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Scott Slant: Holani was indeed historic, RB wise

Before Saturday, George Holani had never returned a punt in his Boise State career. It turns out not many Broncos running backs have.
Credit: Steve Conner/AP Photo
Boise State running back George Holani returns a punt against UT-Martin in an NCAA game, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, in Boise, Idaho. Boise State won 30-7.

BOISE, Idaho — Wednesday Weekly: September 21, 2022.

Talking off the air with KTVB’s Jay Tust Sunday night, he mentioned George Holani’s “historic” performance against UT-Martin. Well, it was good, I agreed, but historic? Turns out Tust is right. Holani became only the second Boise State running back to return multiple punts in a game in 28 years. And only one running back had multiple punt returns over an entire season in that time — Kelsey Young in 2015 with two. Robert Mahone had one in 2017 and Ian Johnson one in 2008. A look through the Broncos record book shows only wide receivers and defensive backs on the top 10 lists in punt returns. That’s how unusual Holani’s role is at Boise State. Just like that, Holani in second in the Mountain West in punt return average with 13.8 yards per runback. Might as well roll with him.

A SLEW OF DEFENSIVE SUPERLATIVES

After the discouraging loss at Oregon State, you knew the Boise State defense had the moxie to recover. And recover it has. The Broncos yielded 470 yards against the Beavers, but they’ve allowed just 138 yards per game since. The result? Boise State is 12th in the country in total defense (a 248-yard average), 14th in rushing defense (76 yards per game) and 20th in pass defense (172 per game). And third down has been a bonanza. Even OSU went just 4-of-13 on third-down conversions. Since then, New Mexico and U-T Martin combined to go 2-of-25. For the season, Broncos opponents are converting less than 16 percent of their third downs, making Boise State second in the nation behind Minnesota. Defense wins championships, right? The Broncos have that going for them.

OFFENSE NEEDS MORE SUPERLATIVES

The finish wasn’t great, but the start was fine for the Boise State offense in the 30-7 win over UT-Martin. A nine-yard run by Holani, an 18-yard pass from Hank Bachmeier to Tyneil Hopper, and a 34-yard gain by Holani a few plays later. The drive ended in a touchdown. The Broncos had 251 yards at halftime — then put up only 76 in the second half, including 22 in the third quarter. It’s that consistency that needs to be ironed out, hopefully for their sake in the UTEP game this Friday. Nevertheless, they’re 2-1.

ONE PARTICULAR NOISY MOMENT

Boise State announced a crowd of 36,396 for the home opener. It’s hard to fathom that as the 10th-largest crowd in Albertsons Stadium history. Of course, they count differently now — tickets distributed instead of turnstile count. What’s impressive, though, is the run on tickets in the days leading up to the game. It was a solid crowd for a game against an FCS school. What wasn’t as impressive was the near-roar that went up for Taylen Green’s entrance into the game when Bachmeier was shaken up. Fans weren’t cheering Bachmeier’s injury, but they were sending their message about their disdain for the Broncos’ senior quarterback. It was unfortunate. There’s so much more at the root of this offense’s ongoing struggles, starting with an offensive line that just can’t jell.

COUNT YOUR QUARTERBACK BLESSINGS?

How about these various Mountain West quarterback situations? Bachmeier keeps drawing the ire of cranky Bronco Nation, but he’s coming off the sixth-best pass efficiency rating for a single game in his career: 166.9. Hank can be a lot better, but all is not lost. Then you have San Diego State and Fresno State, the Broncos’ next two Mountain West opponents. The Aztecs got down to their third-string QB in their 35-7 loss at Utah. The three of them combined to go 7-for-21 for 60 yards. The Bulldogs lost star Jake Haener to a high ankle sprain in the third quarter of their 45-17 defeat at USC. That injury can be tricky. Will Haener be back for the showdown on the blue turf less than three weeks from now?

THIS WEEK’S MOUNTAIN WEST SIDEBARS

No major implications in any of this week’s Mountain West games, but there are some storylines. In conference play, UNLV is at Utah State. The Aggies have had a week to recover from the humiliation of the 28-point loss to Weber State — the Rebels are coming off a 58-27 thrashing of North Texas. Interesting. From the “bad time to catch an opponent” department, Wyoming is at BYU Saturday. Upsetting Air Force is at home is one thing, but these are some snarling Cougars the Cowboys will be facing. And what a pivotal game for Colorado State, which has started an ugly 0-3 under Jay Norvell. The Rams absolutely have to beat Sacramento State, but players keep leaving CSU. The Hornets, meanwhile, are 2-0 under reigning Big Sky Coach of the Year Troy Taylor.

ONE DALMAS KICKS, ANOTHER CATCHES

Nobody who saw one 32-yard field goal attempt go wide and another 32-yarder clang off the goalpost at Oregon State thought that was the real Jonah Dalmas. Boise State’s junior kicker is 4-for-4 since and has been named Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Week after booting three field goals in the win over UT-Martin. Included was Dalmas’ second 48-yard make of the season. His career field goal percentage of 88.4 ranks second nationally amongst active kickers. One thing that’s gone locally viral this week is video of a fan catching one of Dalmas’ extra points in the north end zone last Saturday. I saw that and thought at the time, “That was a pretty good catch.” Turns out it was Dalmas’ dad. How many times has that happened in college football history?

WHERE WILL HARSIN BE IN THREE MONTHS (OR LESS)?

Speculation on Bryan Harsin’s future goes beyond what feels like his inevitable firing at Auburn. Could there be a place for him in Tempe? Again, pure speculation, but The Athletic’s Chris Vannini writes, “Harsin is on the hot seat, now under even more pressure after a home blowout loss to Penn State. He’s never been a natural fit in the Southeast, and his fate seems almost assured with his athletic director already gone, barring a surprising turnaround this season. If he’s let go during the season, Arizona State could take a look. Harsin went 69-19 as Boise State’s head coach, and the program has fallen off since he left.” That last line from Vannini is a zapper, but that’s another story. At ASU, Harsin could at least get back to recruiting California and the West, where he’s comfortable.

VANDALS ROCK ON A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD

Idaho jumps into Big Sky play this week with a mound of momentum, hoping to set the tone when it faces Northern Arizona this Saturday in Flagstaff. After playing two Power 5 teams tough (led Indiana and tied with Washington State at halftime), the Vandals played a team their own size last week and racked Drake 42-14 in the Kibbie Dome. It’s all about swagger now, and Idaho is showing that through takeaways. The Vandals are plus-5 in turnover margin, No. 9 in the FCS. Their seven forced turnovers are just one short of their total for the entire 2021 season. Like Idaho, the Lumberjacks are 1-2, but it’s safe to say the Vandals have had the tougher schedule.

THE RUN MAKES EVERYTHING ELSE ROLL

Andy Peters’ teammates are making his job easy at College of Idaho. The Coyotes, who are 3-0 going into this Saturday’s I-84 rivalry game against Eastern Oregon at Simplot Stadium, have the run game going after a 288-yard output on the ground at Southern Oregon. Sophomore Hunter Gilbert ran for 153 yards and three touchdowns in the come-from-behind 42-24 win, earning him Frontier Offensive Player of the Week honors. Allamar Alexander added 77 yards rushing. Peters only had to throw 23 times, completing 15 for 199 yards and two TDs. The Yotes are up to No. 11 in the new NAIA Coaches Poll.

CIRCLING SOME HOOPS DATES

College basketball doesn’t schedule 10-15 years out like football does. Less than eight weeks away from the start of the season, the Boise State men finally unveiled their full schedule last week. At first glance, the home schedule isn’t compelling. But the opener in Extra Mile Arena is an exception. The November 9 game is against South Dakota State, which won 30 games last season, including a 21-game winning streak. The Jackrabbits have been to six NCAA Tournaments in the past 11 years. The neutral site game versus Washington State in Idaho Central Arena is compelling. ExtraMile dates to circle in Mountain West play: January 7 against Utah State, January 28 versus Colorado State, February 11 against Wyoming and February 28 against San Diego State.

KUDOS TO THE COMMISH

The blockbuster announcement out of the Mountain West last week: commissioner Craig Thompson is stepping down at the end of the year. Thompson is the only commissioner the conference has ever known, having helped found the Mountain West almost 24 years ago. It’s almost like he’s saying, “My work is done here.” Said Thompson in a release: “My one remaining priority was expansion of the College Football Playoff and viable access for the Mountain West.” Thompson guided the Mountain West through the conference chaos of 2011, when Utah and BYU decided to leave and Boise State came aboard. The takeaway from Thompson interviews over the years — he was fairly accessible, and he always seemed to tell you as much as he possibly could.

THIS DAY IN SPORTS…September 21, 1990:

The first Boise Open tees off at Hillcrest Country Club, one of 30 events in the inaugural year of what was then called the Ben Hogan Tour. The tournament was 54 holes and had a purse of $100,000 ($80,000 less than what this year’s winner, Will Gordon, received by himself). The first Boise Open champion was Ricky Smallridge, who took home $20,000. The event would later become known as the Albertsons Boise Open, and in 2016 it became part of the Korn Ferry Tour Finals. The tournament is one of only four originals left from the first Ben Hogan season.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)

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