Tuesday, January 2, 2018.
UNLV had wanted to make a statement as it opened Mountain West play Saturday night at Thomas & Mack Center. And the Rebels appeared to be on the way when they stretched their lead to six points early in the second half. But then the Broncos launched a 23-4 run to overwhelm the Rebs, rolling to an 83-74 win. It was a tribute to Boise State’s defensive and rebounding resolve, as UNLV had come into the game No. 7 in the nation in scoring at 91.2 points per game. The Broncos outrebounded the Rebels by 19. The scoring on this night came from the Chandler Hutchison, who poured in 32 points to go with 12 boards. It was Hutchison’s sixth performance of 20 points-plus in the past seven games. And with it, he broke the school record with 11 career 20/10 games (20 points, 10 rebounds).
Hutchison is fulfilling the promise of a strong senior season after returning from his NBA auditions last spring. It started slowly, though. Over the first six games of the season, Hutchison averaged 10.3 points and 7.5 rebounds. That included four points against Iowa State before he hit his head on the floor and had to exit the Puerto Rico Tip-off, and two points against Loyola-Chicago in 17 minutes in his first game back from the concussion. But in the seven games since, beginning with the 73-70 win at Oregon, Hutchison has averaged 23.6 points and 9.1 rebounds. He has been NBA-caliber, and no opponent would argue.
The most significant result elsewhere over the weekend as it pertains to Boise State was New Mexico’s 77-74 loss at Nevada. There are no moral victories, but the Lobos come into Taco Bell Arena tomorrow night knowing they can play with anybody in the conference. First-year New Mexico coach Paul Weir, who last season was the first-year coach at rival New Mexico State, is charged with restoring the Lobos to their days of dominance after the tumultuous tenure of Craig Neal. Weir has lost twice to his old Aggies squad this season, much to the chagrin of The Pit faithful. But a nice run through the Mountain West would heal those wounds.
Let’s pick up where we left off last Friday. Steve Caldwell did indeed resign his defensive line post at Boise State after four seasons, but he hasn’t been named the new D-line coach at Arkansas yet. Nor have the Razorbacks officially hired John Chavis as their new defensive coordinator. Reports out of Little Rock sports/talk radio last Thursday said that Chavis, who has held the D-coordinator’s post at Texas A&M, would be announced at Arkansas after the Aggies’ loss to Wake Forest in Friday’s Belk Bowl. Then Chavis would hire Caldwell. It hasn’t happened, but it’s still a good bet. The important thing for the Broncos: Caldwell is gone and will—one way or another—end up closer to home.
Caldwell has guided a unit that has been crucial to Boise State’s defensive success, especially this year. Witness the job he has domne in developing talent. This season Curtis Weaver came out of nowhere to lead the Mountain West with 11 sacks and became the first freshman ever to be named first-team All-Mountain West on defense. Caldwell fashioned David Moa into an all-conference first-teamer in 2016. He has helped turn Jabril Frazier, Durrant Miles and Sonatane Lui into forces up front. This will be a key hire for Boise State coach Bryan Harsin and defensive coordinator Andy Avalos (provided a Power 5 program doesn’t scoop up Avalos).
UCF represented the Group of 5 well in the New Year’s Six bowls, beating Auburn 34-27 yesterday in the Peach Bowl. The Group of 5 is now 3-1 in the New Year’s Six since the CFP system was established in 2014, with wins by Boise State, Houston and the Knights and a loss last season by Western Michigan. And UCF coach Scott Frost, on his way to Nebraska, is none too happy that his team was left out of the CFP playoffs. Were it not for Hurricane Irma, the Knights would have had a shot at joining the Broncos as the only 14-0 Group of 5 teams in history (Boise State did it in 2009, capped by the 2010 Fiesta Bowl win over TCU). UCF cancelled three games due to the storm in September and was able to get two back in. The Knights finished 13-0, just two years after going 0-12.
The aformentioned Fiesta Bowl eight years ago went a lot better for Chris Petersen than the 2017 edition of the game in Glendale. The Big Ten overwhelmed the Pac-12 again, as Penn State beat Washington 35-28 in a game that was not as close as the final score. UW quarterback Jake Browning is a talented guy, but he seemed to regress durinh his junior year. The Huskies were the conference’s last chance to salvage something out of the bowl season. The Pac-12 went a putrid 1-8 in a postseason wreck that started 17 days ago with Oregon’s 38-28 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
One note on Washington State falling 42-17 to Michigan State without Luke Falk in the Holiday Bowl: it was revealed that the broken wrist that kep Falk out of the game was suffered in Week 2 against the Broncos. Falk played all season with the injury (it was on his non-throwing hand) and wanted to play against the Spartans, but it became so painful during bowl prep that he went ahead with surgery.
Jay Ajayi has found a fit with the Philadelphia Eagles and is headed for the NFL Playoffs as the Eagles’ feature back. Now the spotlight gets brighter on the former Boise State star, who is tabbed—along with strange bedfellow backfield mate LeGarrette Blount—as a player who has to take the pressure off quarterback Nick Foles in the postseason. That wasn’t necessary in the regular season finale Sunday, though, as the Eagles had already clinched homefield advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs. Ajayi was held out of Philadelphia’s 6-0 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
If Ajayi gets into the end zone in the postseason, he’ll have to come up with a different celebration routine. He scored Philly’s only offensive touchdown of the game in a 19-10 win over Oakland on Monday Night Football last week and celebrated the Christmas accomplishment by throwing an imaginary sack of presents over his shoulder and carrying it to the stands, where he handed his TD ball to a fan in the front row. By the way, with 52 yards on the ground last week, Ajayi became the first player in NFL history to gain 300-plus rushing yards for two different teams in the same season (465 with Miami, 408 with the Eagles).
This Day In Sports…January 2, 2009:
Two years after Boise State’s BCS-busting shocker at the Fiesta Bowl, Utah dominates Alabama 31-17 in the Sugar Bowl to complete a 13-0 season. The Utes scored the first 21 points of the game, cashing in on all three of their first quarter possessions behind the game’s MVP, quarterback Brian Johnson. The night didn’t have the drama of the Broncos’ overtime upset of the Sooners, but it did more for the mid-majors of the world—coming as it did one year after Hawaii was crushed by Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, 41-10.
(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.)