Friday, November 27, 2009.
It’s been all about the Nevada offense this week. Let’s talk about the Boise State offense, because conventional wisdom says it’ll need every yard and point it can get in tonight’s WAC championship game. BSU hopes its rushing game, a feast-or-famine venture earlier in the season, has reached the line of demarcation in consistency. Last year in Reno, the Broncos managed only 70 yards on the ground and 2.7 yards per carry. Take away a 66-yard Ian Johnson touchdown run, and Boise State had all of four yards. Fortunately for BSU, it had 414 passing yards from Kellen Moore to keep Nevada at bay. The Broncos would rather not have to depend on that tonight. Was BSU’s 323-yard night on the ground at Utah State last week the real deal? We’re about to find out.
You know it’s going to kill Richie Brockel to miss a game like tonight’s. But it was demonstrated a week ago that the Boise State fullback position has a capable replacement in Dan Paul. Brockel and his crutches were very visible on the sidelines at Utah State last Friday, acting as a fullback coach of sorts. And Paul led the charge admirably in Brockel’s place on a 323-yard rushing night. The sophomore from Boring, OR, also made the first reception of his college career on an 18-yard fourth quarter throw from Moore. Paul has never had a rushing attempt. He’s a battering ram as a lead blocker—the effect could be similar if he were handed the ball on a dive play.
Moore’s game in the 41-34 win at Nevada last year was paradoxical. “It felt good the first half—there was certainly some ugly stuff in the second half,” Moore said this week. He threw for the career-high 414 yards and three touchdowns, but he also had two pick-sixes and three interceptions overall, as many as he has tossed this entire season. Two of the interceptions were tipped, but the other was perhaps the worst pass Moore has thrown as Boise State’s quarterback. Still, let’s recall something coach Chris Petersen said a couple weeks ago when discussing the running game’s occasional lulls. “One thing I do think about our style is if we can't run the ball, we have no problem throwing it every down. And we’ve got the right guy to do it.”
The Boise State offensive and defensive lines are on full alert this week. They’ll be going up against Nevada’s strengths—an O-line that has been largely responsible for the Wolf Pack’s record-setting season in the rushing game, and a D-line that stops the run masterfully. The Pack tamed Fresno State’s ground attack in a 52-14 annihilation a week and a half ago. "I thought we had a great game plan coming in, but they really dominated at the line of scrimmage," Bulldogs coach Pat Hill said. Nevada’s defensive ends are beasts. Dontay Moch and Kevin Basped each have 21½ career sacks and have combined for 30 tackles for loss this season.
On defense, the Broncos just have to get out of drives tonight. Nevada has thrown only 37 passes combined in its last three games. The Wolf Pack didn’t need to go to the air as it was routing San Jose State, Fresno State and New Mexico State. Tonight you’d expect the Pack to throw on third down, but that isn’t a given. Nevada has converted a whopping 74 percent on third down the past three games. There have been 34 third down chances, and the Wolf Pack has run on 21 of them. And on 18 of those rushes, the Pack has ended up with a first down. Depth in Boise State’s front seven has been key to keeping the defense fresh this season. It’ll be that much more important tonight.
Nevada is a popular underdog this week. Both Dave Curtis and Matt Hayes of The Sporting News pick the Wolf Pack to upset the Broncos, and both are forecasting track meets. Curtis has it 37-34 and Hayes says 48-45. Hayes’ rationale: “Fresno State ran all over Boise State but couldn’t get defensive stops. Nevada will—eventually.” For what it’s worth, Curtis’s grandma predicts Boise State will win, 47-17.
Idaho wraps up the regular season tomorrow in the Kibbie Dome as a slight favorite over Utah State. The Vandals have had a week off after the loss at Boise State to heal up quarterback Nate Enderle—and draw up something for the opposing quarterback, Diondre Borel. The Aggies beat Idaho 42-17 in Logan last year in what was a coming-out party of sorts for Borel. He threw for 191 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 93 yards and a score on only 12 attempts. USU also got running back Robert Turbin going that day—123 yards rushing and a TD on only 15 carries. It’s going to be all about the Vandal defense tomorrow if Idaho’s going to head into a possible bowl game on a high note.
Elsewhere in the WAC, Hawaii has won three straight games to improve to 5-6, but the victories have come against Utah State and New Mexico State at home and San Jose State on the road. To earn their spot in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, the Warriors need to win their final two games against Navy tomorrow and versus Wisconsin next week. Also, the Ryan Mathews watch continues in the San Joaquin Valley. The Fresno Bee’s account of Fresno State’s team banquet says the MC tried to get a “one more year” chant going after Mathews was honored as the Bulldogs’ Most Valuable Player, but it fizzled. That’s because most everyone down there agrees that Mathews should—and will—forego his senior season to enter the NFL Draft.
Will the home floor be the tonic for Anthony Thomas? Boise State’s senior point guard is enduring a rather unremarkable start to his senior year, having gone scoreless in the past two games. All five Bronco games have been away from Taco Bell Arena—the home opener is tomorrow night against former Big West foe North Texas. Thomas is hitting just 33 percent from the floor and is averaging four points a game. Consequently, coach Greg Graham did not start Thomas in Monday night’s victory at Eastern Washington. Meanwhile, the Mean Green are 3-1, but their only real competition came at Oklahoma State, an 82-68 loss.
The Idaho Stampede open their 2009-10 season tomorrow night in Qwest Arena, hosting the Reno Bighorns. And fans will get their first look at the Stampede’s top D-League Draft pick, Sundiata Gaines. He’s a quick 6-1 guard who is well-traveled, going from the University of Georgia to NGC Cantu in Italy to far-off Idaho. Gaines is Georgia’s career leader in steals, a skill that is important as he endeavors to get an NBA shot. Fans also get to see new coach Bob MacKinnon for the first time as he takes over for Bryan Gates after winning the 2009 D-League championship with the Colorado 14ers.
The Idaho Steelheads aren’t exactly welcome houseguests in Stockton Arena. The Steelheads have played the Stockton Thunder seven times already this season and have won every contest. Four of them have been in the Central Valley, which is where the Steelies are again tonight and tomorrow night after rallying past the Thunder Wednesday, 2-1. Evan Barlow tied that game with just under 15 minutes left, and Mark Derlago wristed home the ultimate game-winner less than 2½ minutes later. Rejean Beauchemin was back between the pipes for the Steelheads after a masterful job by Richard Bachman last weekend—Beauchemin made 23 saves.
This Day In Sports…November 27, 2004, five years ago today:
With six inches of snow having been cleared off the field at Mackay Stadium, and Boise State fans literally outnumbering Wolf Pack fans, the Broncos proceed to pummel the Wolf Pack 58-21 to complete their first undefeated season. Jared Zabransky threw for three touchdowns and BSU scored three more on the ground to set a season rushing TD record with 46, as the Broncos notched their third straight WAC 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.)