Monday, December 2, 2013.
The beginning of the Boise State-New Mexico game Saturday night was part football, part screenplay. It couldn’t have been scripted any better. Joe Southwick, favoring his healing ankle, was indeed given the start at quarterback on Senior Night. The first play was a handoff to Jay Ajayi that went for no gain. The second play was a screen pass to Ajayi that the sophomore running back took 64 yards, just missing the end zone. Would the Broncos let Southwick throw again? On first-and-goal from the one-yard line, he threw a strike to Matt Miller, his first touchdown pass since October 5. The emotion was evident. To the point of tears. Southwick then donned a stocking cap and a headset and watched the rest of the 45-17 win from the sidelines.
Southwick deserved that moment. He had paid some serious dues (and taken an inordinate amount of guff) the past five seasons. Coming out of Danville, CA, in 2009 as one of the Bay Area’s best high school quarterbacks, Southwick immediately immersed himself in the Boise State offense. Then-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin thought enough of him to take him on every road trip during his true freshman season, suited up and ready to go. Southwick never had to play, but if Kellen Moore had been injured in the Fiesta Bowl against TCU, who do you think would have gone in? I’d venture to say it wouldn’t have been senior Mike Coughlin. It would have been Southwick. Even with a year of eligibility at stake. Now he has one game of eligibility left.
Something else that couldn’t have been scripted any better was the series of events that started with Boise State’s goal-line stand in the second quarter. You don’t see those very often. It started with a New Mexico first-and-goal at the two when the Broncos were leading just 14-7. It ended with yeoman’s work by Demarcus Lawrence, Corey Bell, Armand Nance and Darian Thompson. That resulted in a first down at the one-yard line for the Boise State offense. Fourteen plays later, Boise State had its first 99-yard touchdown drive in five years. The TD came on a 29-yard pass from Grant Hedrick to Ajayi, the first score through the air by someone other than a wide receiver this season. Ajayi also became the first Bronco since Karlin Adams in 1995 to record 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game.
With Shane Williams-Rhodes missing the New Mexico game, and Matt Miller not missing a beat, the two are in a dead heat now chasing the school single-season receptions record set by Jeremy Childs in 2007. They're both at 77 catches after Miller caught SWR with nine grabs Saturday night. So they’re five away from Childs’ standard of 82. Williams-Rhodes had ankle surgery yesterday and could return for the Broncos’ bowl game. Miller, who has 30 catches for 430 yards and nine touchdowns in the last four games, also went over 200 receptions for his career, and—with his third and final touchdown catch of the night—passed Titus Young for second on Boise State’s all-time list. Miller now has 205. One more footnote: Miller caught passes from three different players (Southwick, Hedrick, and punter Trevor Harman), all in the first quarter.
The Chris Petersen-to-USC rumor mill will start rumbling again now that the regular season is over. ESPN.com reports that “sources” say Petersen and Vanderbilt’s James Franklin are the top candidates for the Trojan job currently held by interim coach Ed Orgeron, who the university has apparently told it would like him to stay in some capacity. Meanwhile, Brent Pease has been fired as offensive coordinator at Florida. It’s just unfortunate that Pease had to be made the scapegoat (the top one, anyway) for Florida’s first losing season since 1979. The Gators finished the season ranked 112th in the nation in total offense. Florida managed just 193 yards in its loss to Florida State Saturday and had only 279 the weekend before in its shocking home loss to FCS Georgia Southern.
Fresno State’s boat was seriously rocked by San Jose State Friday, as the Spartans took down the Bulldogs’ undefeated season—and chances of a BCS bowl right along with it. Fresno State’s secondary suffered an epic meltdown in the 62-52 loss, as SJSU’s David Fales torched it for 547 yards and six touchdowns. Boise State’s boat had already been rocked by San Diego State a week ago, and Utah State finished off the Broncos’ Mountain West title hopes by thumping Wyoming, 35-7 (Cowboy coach Dave Christensen was subsequently fired yesterday). The Aggies, in nothing-to-lose mode, now face a Bulldogs team trying to salvage a title in the first Mountain West championship game this Saturday night.
In hoops, the first half of the Boise State-Portland State game was as close as the score indicated, but the second half wasn’t. The Broncos led just 34-30 at the intermission Friday night but imposed their will on the Vikings after that, steadily building on their lead until it reached 26 points with 3½ minutes left in the game. BSU coasted home with a 76-60 victory. Boise State’s defense held Portland State to 39 percent shooting in the second half—26 percent if you don’t count the Vikings’ flurry at the end against the backups. It was by far the Broncos’ lowest point output of the season, but they’re not out to lead the country in scoring. Just so happens that they still do, though, at 97.7 points per game.
Now it’s on to the marquee home game of the season for Boise State. Utah comes to town tomorrow night after pouring cold water on a red-hot Bronco team last year in a 76-55 drubbing in Salt Lake City. Will the Utes do what Idaho and Portland State did the past two games—go all-out to deny the three-pointer? In the first four games of the season, the Broncos shot a whopping 101 threes and made 47, a 46 percent clip. In the past two games, they've attempted just 23 and made only six. It's paid off inside, though, as Boise State has driven the lane relentlessly and camped out at the free throw line. The Broncos have hit 81 percent from the charity stripe in their last two outings.
Boise State’s emphasis on penetration the past two games have benefitted Ryan Watkins. The two victories have served as confidence-builders for the tougher assignments to come for the senior forward, as he was left open underneath by the attention deflected to guys like Derrick Marks, Anthony Drmic and Mikey Thompson. Watkins has posted two consecutive double-doubles—strong ones at that—with 16 points and 14 rebounds against Idaho and 14 points and 13 boards versus Portland State. The Broncos will need his strong inside presence moving forward.
The regular season is a bit different than a preseason game. The Idaho Stampede and Reno both found that out Saturday afternoon. The Bighorns had blasted the Stampede in Winnemucca 125-102 on November 19 in an exhibition. Playing for real at CenturyLink Arena, the Stamps rolled past Reno 108-80 to remain undefeated at 3-0. The one constant was Pierre Jackson. Idaho’s first-round pick in the D-League Draft scored 26 points in the preseason tilt and 20 in the one that counted Saturday. Former Boise State standout Reggie Larry, now a Bighorn, was held scoreless but led his team with 11 rebounds. The Stampede now embark on an eight-game road trip beginning Friday night at Springfield.
The Idaho Steelheads are used to this by now. Of the Steelheads’ 18 games so far this season, seven have gone past regulation. Las Vegas wasn’t fazed Friday night by Idaho experience in that department, winning 4-3 in a shootout at CenturyLink Arena. The Wranglers had to rally from one-goal deficits three times to get the game to overtime. The Steelies fought off a Las Vegas power play in the OT, helping to force the shootout. But special teams were unfriendly to Idaho at the other end, as the Steelheads were 0-for-5 on the power play. The Steelies are now 9-5-4 and will continue their 11-game homestand Wednesday night when they begin a three-game series against Stockton.
Middleton’s Erik Fisher shook off enough rust to finish 26th in the season-opening World Cup downhill Saturday at Lake Louise, Alberta. It was Fisher’s first World Cup race since 2012—he took last season off after a crash at Kvitjell, Norway, forced an ACL surgery. The U.S. Ski Team was excited about Fisher’s rehab, though. Last spring he became the first team member to bench-press 125-lb. dumbbells.
This Day In Sports…December 2, 2000:
Capping a bizarre week in which he accepted a job at Oklahoma State and then changed his mind, the rumor mill finally grinds to a halt with Boise State’s Dirk Koetter being introduced as the new head coach at Arizona State. At the same time, assistant head coach Dan Hawkins was announced as Koetter’s replacement at BSU. Koetter led the Broncos to a 26-10 record and two Humanitarian Bowl wins, along with the final two football championships in the history of the Big West Conference.
(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.)