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Boise State football: Unfolding the Broncos’ Swiss Army knife

"Sensation" might be too strong a word, but you can see what could be coming. Khalil Shakir still isn't listed on the Boise State depth chart—not even as a punt returner, where he thrived against UConn.
Credit: Brian Losness
Sep 8, 2018; Boise, ID, USA; Boise State Broncos cheer squad after Boise State scores during second half action versus the Connecticut Huskies at Albertsons Stadium.Boise State beats Connecticut 62-7. Mandatory Credit: Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday, September 12, 2018.

“Sensation” might be too strong a word, but you can see what could be coming. Khalil Shakir still isn’t listed on the Boise State depth chart—not even as a punt returner, where he thrived against UConn. But you never put too much stock in the depth chart. Shakir could land in multiple slots soon. On offense, where will the Broncos place him? He’s supposed to be a wide receiver, but near the end of the first quarter against the Huskies, Shakir magically appeared next to Brett Rypien, lined up as a running back. Shakir promptly peeled off gains of 28 and 11 yards on consecutive snaps, setting up an Alexander Mattison touchdown on the next play. You knew that one touch for a loss of 11 yards on a reverse at Troy was an aberration. You can start running Shakir’s tab now.

Shakir had his first two career catches against UConn, covering 15 yards. His first touch in the game came on a punt return he took back 43 yards—it was negated by a block in the back. But the true freshman still had four returns for 44 yards on the night. He had four fair catches—that’s one number that will probably decrease. The next determination to be made: is Shakir a big-game guy? He’ll get his chances Saturday when Boise State goes up against No. 19 Oklahoma State in Stillwater. It’s one thing to have 34,000 fans rooting for you. It’s another thing to have almost 60,000 going against you.

It’s hard to argue with the notion that this matchup at Oklahoma State is the biggest regular-season game of the Bryan Harsin era—and the biggest game of Rypien’s Boise State career. Rypien has cracked the top 10 in ESPN’s Heisman Watch, tied for ninth with Stanford’s Bryce Love. The Bronco senior just has one fourth-place vote (two points), but hey, he’s one point ahead of UCF’s McKenzie Milton. If Rypien wants to stay on the chart, however, he’ll have to be clean and effective against the Cowboys. The umbrella stat for his hot start is pass efficiency. Rypien is fifth in the country with a rating of 214.5, keeping in mind that 170 is excellent, 150 is good, 130 is average, and 110 is not so good. Also keeping in mind that it’s only September 12.

There was a confidence-building exercise against UConn last week that may have gone unnoticed. Leading 38-0, Boise State called a timeout with 1:20 left in the first half as it was about to get the ball back from the Huskies. Many thought that was curious. But it was a perfect situation for the Broncos to test their clock management skills, something they may need at Oklahoma State (and beyond). Boise State took possession at its own 21-yard line with 1:13 remaining, and Rypien threw eight consecutive passes, completing six to get the Broncos to the UConn 27 with six seconds left. Haden Hoggarth then booted his career-long 44-yard field goal. They passed the test.

It’s not just Triple-A golf this week. The Albertsons Boise Open is indelibly tied to the PGA Tour. Take last year’s Boise Open champion Chesson Hadley, for example. The victory kick-started his 2017-18 PGA Tour season, as the following month he tied for third at the Safeway Open and finished second at the Sanderson Farms Championship. He entered last week’s playoff event, the BMW Championship, ranked 36th in FedExCup points and was close to making next week’s 30-man Tour Championship. It didn’t happen, but it demonstrates that these Albertsons Boise Open players are not September call-ups. A number of them are going to have an impact on the 2018-19 PGA Tour season.

The field at Hillcrest Country Club, by definition, is packed with PGA Tour mainstays. Those ranked Nos. 126-200 in FedExCup standings go to the Web.com Tour Finals to try to retain their PGA Tour cards. Those names include Hunter Mahan, Lucas Glover, Ricky Barnes, Stuart Appleby, Aaron Baddeley, Nampa native Robert Garrigus and Canadian David Hearn. Who knows? Perhaps you’ll see Hearn join fellow countryman Graham DeLaet around town this week hoisting one of DeLaet’s Prairie Baard beers. The former Boise State star is home rehabbing his recent back surgery—and introducing his prized Canadian brew to Boise.

Back to football—UCF’s game at North Carolina Saturday afternoon has been cancelled due to the onset of Hurricane Florence. It probably won’t be re-scheduled. The bad news for the Knights: this is the second straight season they’ve had a game against a Power 5 team wiped out by a hurricane (last year it was Georgia Tech). The consolation: UNC wouldn’t have done much for UCF’s strength-of-schedule—the Tar Heels made ESPN’s Bottom 10 this week after losing 41-19 at East Carolina, and coach Larry Fedora’s seat is one of the hottest in the country. UCF’s other Power 5 opponent is Pittsburgh, which lost 51-6 to Penn State last Saturday.

Aforementioned North Carolina lost on Week 1 at Cal. Now Idaho State, coming off a bye week, gives it a shot against the Golden Bears in Berkeley. Cal coach Justin Wilcox has faced the Bengals twice as a defensive coordinator, winning 49-7 at Boise State in 2008 and 56-0 at Washington in 2013. ISU snapped a 27-game losing streak to FBS schools last season when it took down Nevada 30-28 in Reno. This one is extremely unlikely to go that way. Elsewhere, Idaho has a bye this week, but College of Idaho is in action. The Coyotes are playing up this week, too, headed to Portland State of the Big Sky on Saturday. The Vikings, however, were shellacked in their first two games by Nevada and Oregon. The Yotes faced an FCS team for the first time last season, falling 41-14 at Northern Colorado.

Former Boise State star Leighton Vander Esch is going to be a work-in-progress, if you go by Matt Mosley’s analysis in the Dallas Morning News following the Cowboys’ loss at Carolina. “It was exciting to see Vander Esch line up at middle linebacker until realizing he had no clue what was happening,” wrote Mosley. “I think he'll be a fine player one of these days, but ‘The Wolf Hunter’ looked very uncertain as he attempted to diagnose plays. It's hard to use that Urlacher-like size when you drop back in coverage and don't come within 10 yards of someone running a route. Quick aside: I am somewhat bitter toward Vander Esch because he admitted to (legally) killing two wolves during a hunting trip.” We could have done without that. At any rate, just give LVE a chance to evolve.

This Day In Sports…September 12, 1998, 20 years ago today:

Boise State plays only its second home game ever against a Pac-10 school, as Washington State comes into Bronco Stadium a year after waxing BSU 58-0 in Pullman. The Broncos led late into the third quarter before WSU pulled away with a 33-21 win. After the game, Cougar coach Mike Price was asked, “Did it feel like a Pac-10 game out there tonight?” Price—still very proud of the Cougs’ Rose Bowl appearance on New Year’s Day that year—smugly replied, “The last time I checked, Boise State played in the Big West.”

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)

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