Nothing left for either team to hide

Friday, December 1, 2017.

Are any of Boise State’s early-season issues relevant tomorrow night in the Mountain West championship game against Fresno State?  Such as, a passing game that doesn’t go much deeper than Cedrick Wilson, and an offensive line that doesn’t do enough road-grading for the running game?  Those were two facets of the Broncos’ game that had improved immensely in October and November—until last week’s 28-17 loss at Bulldog Stadium.  The new issues are depth at tight end and linebacker.  Senior standout tight end Jake Roh is questionable on offense, and the linebacking corps is banged up.  But that might not be the key tomorrow night.  This was coach Bryan Harsin’s takeaway from Round One: “Their kids played hard,” Harsin said Monday.  “If you want to win a a game like that, you’ve got to play harder.”

Plays we’re unlikely to see in the Boise State-Fresno State rematch: the flea-flicker deep ball to Cedrick Wilson and the fly sweep with Montell Cozart.  The throw from Rypien to Wilson was on the Broncos’ first play from scrimmage last week, covering 45 yards.  Cozart’s run came on the first snap of Boise State’s second possession and went for 21 yards, and it looked like the Broncos were going to hold nothing back from the playbook.  Otherwise, however, they didn’t unleash anything outrageous.  With nothing to lose tomorrow night, it’s going to be fascinating what each team unloads on the other.  The lingering question: who really is the best team?  Going into last weekend, we thought it was the Broncos.  But what we saw from the Bulldogs was darn impressive.

It’s really difficult to re-sell an entire 36,000-seat stadium from zero, so a crowd in the mid-20,000’s range would be a win tomorrow night in the title tilt.  Weather won’t be much of a factor, with a high of 48 and only a 30 percent chance of showers.  We’ve seen far worse than that.  The Broncos and Bulldogs have ESPN all to themselves tomorrow evening, but they will be playing opposite both the ACC championship game between Clemson and Miami and the Big Ten title tilt matching Ohio State and Wisconsin.  Last week’s game was up against the Iron Bowl—Auburn's 26-14 win over Alabama on CBS scored a 7.8 overall rating and a 17 share, making it the highest-rated college game of the season.  But exposure isn’t the point tomorrow night.  Hardware is.

Boise State has its non-conference schedules filled for the next six seasons and has peppered future slates with the announcement of nine new games yesterday.  Washington State will be back on the docket with a home-and-home series in 2026-27.  Other home-and-homes include Georgia Southern in 2020 and 2024, Houston in 2021 and 2024, and East Carolina in 2026 and 2028.  Portland State plays a one-off in Albertsons Stadium in 2019 and is the only FCS program on the Broncos’ future lineup.  Hopefully Georgia Southern and East Carolina regain their previous status by the time those series roll around.  The Houston arrangement is a solid one (as is Wazzu, of course).  Not to forget that Boise State already has home-and-homes set with Oklahoma State, Florida State, Oregon State and Michigan State, among others.

It looks like Idaho quarterback Matt Linehan ended his college career late in the fourth quarter at Troy four weeks ago, when he injured his throwing hand.  It’s unlikely that Linehan will be available in the Vandals’ season (and FBS) finale tomorrow at Georgia State, leaving him 52 yards short of Doug Nussmeier’s UI career passing yards record.  Idaho will start true freshman Colton Richardson tomorrow in Atlanta.  The former Lewiston Bengal had to burn his redshirt year last Saturday when Mason Petrino was injured early in the first quarter of the loss at New Mexico State.  This will mark the second (and probably final) all-time meeting between the Vandals and Panthers.  Idaho earned a 37-12 victory in the regular-season finale last year at the Kibbie Dome.

Jay Ajayi has caused a stir in Philadelphia over his perceived dissatisfaction with his touches after the Eagles’ 31-3 rout of Chicago last Sunday.  The former Boise State star had just five carries for 26 yards and a fumble into the end zone recovered by a teammate for a TD.  Ajayi’s body language didn’t impress longtime Philly commentator and postgame host Ray Didinger.  “If he’s got an issue with the touches, ‘Hey, Chief, this team was winning before you got here,’” said Didinger.  “It’s nice to have you here…but we were doing pretty good before you got to town.  So I would just say, ‘Shut up and tote the ball.’”  Phildelphia coach Doug Pederson defended Ajayi, saying, “He’s been a great addition to our running backs room.  He’s done everything that we’ve asked him to do.”  Ajayi and the Eagles are at Seattle Sunday.

Can Boise State replicate the defense and rebounding prowess we’ve seen so far when it visits Oregon tonight?  Here are some things to watch in Matthew Knight Arena.  The Broncos have been crashing the boards with a vengeance—their average margin on the boards is plus-10.7, tops in the Mountain West.  Defensively, Boise State has circled the wagons around the three-point line.  Opponents have made only 24.7 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc.  The Broncos are ninth in the nation and second in the conference behind UNLV in that category.  That will be key to a Boise State upset bid, as you can’t expect the Broncos to make 16 three-pointers again the way they did Tuesday night in the romp over Loyola-Chicago.

It’s the Broncos’ first true road game of the season, and it’s the marquee matchup of their non-conference schedule.  This wraps up a 2-for-1 series between Boise State and Oregon over three seasons—the Ducks were also at home last year, while the Broncos had them in Taco Bell Arena two seasons ago.  Boise State is capable of a signature win, having stopped Oregon 74-72 two years ago and leading the Ducks until 3½ minutes remained last December in Eugene before falling 68-63.  One Bronco who has played well versus Oregon the past two seasons is Zach Haney, who posted a combined 14 points and 11 rebounds in those games.

The Idaho Steelheads hope to catch Tulsa asleep on its skates this weekend.  It would be understandable, as the road-weary Oilers will be playing their 11th straight game away from home when they resume the series against the Steelheads tonight.  Fans will be wide awake in CenturyLink Arena—especially tomorrow night.  The U.S. Marine Corps and the Steelheads Booster Club are hosting the 20th annual Teddy Bear Toss for Tots at tomorrow’s game.  The Steelies have won five of their last seven contests.

This Day In Sports…December 1, 2012, five years ago today:

Boise State clinches a share of the Mountain West championship in its final conference game, beating Nevada 27-21 in Reno.  Sixth-year tailback D.J. Harper, who’ll be back on the blue turf wearing red tomorrow night (along with former Bronco teammate Kirby Moore), went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season with 130 yards rushing.  And fellow senior J.C. Percy foiled a potential game-turning Wolf Pack touchdown with a third quarter fumble recovery in the end zone to key the win. The win gave Boise State its seventh consecutive 10-win season and its 11th triumph over Nevada in 12 years. 

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK.  He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)

© 2017 KTVB-TV


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