Monday, September 9, 2013.
You had that little call-out of the Boise State wide receivers by coach Chris Petersen last week. They were mature enough to take it to heart Saturday in the Broncos’ 63-14 rout of Tennessee-Martin at Bronco Stadium. It was a very mature performance by Shane Williams-Rhodes, the 5-6 true sophomore dynamo who led the team with seven catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns (not to mention his contributions in the run game and on special teams). Williams-Rhodes provided a definitive spark that was missing the week before at Husky Stadium. Aaron Burks had a 54-yard TD grab among his three receptions after being shut out at Washington. And Kirby Moore got back into the end zone. His second quarter touchdown was his first on the blue turf since a key fourth quarter score against Nevada way back in 2009, his true freshman year.
The Skyhawks were just the tonic for the guy slinging the ball, Joe Southwick. All he could manage in the loss at Husky Stadium was dink-and-dunk stuff on 25 completions (only 142 yards). Southwick’s improvement is evident in his yards-per-attempt, from a paltry 3.8 yards at UW to 9.4 versus UT-Martin. He had only one completion of 15 or more yards against the Huskies—and seven on Saturday. But the touchdown passes jump out. Southwick threw five, two more than he had ever tossed in a game. It was one short of the Boise State record, set by Bronco icon Jim McMillan with his six at Montana in 1974.
There are two phrases that could hardly describe Tennessee-Martin more accurately. “Penalty-prone” and “mistake-prone.” To be sure, the Skyhawks’ undisciplined play contributed significantly to Boise State’s 63 points. And a couple of their six turnovers were unforced, including Bryan Douglas’ interception that was returned 33 yards for a touchdown, and the fumbled kickoff that was recovered at the UTM 15-yard line and led to a touchdown. Still, there was progress for the Bronco defense after the 592-yard nightmare at Washington. The turnovers that were the defense’s doing made a huge difference in the game and highlighted a bend-but-not-break performance that allowed the Skyhawks 362 yards. Boise State held the UTM rushing attack, its strength, to 3.1 yards per carry.
There was plenty for Boise State to like on special teams, starting with as well-executed an onside kick as you will see. Kicker Dan Goodale hit the sweet spot and got the perfect bounce, sending a pop-up into completely open space in Tennessee-Martin’s kickoff return alignment. Ebo Makinde knifed through the bewildered Skyhawks, caught it, and got it down to the UTM 43. With the Broncos having just taken a 14-7 lead, it was the ultimate momentum-changer. The Broncos also got the aforementioned fumble recovery on a kickoff and 71 yards on three punt returns (one a 43-yarder) from Shane Williams-Rhodes.
Attendance wasn’t as bad as many feared it would be. A crowd that at the middle of last week looked like it might barely break 30,000 ended up at 33,293 for a decidedly non-sexy opponent. The strong walk-up had to with a brilliantly beautiful day, the realization by most fans that they weren’t going to be able to see it by other means, and maybe, just maybe, the thought that jumping off the bandwagon wouldn’t reflect well on Boise State as its status faces an uncertain future. One Scott Slant reader responded to my Friday column on that subject this way: “Fans of a program that aspires to be the best it can be—perhaps elite—have a responsibility similar to that of the coaching staff and players. Namely, any “statement’ they want to make should be made with their focus, effort and commitment—demonstrated by simply showing up!”
Just like Week 1, there was nothing to write home about in Week 2 of the Mountain West schedule. San Diego State did not challenge Ohio State, losing 42-7. Same was the case in the league’s three games against Pac-12 schools. The only non-conference victories over FBS schools came from New Mexico in a rivalry game—42-35 in overtime at UTEP—and Wyoming (more in a moment). The team that made the most waves Saturday was Utah State, riddling Air Force 52-20 in the Aggies’ first conference game in the Mountain West. USU’s Chuckie Keeton is the real deal, having thrown for 360 yards on 80 percent passing with five touchdowns.
Idaho’s offense was passable at Wyoming Saturday, with a good first quarter and fourth quarter. But it was going to have to be great to keep pace with Wyoming, who rolled up 564 yards on the beleaguered Vandal defense behind Brett Smith, winning 42-10 in Laramie. A combination of a 33-minute lightning delay and an unstoppable Smith sapped Idaho’s energy. The junior star threw for 295 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 64 more. Vandal QB Chad Chalich was reasonably efficient, going 23-of-33, but his throws covered only 182 yards—and that includes a 35-yard strike to Najee Lovett. Idaho trailed 42-0 in the fourth quarter before getting on the board. Elsewhere, Idaho State got its usual rout against lower-division competition, downing Dixie State 40-14. Now the Bengals just have to perform that way versus FCS schools.
Highlights yesterday among former Boise State standouts in the NFL. George Iloka got his first career start at strong safety for Cincinnati and had four tackles, while Chicago’s Shea McClellin also had four stops, including a sack, in the Bears’ 27-24 win over the Bengals. Chase Baker made his NFL debut in Minnesota’s 34-24 loss to Detroit but didn’t log a tackle. Doug Martin was held to 65 yards on 24 carries with one touchdown in Tampa Bay’s 18-17 loss to the Jets. Martin also lost a fumble. And Quintin Mikell, eight days after being signed by Carolina, began his 11th NFL season as the Panthers’ starter at free safety and had a tackle and a pass deflection in a 12-7 loss to the Seahawks.
There was a hiccup yesterday on the Boise Hawks pitching staff, and it was enough for Vancouver to drop the Hawks 4-2 and send the Northwest League Championship Series to one final game tonight. Starter Paul Blackburn went the first five innings for the Hawks, allowing a run on three hits, striking out a career-high nine. It was a 1-1 game in the bottom of the sixth until the Canadians scratched out a run off reliever Corbin Hoffner, then Andy Fermin touched him a for two-run triple in the seventh. The Hawks lost one of their big bats in the fifth inning when Kevin Encarnacion was thrown out of the game by the first base umpire for spiking his batting helmet after being picked off of first.
In tonight’s winner-take-all Game 3, adversity knocks. Not only are the Hawks missing the five players left behind because of visa and passport problems, they’ll be facing a super-charged atmosphere in Vancouver. It’s a metropolitan area of 2.3 million people, so there are lots of fans available to attend tonight’s championship decider. And they will attend. There were 4,655 in intimate Nat Bailey Stadium yesterday, and they made a racket. There’s this nugget, though. Today marks nine years to the day since Boise won its last title. The Hawks did it in 2004 against the same opponent—on the same field. The Canadians will be trying to become the first Northwest League team in 18 years to win three straight championships, since Boise accomplished the feat in 1993-94-95.
Halfway through the Web.com Tour Finals, former Boise State star Troy Merritt is 16th on the Finals money list, down just one spot after tying for 17th yesterday at the Finals’ second stage, the Chiquita Classic. Merritt won $15,500 at the Davidson, NC, event. If my calculations are correct, he is 10th among those Web.com players who haven’t already received their PGA Tour cards for next season. Merritt needs to finish in the top 25 to secure a return to the big tour. He needs to keep this up for two more weeks.
Boise State basketball has its first commitment for the 2014-15 class. Chandler Hutchinson, a 6-5 small forward who was in Boise for a recruiting visit over the weekend, has given his verbal, according to Scout.com. Hutchinson, ESPN.com’s 10th-rated recruit in the state of California, had a breakout performance at the Mater Dei Nike Extravaganza in February. At the time, Scout.com’s Josh Gershon called Hutchinson “a strong rebounder, passer and defender who plays with a purpose and gives good effort.”
This Day In Sports…September 9, 1960:
The Denver Broncos defeat the Boston Patriots, 13-10, in the first regular season game ever played in the American Football League. Denver’s uniforms turned some heads—and stomachs. They had brown helmets, white jerseys with brown numerals, brown pants, and vertically-striped brown-and-white socks. The first AFL season consisted of eight teams; the others were the Buffalo Bills, Dallas Texans, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Titans, Oakland Raiders, and the inaugural AFL champions, the Houston Oilers.
(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.)