Monday, September 23, 2013.
All along we said we’d know a lot more about Boise State after its ESPN game at Fresno State. Now we know. After the wrenching 41-40 loss to the Bulldogs, it looks like a trying year for the Bronco defense, which allowed more than 400 yards passing for only the fourth time in the 96-game Chris Petersen era. A year ago, Boise State didn’t allow so much as 300 yards passing in a game. Derek Carr toyed with the Bronco secondary, which appeared to be giving big cushions to Fresno State’s uber-talented receivers. There was no bigger cushion than the one for tight end Marcel Jensen on a crucial fourth-and-9 in the third quarter. Donte Deayon back-pedaled before the snap, Carr hit Jensen in stride, and 20 yards later the Bulldogs were in position for the important touchdown on their initial second half possession.
Yet here’s Boise State staging an amazing rally after Jay Ajayi’s deflating fumble, starting with Dallas Burroughs’ 58-yard kickoff return near the end of the third quarter. You had Aaron Baltazar’s first career touchdown, the 35-yard run that came on the next play. Then there was the 89-yard drive that alternated between Baltazar on the ground and a banged-up Joe Southwick escaping trouble and moving the Broncos through the air. And there was the perfectly-placed pooch kickoff by Dan Goodale recovered by Tanner Vallejo, setting up the quick 32-yard drive that featured a 28-yard Southwick scramble. That came with 7:04 left in the game, about the same time the Broncos took the lead over the Bulldogs in the 35-30 stunner in 2001. But Derek Carr had the finish his brother didn’t have, and Fresno State’s blue and orange nightmare ended.
It was going to happen sooner or later, this loss to Fresno State. Look at the big picture, though. From 2006-11, the Bulldogs lost to Boise State by an average score of 50-16, and three times went down by more than 50 points. The Broncos’ latest winning streak over Fresno State ended at seven games with Boise State losing by…one. Every team that has spent a lot of time high up in the rankings like Boise State has gotten a mulligan for stretches of hard times. In the past 10 years there have been downtrodden times for Alabama, Michigan, and Nebraska. Maybe someone the Broncos can relate to better, such as Louisville. How about Washington? And we don’t even know if this is really “hard times” yet. The Boise State program still has as solid a foundation as can be. Oh, and a coach who’s 86-10.
Put yourself in Fresno State’s shoes. To the Bulldogs and their fans, this win feels like Boise State’s victory over Idaho in 1994, or Nevada in 1999, or at Oregon in 2008 (five years to the day before this game). Carr embraced his brother David, victim of that legendary Bronco upset in 2001, for well over a minute immediately following the game, telling him, “This one was for you.” Carr marveled at his team’s resolve in the fourth quarter Friday night. “You can’t beat a team like Boise State in a close game without staying together, because they’ll take it right out of you,” he said. “They’ll take the soul right out of you if you let them. They come back, take the lead—all that kind of stuff.”
“So that’s what it looks like, huh?” said Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter, sitting next to the Milk Can. “I was extremely emotional to see the looks of our guys’ faces,” DeRuyter said of the game’s aftermath. “Ever since I’ve been here, you hear about Boise. And, ‘We’ve gotta beat Boise.’ Boise, Boise, Boise. And you’ve got to give them credit—there’s a reason for that. To see our guys work like they did and finally get to the top of that hill and not get knocked down was huge. Yes, I was emotional about it.”
No surprise—no more votes for Boise State in the polls. It’s the first time in almost eight years that’s happened. Fresno State, which made the Coaches Poll at No. 25 last week, moved up to 23rd this week and debuted on the AP list at No. 25. The Bulldogs are the only non-BCS team in the rankings, sounding very much like Bronco teams of years past. Washington, by the way, is 16th in the AP Poll and 20th on the coaches’ ledger after coasting past Idaho State Saturday, 56-0.
Elsewhere in the Mountain West, the conference still can’t get over the hump against BCS competition. Utah State hung with USC Saturday, but the Trojan defense difused Chuckie Keeton and company to win, 17-14. San Jose State star quarterback David Fales had a big day, throwing for 439 yards and three touchdowns. But the Spartans were done in by 353 rushing yards from Minnesota in a 43-24 loss. And San Diego State was poised for an upset of Oregon State until a fourth quarter meltdown led to 20 Beaver points and a 34-30 defeat.
Connor Halliday, son of one-time Boise State quarterback Duane Halliday, got it done Saturday night for Washington State in its 42-0 win over Idaho Washington State. The younger Halliday staked the Cougars to a 28-0 halftime lead in the 91st Battle of the Palouse, throwing four touchdown passes. He had 346 yards through the air on the night. The shutout was WSU’s first in 10 years, since they blanked the Vandals 25-0 to open the 2003 season. And UI coach Paul Petrino was apparently unhappy with how it went down, exchanging words with WSU coach Mike Leach at handshake time. At least Idaho was more successful against the Cougs offensively than USC was, gaining 253 yards to the Trojans’ 193. Chad Chalich was 17-of-23 for 167 yards and did not throw an interception for the fourth straight game. But Vandal backup Josh McCain did toss a pick, the team’s first of the season.
George Iloka drew the biggest spotlight of any former Boise State star in the NFL yesterday, for better or for worse. Iloka, the Cincinnati safety, knocked Green Bay tight end Jermichael Finley out of the game with a concussion, apparently leading with his shoulder and connecting with Finley’s head while breaking up a third down play in the first quarter. Iloka had three tackles and a pass deflection in the Bengals’ 34-30 upset. Doug Martin rushed for 88 yards on 20 carries for one-dimensional Tampa Bay in its 23-3 loss to New England. Austin Pettis scored the only St. Louis touchdown of the day yesterday as the Rams were thumped 31-7 by Dallas. The Cowboys’ Orlando Scandrick had a solid day, with a sack and a quarterback hit. And Cleveland actually won a game yesterday, 31-27 over Minnesota, with Billy Winn contributing a sack.
Graham DeLaet’s sour ending in the first round of the Tour Championship last Thursday wound up being an omen, and he faltered through the weekend to finish 28th in the PGA Tour finale in Atlanta. DeLaet’s opening round finished with three bogeys over the first five holes, and the rest of the tournament slipped away from him capped by a three-over 73 yesterday. The former Boise State star and Canadian favorite had borrowed a page from his country’s hockey heritage and had grown a playoff beard. It worked during the first three events of the PGA Tour playoffs. So how long is he going to keep it now? “Probably about 15 minutes,” DeLaet said without hesitation following the final round. He’s expected to be clean-shaven when he plays for the International team at the Presidents Cup in two weeks.
Former Boise State basketball star Trent Johnson, who’s made his mark in the coaching ranks the past two decades, was inducted into the University of Nevada Wolf Pack Hall of Fame Friday night. Johnson, currently the head coach at TCU, led the Pack from 1999-2004 and turned around a program mired in anonymity. At the end, Johnson had Nevada in the Sweet 16 and just missed the Final Four before moving on to Stanford. Reno Gazette-Journal columnist Chris Murray calls the “strong-willed” Johnson the best basketball coach in Nevada history. He may be strong-willed on the court, but in talking to him this summer at Les Bois Park, Johnson is still the same guy who remembers most people he comes across and warmly greets them—and retains a soft spot in his heart for the city of Boise.
This Day In Sports…September 23, 1973, 40 years ago today:
Four field goals by George Blanda lead the Oakland Raiders to a 12-7 win over the Miami Dolphins, who suffer their first loss after the previous season’s 17-0 record. Blanda, at the age of 46 and appearing in his 300th pro game, booted one field goal in each quarter. And rookie Ray Guy, appearing in his second pro game, helped a dominating Raider defense by averaging 49 yards on six punts.
(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.)