win over Navy.
Stockton doesn’t have to deal with the Idaho Steelheads again until New Year’s Eve. Which is fine with the Thunder, which has had its fill of Idaho after losing nine straight games to the Steelheads already this season. The Steelies put the ol’ icing on the cake with a hat trick from Ashton Rome Saturday night in a 5-1 rout. Goaltending was also magnificent over the weekend, with Rejean Beauchemin earning his first professional shutout in a 1-0 victory Friday and Richard Bachman recording his ninth win of the season the next night. Things get going back on home ice this week when the Alaska Aces come to Qwest Arena Thursday and Friday.
Promises, promises. After one game at least, Bob MacKinnon has kept his. The new Idaho Stampede coach pledged to run, shoot and score this season—a lot. The Stampede did all three in overwhelming Reno in their season opener Saturday night, 137-115. The Stamps’ scoring output was the highest of any of the 15 NBADL games played on opening weekend. By 25 points. Stampede first round draft pick Sundiata Gaines was sterling in his stateside pro debut, scoring 31 points and dishing out 12 assists. Mildon Ambres, a reserve for the Stampede last season, added 30 points. The Stampede host the Bighorns again tonight in Qwest Arena.
Boise State finally got on its home floor Saturday night, and it was a while before it translated into mojo. But the Broncos clamped down on North Texas when they hit the stretch and got a lift from their new sparkplug off the bench, senior Anthony Thomas, to defeat the Mean Green, 79-73. An important development for BSU was the 17 points contributed by Kurt Cunningham. The 6-9 junior was 7-of-8 from the field and pulled down eight rebounds. The Broncos will need that kind of contribution consistently if they’re going to make any noise in the WAC this winter. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of pent-up demand to see the Broncos play—only 2,650 showed up in Taco Bell Arena, the smallest opening night crowd since the arena opened 27 years ago.
This Day In Sports…November 30, 1974:
In one of the most amazing turnarounds in college football history, Notre Dame takes a 24-0 lead over USC in the second quarter and watches a disaster unfold. Behind tailback Anthony Davis, the Trojans roared back to score eight touchdowns in the next 16 minutes and trounced the Fighting Irish, 55-24, at the LA Coliseum. Davis scored six TDs during the rally.
(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.)