Thursday, August 30, 2012.
You look at Boise State’s two-deep this season and you see talent. You looked at it the past four years and you saw talent—and mental toughness. The Broncos of today have the overall talent. Their chances of beating Michigan State tomorrow night rest on bringing that other ingredient. It’s a big ESPN stage for as many as 15 new Bronco starters when they may be better served easing into their new responsibilities. So these players need to tap into not only their natural ability, but the competitive edge and confidence that has characterized their predecessors. “A lot of those guys answer those challenges in a great way, and some don’t,” said coach Chris Petersen, professing to be as interested as anyone to find out what he has. “I don’t know if wake-up call is the right word, but it’s a chance to see exactly where we are.”
One position group that would appear to have that mental toughness intangible is the linebacking corps. That’s what has taken former walk-on J.C. Percy so far in his Boise State career. And that’s how sophomore Blake Renaud fancies himself. Tommy Smith, the senior from Atlanta, has been doggedly biding his time behind guys like Aaron Tevis and Byron Hout and is one hungry guy. And you’d have to think Tyler Gray has to possess that edge, having bypassed a redshirt year to zoom all the way up to No. 2 on the depth chart behind Percy.
The last time Boise State had to replace so many stars going into a season was 2007, when the heart of the first undefeated Fiesta Bowl championship team graduated. A then-record four Broncos had been drafted (Gerald Alexander, Legedu Naanee, Korey Hall and Derek Schouman). Taylor Tharp succeeded Jared Zabransky at quarterback and threw for 3,340 yards and 30 touchdowns and set a record (since broken) for single season completion percentage. Boise State posted 58-0 and 52-0 shutouts, beat rival Idaho by 44 points, and finished 10-3. That wasn’t so bad, was it? Here’s the thing: this year’s team is layered with far more talent than the ’07 squad. The schedule is tougher this season. How tough will these Broncos be? It’s chip-on-the-shoulder time.
There have been some wondering if sophomore running back Jay Ajayi will see the field tomorrow night. Ajayi was left home from the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas last December after a misdemeanor petit theft conviction. Is there a suspension this season to go along with it? We may not know until kickoff tomorrow night. But just the fact that Petersen has already announced true freshman Jack Fields as part of the active roster tells you No. 21 will have a role against the Spartans. Fields sports that numeral for a reason, by the way. "I've been wearing No. 21 since seventh grade,” Fields told Bronco Country.com last spring. “I was a big LaDainian Tomlinson fan growing up and enjoyed watching him with the Chargers.” Now, if Fields can accurately emulate his idol…
New Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell is being billed a dual threat, to the extent that Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press predicts Maxwell will be MSU's best running quarterback since Drew Stanton. “To be clear, Maxwell isn't about to weave through defenses out of spread-option formations like Stanton did,” writes Rexrode. “But he can do more outside the pocket than Brian Hoyer and Kirk Cousins. He might even rip off a 20-yard gain every now and then.” There’s not much tape to go by that magnifies Maxwell’s running ability, though. He has 10 career rushing attempts for minus-39 yards.
It’s worked out as planned for traveling Bronco fans. Speculation since spring has said Kellen Moore will play a lot in Detroit’s final preseason game of the summer, which happens to be at Ford Field the night before Boise State plays in East Lansing. And it should come to pass tonight when the Lions host Buffalo. Will this be Moore’s showcase night with a little extra support in the stands? Anwar Richardson of mLive.com, who’s been following Moore as closely as anyone the past few months, sees him on the bubble for Detroit’s 53-man active roster to be announced tomorrow. The Lions coaching staff is increasingly satisfied with Moore’s progress, and Kellen is, too. "Just getting a little more comfortable and confident," Moore said. "That's the biggest thing (this preseason). I'm definitely feeling it.”
The regulars are generally being held out of this week’s final preseason games. That meant in last night’s Tampa Bay-Washington matchup, newly-anointed feature back Doug Martin sat for the Buccaneers, and reserve cornerback Brandyn Thompson started for the Redskins. Thompson had one quarterback hurry in the Skins’ 30-3 victory. Now the one-time Fiesta Bowl MVP out of Boise State awaits the decision on Washington’s 53-man roster. Miami began its game at Dallas with its starters last night, one of whom is Legedu Naanee. The former Bronco had two catches for 19 yards in the Dolphins’ 30-13 loss. The Cowboys sat their regulars, so Boise State product Tyrone Crawford got the start at defensive end and turned in one sack and a quarterback hurry.
If you happen to pick up the Chicago-Cleveland preseason finale tonight, pay attention when former Boise State star Shea McClellin isn’t in the game. Because former teammate Billy Winn might be for the Browns defense. While McClellin’s pass-rushing role for the Bears is pretty well defined, Winn’s role with Cleveland may crystalize tonight. The sixth-round draft pick is on the cusp of a starting spot at defensive tackle, thanks to a combination of injuries and his impressive training camp performance. Winn is competing with another rookie, John Hughes, to line up alongside veteran tackle Ahtyba Rubin.
The last time Idaho played a game, it came away with a 56-3 loss at Nevada, capping a 2-10 season. Quarterback Dominique Blackman is out to show that a new era has dawned for the Vandals when he leads the offense tonight against Eastern Washington in the Kibbie Dome. To say that Blackman is well-traveled would be an understatement. He signed with Washington out of high school but left when the Huskies wanted to move him to tight end. Blackman played for L.A. Harbor College in 2009, throwing for 3,711 yards and 35 touchdowns. Then it was on to Old Dominion, but he left after redshirting in 2010 to transfer to Idaho. Now Blackman is finally playing again. Not only is he trying to re-establish himself, he’ll be playing extra hard to honor the memory of his cousin, Vandal wide receiver Ken McRoyal, who was shot and killed in L.A. in May.
Among the other games out of the gate tonight are UNLV-Minnesota and Arizona State-Northern Arizona. A win by the Rebels could be a turning point for their program. It’s possible, as the game is in Sam Boyd Stadium. In Tempe, former Eagle Mustang Taylor Kelly gets his first collegiate start for the Sun Devils. His high school coach at Eagle, Paul Peterson, has high expectations. “Taylor has this sixth sense about him, where he just knows how to make things happen,” Peterson told the Tucson Citizen. Not to forget Washington State at BYU. The latter Cougars will be here three weeks from tonight.
Daniel Vogelbach won’t break the Boise Hawks’ single season home run record of 17, set by Paul Hoilman last year. But if there was a homer efficiency record, the powerful 6-foot, 250-pounder would have it. Vogelbach clubbed his 10th homer of the season last night in only his 34th game with Boise. Vogelbach is averaging one home run for every 13 at-bats. And oh by the way, the Hawks defeated Everett 9-5 at Memorial Stadium, upping their second-half record to 23-12. Also of note, Boise’s Stephen Bruno went 2-for-3 last night, extending his hitting streak to 19 games and improving his average to .354 as he tries to hold off Yakima’s Kevin Medrano for the Northwest League batting title.
This Day In Sports…August 30, 1997, 15 years ago today:
Houston Nutt makes his debut as head coach at Boise State, watching his team fall to Cal State-Northridge 63-23 before a record crowd of almost 27,000 in newly-expanded Bronco Stadium. BSU would rebound to come within 49 seconds of upsetting Wisconsin a week later. The Broncos went 4-7 under Nutt, who left after the season for his dream job at Arkansas (although his record was amended to 5-6 after Northridge forfeited for using an ineligible player). Exactly 11 years later, there was another Bronco Stadium grand opening, as the $36 million Steuckle Sky Center—and Kellen Moore—debuted during a 49-7 win over Idaho State.
(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.)