BOISE, Idaho — Boise State has won a lot of games over the past 20 years, but it hasn’t won a lot of Coach of the Year awards. As time progressed, the feeling was that the Broncos were “supposed” to win, and often a Cinderella coach would be given the honor. Dan Hawkins was Coach of the Year twice in the WAC. Chris Petersen also won the award twice. In the Mountain West, Bryan Harsin was never named Coach of the Year despite three championships. Now, Boise State has its first in the MW, Andy Avalos. And that’s probably because, after the debacle at UTEP in late September left the Broncos at 2-2, they weren’t supposed to win this time. Avalos fired his offensive coordinator, then watched his starting quarterback go into the transfer portal. And since then, Boise State has gone 7-1. Who’d a thunk we’d be here two months ago?
GREEN’S GROWTH SINCE FRESNO GAME
New Mountain West Freshman of the Year Taylen Green made the second start of his Boise State career against Fresno State in early October. He didn’t throw much, totaling just 127 yards, but he did toss the first two touchdown passes of his career. Green ran a decent amount, but only had 32 yards on 11 carries. The Bulldogs knew he was a threat, though, and they keyed on him while George Holani and Ashton Jeanty were each topping 100 yards on the ground. Since then, Green has thrown for over 200 yards in every game, adding 10 more touchdowns against just one interception (and that was way back in the Air Force game). Fresno State has safety Evan Williams back to pester Green in the Mountain West championship game. Green has some passing skills the Bulldogs didn’t see in October.
BULLDOGS BRING THE HEAT
Dirk Koetter’s scheming and Green’s decision-making will be tested Saturday, though. Fresno State is Blitz City, especially during the past three weeks. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, the Bulldogs blitzed on 51 percent of Wyoming’s dropbacks last week in a 30-0 rout. The preceding week, they blitzed on 50 percent of Nevada’s dropbacks, and the week before that, Fresno State dialed up blitzes on 46 percent of UNLV’s passing situations. There are lots of ways for Boise State to beat the blitz if you recognize it, and if you have a quarterback with Green’s skills. He’ll just need help from the offensive line, and like the rest of the Broncos roster, it is really beaten up. Kekani Holomalia-Gonzalez always seems to be hanging on by a thread, and Cade Beresford missed last week’s win over Utah State.
GETTING FOUR QUARTERS OUT OF A HOSPITAL WARD
This is as injury-plagued as the Boise State program has been in a long time. It’s on defense where it shows the most, and that could affect the Broncos’ ability to get after Jake Haener Saturday the way they did last year in the 40-14 win at Fresno State. Not many are holding out hope that we’ll see linebacker Zeke Noa and edge Demitri Washington on the blue turf. Herbert Gums was missing on the defensive line against Utah State, and fellow lineman Divine Obichere left the field late in the game. Nickel Tyreque Jones rode off in a cart in the fourth quarter. dge George Tarlas has been gone for over a month (and he did, by the way, play in the 40-20 win over the Bulldogs in early October).
A BRONCOS-BULLDOGS COMPARABLE
In Fresno, they’ve made a point of what Fresno State did to the Wyoming running game last Saturday compared to what happened to Boise State the week before. The Broncos, of course, allowed 278 yards on the ground in the Laramie freeze, with 212 of them coming from Titus Swen. Last week, the Bulldogs stifled those same Cowboys, who rushed for 87 yards (Swen had 75). Can the Bulldogs do the same thing to Holani (if he plays) and Jeanty Saturday in the Mountain West championship game? Can the Broncos corral Jordan Mims?
THE PROBLEM WITH POSTSEASON CROWDS
But of course Boise State wants to sell out Albertsons Stadium for Saturday’s Mountain West championship game. It’s not going to happen. The Broncos have been here before. They have to re-sell the entire stadium from zero, and that’s just unrealistic. Too many season ticket holders don’t bother to re-purchase their seats for this. In four previous title games on the blue turf, the average crowd has been 24,460. The current forecast says it’ll be 37 and cloudy Saturday—not bad for December 3. If Boise State could reach, say, the 28,000-mark for this game, that would be a win. The one thing we do know, though: the fans that are there Saturday will be there for a reason. They will be the hard-cores, and they’ll be determined to make up for those who don’t go. The atmosphere will be good.
A WILD FINISH WOULD SEEM APPROPRIATE
Will there be yet another crazy final two minutes this week for Boise State? Utah State looked like it was going to pull off the unlikely comeback win when it had the ball at the Broncos 11-yard line with two minutes left on Black Friday. Then came the Gabe Hunter interception on fourth down, and two plays later, Green’s 91-yard touchdown sprint, followed by Seyi Oladipo’s 48-yard pick-six. Green’s run was the longest in school history. Some were asking how, with all the great running backs over the years, Boise State has never had a 90-yard run. Doug Martin busted off an electrifying 90-yarder against Nevada in 2011, but it was called back by a holding penalty. The record Green broke was 88 yards, shared by Jeremy McNichols at San Jose State in 2015 and John Hightower at Nevada in 2018.
HAENER’S A STEP UP FROM LEGAS
What Utah State’s Cooper Legas did against Boise State doesn’t bode well for the Broncos when Haener comes to town for the title tilt. The Broncos have really faced two good quarterbacks this year, Chance Nolan of Oregon State and Jaren Hall of BYU. Both had big days against the Boise State defense. Legas was not supposed to be in that league, and he wasn’t in the first half against the Broncos, when he threw for only 43 yards. But he passed for 263 and two touchdowns after halftime. At one point in the second quarter, the Broncos had outgained the Aggies 229 yards to 33. The rest of the way? Utah State 435 yards, Boise State 199. Injuries have decimated the Broncos’ depth—fatigue has to be a factor.
BOISE STATE HOOPS: THEY’LL TAKE IT
It wasn’t much of a resume-builder, but it was a “W.” Boise State extended its win streak to four games with a grinding 55-46 win over Cal State Northridge Tuesday night in ExtraMile Arena. The Matadors are coached by Trent Johnson, a former Boise State star who was previously head coach at Nevada, Stanford, LSU and TCU. (Johnson got his coaching start at Boise High.) And he wanted this one despite CSUN’s 1-4 start. The Broncos shot less than 37 percent from the floor and went just 7-of-22 from three-point range. But they held the Matadors to less than 31 percent from the field. Marcus Shaver Jr. worked his magic again. How about 19 points, five rebounds (four below his amazing average), four assists and four steals? Next up: Texas A&M in Fort Worth Saturday evening on ESPNU.
Johnson’s coach when he was a Bronco in the mid-1970s was Bus Connor, and Monday night Johnson helped celebrate Connor’s 90th birthday at a surprise party at Extra Mile Arena. Connor was moved when it was announced he’d be honored at halftime of the Cal State Northridge game. Connor and Johnson were part of Boise State’s first Big Sky championship and NCAA Tournament team in 1976. Johnson came out of semi-retirement in the summer of 2021 to become CSUN’s interim coach—then accepted the permanent job last March.
ECK IS STOCKING UP
Idaho football coach Jason Eck is looking at the Vandals’ solid 2022 season only one way: momentum. Idaho lost its first-round FCS Playoff game in a 45-42 shootout at Southeastern Louisiana last Saturday. But the Vandals, who went 7-5 this year, have only just begun. Since December’s early signing day debuted about five years ago, it has come and gone without much activity at Idaho. However, Eck said Tuesday on KTIK’s Idaho SportsTalk that the Vandals currently have a whopping 37 commits for the 2023 recruiting class, 23 via scholarship offers and 14 walk-ons. It’s a different world up there now.
STEELIES SUPERLATIVES ARE EVERYWHERE
This can’t go on forever, but the Idaho Steelheads’ winning streak is up to six games, and they carry a sparkling 13-2-1 record into a Friday-Saturday series against the Utah Grizzlies in Idaho Central Arena. Where do we begin? Goaltender Jake Kupsky leads the ECHL in shutouts, goals-against average and save percentage. Patrick Kudla is tied for the ECHL points lead, and Darren Brady is second in the league in plus/minus. Idaho has scored a power play goal in seven straight games. The Steelheads are 7-0 when leading after one period and 10-0 when lading after two. And a big footnote: Captain A.J. White played in his 400th career ECHL game in last Saturday’s 5-2 win over Allen.
THIS DAY IN SPORTS…November 30, 2013:
One of the craziest finishes in college football history leads to a 34-28 Auburn victory over Alabama in the Iron Bowl. With overtime looming and the Crimson Tide trying to protect its No. 1 ranking, ‘Bama lined up for a 57-yard field goal try with one second left. The kick was short, and the Tigers’ Chris Davis caught it nine yards deep in the end zone. With the Tide not expecting a runback, Davis then dashed 109 yards (100 officially) with no time on the clock to give Auburn a truly unbelievable victory and end Alabama’s hopes of a third straight national championship.
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.