At his weekly press conference Monday, Boise State coach Bryan Harsin zeroed right in on Air Force’s traditional excellence at one position in particular.“Their safeties continue to be great tacklers,” Harsin said. Shortly thereafter, he waxed eloquent about Weston Steelhammer, who he has huge respect for—and who was a major thorn in the Broncos’ side during their three-game losing streak to the Falcons from 2014-16. The legacy began when Steelhammer made three interceptions in the 28-14 nightmare in Colorado Springs in 2014.
Now there’s Jeremy Fejedelem, Air Force’s first preseason first-team all-Mountain West selection in the secondary since Steelhammer. Last year, Fejedelem became the Falcons’ first defensive back with 100 tackles in a season since 2008. He represented the Academy in Las Vegas at Mountain West Media Days. And there’s this: “We have a lot of confidence in our abilities, but it’s also because of the way we dissect film and prepare for the opponent,” said Fejedelem, the reigning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week Monday. “And we practice harder than any team in the country.”
AMIDST THE ANGST OVER AIR FORCE
In pumping up Air Force tonight, we’ve been conveniently forgetting the 2017 game against the Falcons on the blue turf. That’s where Boise State finally turned the tables on the Air Force offense. The Broncos defense disrupted the Falcons’ triple-option to the tune of just 141 yards rushing and only 2.9 yards per carry. This came against an offense that was top five in the nation in rushing. On the other side of the ball, Boise State couldn’t run on Air Force that night. But Brett Rypien uncorked an 87-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Richardson in the 44-19 victory. There could be some deep opportunities tonight—if Hank Bachmeier gets the ball out. It’ll be tough for the Broncos to run on the Falcons.
WIDE RECEIVERS QUARTERLY REPORT
We’re already a quarter of the way through the regular season, so a progress report is in order for the Boise State wide receivers. A month ago, the thought was that the Broncos would have the luxury of spreading the wealth among a plethora of talent at wideout. It’s panning out that way. Khalil Shakir is the team leader with 17 catches for 237 yards and a touchdown. As consistent as Shakir has been, you get the feeling the best is yet to come. John Hightower is hitting his stride, with his eight receptions averaging almost 19 yards and producing two TDs. CT Thomas and Akilian Butler have been steady targets, witness the two touchdown catches by Thomas last week. The relatively quiet one has been Octavius Evans, with six grabs for 52 yards. (That’s still triple his total from a year ago, though.)
POCKET NEEDS TO PERK UP
Not to restate the obvious, but sacks are a big issue for Boise State, as they seem to be early in every season. Especially tonight with a makeshift offensive line. Through the first four games in 2017, the Broncos allowed 13 sacks. After four games last year, it was 10. Going into Game 4 this season, they’ve already given up 11 sacks. And ESPN came up with that frightening stat during the Portland State game: going into that contest, Hank Bachmeier had absorbed 29 quarterback hits, more than anyone else in the country. The Falcons will disguise their pressures, but they will bring the house tonight. Anything less than three sacks allowed would be a mini-victory for Boise State.
MW’S OTHER SEASON-OPENING SHOWDOWN
Boise State’s immediate eye is drawn to Saturday night’s Utah State-San Diego State game in SDCCU Stadium. An Aztecs win would benefit the Broncos, of course (but it would be kind of empty without a Boise State victory tonight). The easiest way to look at this matchup: can SDSU keep up with the Aggies on the scoreboard? USU is averaging 48.5 points and 656.5 yards per game. The Aztecs put up all of six points in their opener against Weber State, but they did make strides with their new spread offense in their 23-14 win at UCLA—San Diego State quarterback Ryan Agnew broke out with 293 passing yards. These aren’t your mama’s Aztecs; they rushed for only 80 yards versus the Bruins.
BYU ENVISIONS A LAUNCHING PAD
If the Broncos want another nationally-ranked opponent on their schedule, they’ll get one if BYU can upset Washington in Provo Saturday. The Huskies are on the ropes in the College Football Playoff picture after falling to Cal two weeks ago—they’ll have to win out if they want a shot. The Cougars are pining for an upset after taking down Tennessee and USC in overtime. The sidebar is the return of UW wide receiver Puka Nacua to the Beehive State. Nacua was Utah’s 2018 Gatorade Player of the Year and is the brother of former Cougars star Kai Nacua (the one who had three interceptions against Boise State in 2015). Instead of heading to BYU, Puka Nacua opted for Coach Pete and the Huskies.
THE YOUNGER PETRINO HOLDS THE CARDS
Now that Mason Petrino is officially Idaho’s starting quarterback, he has to do something with it. No better time to start than tomorrow against the Big Sky’s elite, Eastern Washington. This isn’t a conference game, but it means something. Petrino was crafty last week as the Vandals almost upset Wyoming, but in the end he only managed to go 15-of-33 for 184 yards. Petrino’s pass efficiency rating for the season is a below-average 121.9. He’ll have to be better than he’s ever been if Idaho’s going to break out in its second year in the Big Sky. If the Vandals fall, they won’t have to take a loss in the league standings. But if they beat a team that dominated them 38-14 last season, they’ll generate momentum the likes of which they haven’t seen in years.
FINAL FRIDAY VOLLEY
The Boise State women’s volleyball team finally played its home opener last night, sweeping Idaho State in Bronco Gym. The Broncos are back Saturday afternoon to host UC Irvine in their final non-conference match. And the Boise State women’s soccer team meets North Dakota this afternoon at the Boas Complex. Broncos goalie Sydney Smith is off to a stellar start this season, recording shutouts in five of seven games.
This Day In Sports…brought to you by ZAMZOWS…Nobody Knows Like Zamzows!
September 20, 2006: Boise gets a world cycling champion, as Kristin Armstrong becomes only the third American ever to win the women’s time trial world title. And it wasn’t close. In Salzburg, Austria, she beat two-time defending champion Karin Thurig of Switzerland by 25½ seconds. Armstrong had already won the U.S. road race and time trial championships earlier in the year. She would go on, of course, to win a gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008—and would repeat at the London Games in 2012 and in Rio in 2016.
(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.)