Friday, September 27, 2013.
Boise State is 98th in the country in total defense? It’s 100th in pass defense? And 104th in sacks? This is an out-of-body experience for the Broncos. “It’s not any one thing,” said coach Chris Petersen. “It starts with personnel, and experience, and all those things.” Another one of those “things” is the sudden preponderance of spread and up-tempo offenses in college football. Another one of those comes to the blue turf tomorrow night in Southern Miss. Actually, with Boise State heavily-favored, it’s good for the defense to face that challenge by producing a solid performance. Not because it’s going to be easy, but because it’ll be hard. “We’ve got to get aligned a little bit better—a little bit quicker,” Petersen said. “It’s something we’ve got to get better at.” Practice makes perfect, right?
The lack of sacks is one of the more glaring shortcomings of the Boise State defense right now. The Broncos have four in four games. They averaged just under three per game last year. “It comes down to keeping our rush lanes, but keep being aggressive,” said defensive end Beau Martin. Boise State needs to compensate for the extra attention being paid to 2012 Mountain West sack leader Demarcus Lawrence. Youth runs rampant on the Bronco defense, and the only cure is live reps. One hallmark of this program has been that the teams improve as the weeks go by. Since experience is such an issue with the defense, it’s natural to expect strides on that side of the ball.
Martin is one of those rare players to move up two classifications as a college football transfer. He came from Colorado State-Pueblo two years ago and is now a key part of the Broncos’ defensive line rotation. The 6-2, 271-pounder had a lot to prove. Now a junior, Martin has no regrets over taking the risk. “It’s been a challenge, but that’s exactly what I wanted,” said Martin. “There’s been ups and there’s been downs, but I still have this year and next to try to get better, and we’ll see where it goes.”
The Southern Miss spread offense is based on the pass, but tomorrow night it wants to run. A strange notion for a team ranked 117th in the country in rushing with 68 yards per game, perhaps. But the Golden Eagles are trying to build on their last outing at Arkansas, when they averaged more than five yards per carry on designed runs, those not involving sacks of quarterback Allan Bridgford. USM also had a 49-yard touchdown run called back by a penalty against the Razorbacks. The key is finally having sophomore Jalen Richard healthy. Richard gained a career-high 94 yards on only 14 carries versus the Hogs. He had been dealing with a knee injury suffered during fall camp.
Rewind just four years, when Utah State was 4-8 and San Jose State was 3-9. Did anyone envision those two teams taking the Friday night feature slot on ESPN? The Aggies and Spartans, both coming off 11-win seasons, earned a spot on the Worldwide Leader tonight. All signs point to an easy USU win, but the game is in San Jose. Hope there are fans in Spartan Stadium, one of the most attendance-challenged facilities in the FBS. Despite recording the best season in school history last year, San Jose State averaged just 10,789 fans per game. The Spartans drew an announced crowd of 13,136 in their only home game of this season, the opener against Sacramento State.
The program that has been forever buried in the fall by its football brethren is peeking out from behind the curtain this year. Boise State begins basketball practice today, the earliest start date ever. And fans are paying attention. The last time we saw this group it was enduring a two-hour learning experience at the NCAA Tournament’s First Four in Dayton, where it lost 80-71 to LaSalle. But the Broncos, of course, have all five starters back from last season’s 21-11 team. Boise State will hold an open scrimmage tomorrow before the Southern Miss football game. Part opportunity, part demand now.
Homecoming hopes are high at Idaho as similarly winless Temple comes to the Kibbie Dome. It’s up to the Vandal offense to bail out a defense that is allowing 42.3 points and 520 yards per game in order to secure win No. 1 under Paul Petrino. There’s one glaring stat that needs to be corrected: Idaho has not scored a point in the third quarter yet. The Owls may or may not be the tonic—they’ve allowed 529 yards per game on defense themselves, but just 26.7 points. The Vandals have been protective of their passing game, though. They finally threw their first interception of the season last week at Washington State—Idaho is tied for sixth nationally for fewest interceptions thrown.
The Miami Herald reports that former Boise State star Jamar Taylor is finally set to make his NFL debut on Monday Night Football when Miami takes on New Orleans. One thing has led to another since the NFL Combine for Taylor, who was diagnosed with a serious kidney problem at the Indianapolis showcase. Medication for chronic high blood pressure had severely damaged the organs. Then a month after being drafted in the second round by the Dolphins, Taylor had to have surgery on a sports hernia. And because of the kidney problem, he wasn’t allowed to take anti-inflammatory medication that would have minimized the pain and sped his recovery. Now, five months after the draft, Taylor gets his shot.
Elsewhere in the NFL, Austin Pettis led St. Louis in receiving last night with five catches for 59 yards, but he was kept out of the end zone for the first time since Week 1 as the 49ers thrashed the Rams, 35-11. And Doug Martin will find out Sunday if Tampa Bay’s switch from Josh Freeman to Mike Glennon at quarterback will make any difference to him. Martin is second in the NFL in rushing after three games despite seeing an inordinate amount of attention from opposing defenses.
Troy Merritt’s going to have to rally in his quest to regain a PGA Tour card. Merritt shot a three-over 73 yesterday in the first round of the Web.com Tour Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. Two bogeys on the front nine and a double on No. 10 put the former Boise State star behind the eight-ball, and he’s tied for 100th in the 125-player field. Merritt entered the tournament ranked 19th among those vying for the final 25 PGA Tour cards for next season.
The Race To Robie Creek spinoff (not officially aligned with the Race To Robie) makes its debut tomorrow. The first Double Robie & Aldape Challenge features two separate races beginning at Fort Boise Park. The Double Robie is a brutal marathon. To cover that distance, runners will have to go over Aldape Summit and all the way to Robie Creek Park—then turn around and come back. The Aldape Challenge is a 16.6-mile race that goes to the top of Aldape Summit and back to Fort Boise.
This Day In Sports…September 27, 1998, 15 years ago today:
Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals hits his 69th—and, in his final at-bat—his seemingly impossible 70th home run of the season. By hitting five homers in his final three games, he finally pulled away from the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa in the home run race, 70-66. Both players had shattered Roger Maris’s 38-year-old major league record of 61 homers in a single season. With a performance-enhanced asterisk.
(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.)