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Leighton Vander Esch: At the mercy of Jerry J?

When Sean Lee is ready to play for Dallas again, hopefully coach Jason Garrett and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will be voices of reason when it comes to the pride of Riggins.
Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (55) smiles as he celebrates a third down stop in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints at AT&T Stadium.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018.

Sometimes you wonder which game Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is watching in his comfy suite high above the turf at NFL games. On his radio show yesterday, Jones said that when veteran linebacker Sean Lee returns from his hamstring injury, budding star Leighton Vander Esch will return to backup status. Lee’s a great player, but the Cowboys have won four straight games in his absence with Vander Esch making a team-high 39 tackles and adding two interceptions for 56 yards as he evolves into an NFL rookie sensation. The former Boise State star is the Cowboys’ runaway leader in tackles for the season with 102. Jones does say Vander Esch will be in a “rotation” with Lee. LVE is set to start again Sunday in Dallas’ showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles.


Boise State has lost a key piece of its linebacker corps, as Desmond Williams announced last night on Twitter that he’s leaving the Broncos. “It’s a special place to me and I’ve learned so many things during my experience,” wrote Williams. “I will carry on the things I’ve learned to wherever I go next in life.” He’s a redshirt sophomore, so he’ll have to sit out next season if he transfers to an FBS school. But Williams will be able to play next year if he goes the FCS route. He has 58 career tackles, eight of them for loss with three sacks, and a memorable fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown three weeks ago at New Mexico. Departures like this are unusual at Boise State, but they could become more common in the future. See the story below on Nevada.

I always like to make a note of Boise State’s Scout Team Players of the Year, because—more often than not—something comes of those guys. Desmond Williams isn’t what I had in mind, though (he was Defensive Scout Team POY in 2016). But let’s see what happens with these award winners. The 2016 scout team honor on offense went to freshman wide receiver Maclaine Griffin of Westlake Village, CA. On defense the winner was freshman safety Mujeeb Rufai out of Portland, the brother of sophomore defensive end Kayode Rufai. And the special teams award went to sophomore linebacker Nick Provenzano of Glendora, CA, the brother of senior linebacker Joe Provenzano.

A question has arisen regarding Boise State’s infrastructure for the First Responder Bowl. Will the Broncos’ wideouts have their position coach that day? Boise State wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau is said to be among the top candidates for the vacant head coaching job at Northern Arizona, according to ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg. There’s a sense of urgency for NAU with the early signing day coming up in two weeks. Kiesau is seen as a good West Coast recruiter and has spent time on Power 5 staffs at Colorado, Cal and Washington. Immediately before joining the Broncos he was with Fresno State and had the thankless job of serving as interim coach over the final four games of a 1-11 season.


A measure of the respect Mountain West peers have for Boise State can be seen in a column by Marek Warszawski of the Fresno Bee, the guy who wrote last week’s “reasons to hate Boise State” column. That one was full of back-handed compliments. Here’s the gist of this one: “When was the last time a Fresno State victory on the football field felt so satisfying? You can make an argument for ‘never.’ Under (coach Pat) Hill, the Bulldogs won bowl games against a ranked Virginia team in 2004 (in Boise, ironically), UCLA in 2003 and Georgia Tech in 2002. They also beat Colorado, Oregon State, Wisconsin, Washington, Kansas State and UCLA during nonconference. But did any of those wins produce as much joy when compared to what Fresno State felt after (Ronnie) Rivers high-stepped into the end zone? I’m thinking not.”


Here’s an example of a convoluted quote, where the first sentence and last sentence don’t match the middle. It’s from BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, the one-time Boise State commit who will return to the blue turf for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Western Michigan on December 21. “It’s cool to be going back to that field,” Wilson said. “That field, honestly, is crappy. The turf is so bad. That turf is terrible. I left with so many cuts all over my body. It was like I had road burn. It will be cool going back out on that field, and just being able to play another game is the biggest thing.” Wilson must have liked that blue turf once upon a time—when he was excited about being a future Bronco. But no worries. There’ll be a new blue carpet the next time he visits to play Boise State as a junior in 2020.


There’s still some bitterness in Wyoming over the Mountain West’s reluctance to push for a Cowboys bid to a bowl game. The Pokes were one of four 6-6 teams left out of the bowl lineup. Wyo became bowl eligible by rolling New Mexico on the road 31-3 in the final game of the regular season, holding the Lobos to 83 yards to finish a four-game winning streak. Bud Dunega of the Sheridan Press makes some good points. Wyoming’s six losses were suffered at the hands of teams with a combined record of 56-17. The Cowboys didn’t lose to a team with fewer than eight wins. The Pokes’ non-conference schedule featured two Power 5 teams in the final College Football Playoff top 25, not to mention Boise State, Fresno State and Utah State in Mountain West play.


Nevada will be without electric sophomore wide receiver McLane Mannix when it faces Arkansas State in the Arizona Bowl on December 29. Mannix announced Sunday night that he is leaving the Wolf Pack due to "personal family matters.” A freshman All-American last year, Mannix made 50 catches for 875 yards and seven touchdowns this season. The loss of a player of that caliber has Pack coach Jay Norvell worried that the new transfer rule this year is just creating a free agent market for major programs. “We don’t want to be a minor-league team for the Power 5 schools where we go recruit kids and bring them here and they play for a couple years and they’re all-league players and then they leave,” Norvell told Chris Murray of Nevada Sports Net. “That’s the possibility for all mid-majors at this point with this new rule.”


Coach Leon Rice made an appeal to Boise State basketball fans to come out and support this team as it finds its sea legs. After five games away from Taco Bell Arena, the Broncos will be home Saturday afternoon against Central Washington. Four of the games were losses, as the team is now 2-5, its worst start in 22 years. “What we’re going through right now is we have too much inexperience,” said Rice. “And it’s not all on them, it’s on us as coaches, too.” Rice is still tinkering with different combinations, but he maintains the Broncos are improving, and that was evident in the close call at Grand Canyon last Saturday.

This Day In Sports…December 5, 1998, 20 years ago today:

Senior Roberto Bergersen produces one of the best big-game performances in Boise State basketball history, scoring 32 points to lead the Broncos past No. 15 Washington in the BSU Pavilion, 69-61. Bergersen, who originally signed with UW out of high school, connected on 13 field goals while going up, over and around the Huskies. Washington was the highest-ranked team Boise State had ever defeated—and would remain so until the Broncos stunned No. 11 Creighton in November, 2012.

(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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