Thursday, August 28, 2014.
I would be surprised if tonight's Chick-fil-A Kickoff in the Georgia Dome between Boise State and Ole Miss was a rout in the manner of last year's 38-6 loss at Washington, the Broncos' worst loss since the infamous 48-13 defeat at Georgia in 2005. The game at UW was the perfect storm—an extremely emotional atmosphere surrounding the grand re-opening of Husky Stadium, the unveiling of a new no-huddle, dink-and-dunk Boise State offense, and the revenge factor for the Huskies after their 28-26 loss to the Broncos the previous December. New coach Bryan Harsin has infused a new energy and passion into the Boise State program. That can only carry you so far, but it will count for something tonight in Atlanta.
Will tonight's game be a big-game breakthrough for quarterback Grant Hedrick? His three losses in 2013 were against his three toughest opponents: BYU, San Diego State and Oregon State. In Hedrick's seven starts last season—and I'm counting the Nevada game here—his completion percentage was 73.3 percent in the four wins versus 64.5 in the three losses. Hedrick did throw for 816 yards in the defeats, but that number was helped by his 382-yard night in the Hawaii Bowl, when Boise State had to air it out. The big difference was in touchdown passes: 11 in the victories against four in the losses, and that has the biggest effect on the huge gap in Hedrick's pass efficiency rating. His 175.7 rating in the wins is outstanding. His 117.8 in the losses is not.
After the first scrimmage of fall camp, coach Bryan Harsin made a point of talking about a long run broken off by Hedrick. And that brings up an area that has piqued everyone's interest, the senior's running ability. He had that awesome game against Nevada, rushing for 115 yards on just eight carries with two touchdowns. Then he didn't exceed 30 net yards on the ground in any of the six games after that, and he didn't score a touchdown over the final four games. Sacks were a factor, of course, but still. Yes, Harsin has said he wants his senior QB to use his legs this season. That's got to be exciting for Mr. Hedrick.
The most scrutinized position group at Boise State is the offensive line, which comes into the season young and inexperienced. The starters are set at all but one position, right guard, with Mario Yakoo and Archie Lewis still vying for that spot through the weekend. And that position may be under the most pressure tonight, as it's expected that Ole Miss' star defensive tackle, Robert Nkemdiche, will line up opposite the lucky winner. It'll be baptism under fire for Yakoo and Lewis. The Broncos will probably have to try them both. Boise State is fine with quarterback Grant Hedrick, is super-fine with running back Jay Ajayi and wide receivers Matt Miller and Shane Williams-Rhodes, and is likely to surprise at tight end. The Broncos need the O-line to make it go, though.
If the offensive line is serviceable, the expectation is that the Boise State offense will at least holds its own against Ole Miss, so it'll be on the defense to not be run over tonight by an SEC offense. The Broncos were destroyed by Washington a year ago, giving up a whopping 592 yards and not looking confident doing it. This year's Bronco defense promises to play more aggressively. The secondary and linebackers are definitely in place—the unknown resides on the defensive line, with guys like sophomore Kamalei Correa and celebrated junior college transfer Antoine Turner charged with being difference-makers.
People have asked for months, "What do you think the Broncos' record's going to be this season?" Well, I think it'll be better than last year's 8-5, but if it's 8-5 again, it'll be a fun 8-5. Last season's 8-5 was not fun. Boise State's offense looked like it came out of a copy machine. Right out of the gate last August, the tight ends stayed in their stances. You could almost hear fans shouting, "Hey flank dude, aren't you going to go in motion?" He didn't, and the ball was snapped. Coach Bryan Harsin's bread has always been buttered by creativity, and that we will see. Now it just has to work.
But what was the biggest difference between last season and the 11-2 campaign of 2012? It was that defense. Two years ago, Boise State went through the final 10 games of the regular season allowing just one offensive touchdown in the first two quarters—nine first-half shutouts in 10 tries. Contrast that with the 31 points Oregon State scored in the first half of the Hawaii Bowl last December. The BYU game was a turkey, too, as the Cougars rolled up 24 first half points. You need look no further. Ole Miss is a big-time opponent for the Broncos, and it's going to require a way above-average performance from the "D".
Idaho begins the season with a money game Saturday at Florida. But coach Paul Petrino looks at the Vandals' first two games as a package. Even if they come out 0-2 after playing at Louisiana-Monroe, the "c" word will tell Petrino a lot about his team. "We are going to have to be really ready to go and compete on the road," Petrino said at Sun Belt Media Day last month. "Florida has all kind of talent—they are expecting to have a great year. And then that second game is going to be really big for us going to Monroe, because that is our first conference game. That's really going to set the stage for how we do in conference."
Idaho State opens at Utah tonight, demonstrating the Bengals' penchant for wise scheduling. Not that ISU relishes getting walloped by FBS schools, but if it has to play them, it may as well make the budget hum. The Bengals have been able to arrange games with FBS opponents regionally, making money while saving on travel expenses. Next week they face Utah State, and this summer BYU added them to its 2015 schedule. Idaho State also visits the blue turf to face Boise State next year.
I had bad information on Graham DeLaet's FedExCup ranking in the Monday Scott Slant column. PGATour.com indicated Sunday night the standings had been updated through The Barclays, showing the former Boise State star at No. 28. They had not been updated, and DeLaet actually fell to No. 37 after missing the cut last Friday. Why does it matter? Because there are two playoff tournaments left before the Tour Championship September 11-14 in Atlanta, where only the top 30 in FedExCup points will qualify. So DeLaet has to buckle down now—he tees off today in the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston.
This Day In Sports…August 28, 1992:
The Milwaukee Brewers pile up an American League record 31 hits in a 22-2 walloping of the Blue Jays at the SkyDome in Toronto. It was the most hits in a major league game in 91 years. Almost as amazing was the fact that 26 of the hits were singles. The Brewers hit only one home run, a two-run shot in the first inning from future Hall of Famer Paul Molitor.
(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.)