Friday, November 2, 2018.
Now begins the second half of this 12-year Boise State-BYU home-and-home series. It started in 2012, when the largest crowd in Albertsons Stadium history (36,864) watched the Broncos edge the Cougars 7-6. Not only was it a record crowd, but it was the noisiest crowd. The single loudest moment that night came when Mike “Canadian Bacon” Atkinson crossed the goal line in the third quarter to polish off a 36-yard pick-six, the most famous “fat guy touchdown” in Boise State history. The Broncos are 4-0 versus BYU on the blue turf, but it could just as easily be 1-3. Had Taysom Hill connected on the two-point conversion in that 2012 game, and had Matt Payne made that 38-yard field goal in 2004, and had David Moa not blocked that 44-yard field goal two years ago…
The assignment for a semi-depleted Boise State defense involves a combination of pressuring Zach Wilson and corralling the BYU running backs, led by Squally Canada (who, like Wilson, is a one-time Bronco commit). That starts up front. Will the Boise State defensive line be missing three of its original four 2018 starters tomorrow night? Moa is definitely out, Sonatane Lui is listed as third-team on the Bronco depth chart as he tries to work his way back onto the field, and Durrant Miles was injured early in the second quarter at Air Force last week. Emmanuel Fesili and Chase Hatada had to try to hold down the fort inside last Saturday against the vaunted triple-option. Boise State still has some pieces it cam move around on the outside, with Curtis Weaver, Jabril Frazier and Sam Whitney all (apparently) healthy.
The BYU offense has been stuck in quicksand, and coach Kalani Sitake thinks one ticket out is to turn Wilson loose on Boise State. “I’ll keep telling Zach to be aggressive and let it fly,” said Sitake last weekend. “He’s a gunslinger. We’ve got to let him sling it a little bit.” What is Wilson up against? Well, the Broncos secondary has thinned in recent weeks, as key backup Jalen Walker has been on the shelf (and, of course, DeAndre Pierce is gone for the season). Mainstays Tyler Horton and Avery Williams are still starting at corner, although Williams got turned around a couple times by the Falcons while he was turning them around on his 67-yard punt return. Meanwhile, the ball-hawking Kekaula Kaniho is playing more corner now. And why not?
Maybe it’s time for Boise State kickoff return men to consider fair catches. That sure stuck out at Air Force last week when the Falcons’ Joseph Saucier called a fair catch on a Quinn Skillin kickoff at the three-yard line in the first quarter—and Air Force promptly started at its own 25 (and marched 75 yards for a touchdown). On the other side, the Broncos’ Akilian Butler ran back kickoffs from the two-yard line to the 19 and from the five-yard line to the 21, and John Hightower returned one out of the end zone to the 21. The only time the Broncos saved field position was in the third quarter when Hightower caught one on the five-yard line and got it back to the 25.
FOLLOWING THE LEADERS
Utah State is setting itself up for a November to remember. And the 7-1 Aggies left us with plenty to talk about in September and October. USU leads the nation with eight touchdowns on defense and special teams and is second in the country with 18 scoring drives lasting less than 60 seconds. That’s how you average 49.4 points per game. Utah State plays at Hawaii tomorrow night in sometimes-distracting Aloha Stadium, but there’s no reason to think the Aggies won’t be keeping their eye on the prize. “We tell them, every time we talk about it, to put ourselves in a place to win the championship in November,” said coach Matt Wells. “You know what? Here we go. Saddle up.”
HOME SWEET DOME
Idaho is unbeaten in the Kibbie Dome this season. That’s one of the storylines heading into tomorrow’s game against a tough North Dakota squad that has won three in a row on the road. The Vandals’ Kaden Elliss hasn’t been as much of a weapon on offense this season, with three catches for 20 yards after making seven catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns last year. But that has made Elliss’ home at linebacker sweeter in this, his senior season. He’s among the Big Sky and FCS leaders with 10.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks and now has 41.5 career tackles for loss.
YOTES LOOKING FOR A FAST TRACK
It’ll be sunny and in the mid-40’s in Dillon, MT, tomorrow. So weather won’t be a factor in College of Idaho’s game at Montana Western. The Coyotes hope running back Nick Cazarretta is, though. Calzarretta rushed for 88 yards in last year’s win over the Bulldogs at Simplot Stadium, and he’s coming off a career-high 29 carries for 99 yards in last week’s triumph over Eastern Oregon. The sophomore from Larkspur, CA, is now 85 yards away from 1,000 for his career. The Yotes running game this season has centered around quarterback Darius-James Peterson, though, especially in the end zone. DJP has rushed for 635 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Calzaretta has 393 yards and one TD and Dominic Garzoli 314 yards and three scores.
BRONCOS DOUBLE UP ON THE BLOCK
As the Boise State men’s basketball team approaches its exhibition game Monday night against Vanguard, there’s not as much separation between the big men as we thought. And coach Leon Rice is absolutely fine with that. Zach Haney really took charge in the post last season, but David Wacker wasn’t fully healthy—something that’s plagued him his entire college career. But now Wacker does profess to be 100 percent and is anxious to team with Haney down low to cause opponents problems. “We see a lot of other teams leaning toward going really small,” Wacker told reporters in Las Vegas last month. “That’s kind of where the game is going. So being able to still have low-post threats and being able to play that way, it’s going to be one of our strengths—our versatility as a team being able to do different things.”
AROUND THE HORN
A potpourri of other nuggets: the College of Idaho men’s basketball team fell behind by 28 points at the half and lost 96-76 at Utah last night. The Yotes did shoot 56 percent in the second half, though. They were led by Keun Palu-Thompson’s 19 points. The top-seeded Boise State women’s soccer team opened the Mountain West Tournament last night with a devastating 2-1 loss on penalty kicks, and the Broncos are one-and-done. The Idaho Steelheads’ national tour (well, close enough) wraps up with games tonight and tomorrow night at Toledo and Sunday at Kalamazoo. When that flurry is over, the Steelheads will have traveled 4,000 miles on this trip. And Troy Merritt has some work to do in Las Vegas. The former Boise State star shot a one-over 72 in the first round of the Shiners Hospital for Children Classic.
This Day In Sports…November 2, 2013, five years ago today:
It’s not just one of the great comeback stories in Idaho history, but in all of sports, as Gary Stevens wins the Classic at the Breeders Cup for the first time. Stevens, who got his start as a jockey in 1979 at Les Bois Park, guided Mucho Macho Man to the winner’s circle by a nostril. The victory, paired with Stevens’ win in the Preakness Stakes in May of 2013, capped a remarkable year for the Caldwell native—two signature triumphs at the age of 50 after being out of the saddle for more than seven years.
(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.)