Anatomy of an upset

It was the biggest upset involving FBS teams this season based on the point spread, which was 30.5. Make no mistake, New Mexico pulled off a monumental upset Saturday night. It was the biggest upset involving FBS teams this season based on the point spread, which was 30.5. The only bigger one in college football this year was Portland State’s victory over Washington State on opening weekend, when the Cougars were 31.5-point-favorites. So how does something like this shocking 31-24 Boise State loss happen? Blown opportunities early in the game, including a ricochet interception, an overthrow, and a missed chip-shot field goal. Bites by the defense on the triple-option that turned into huge pass plays. Turnovers, again. Dropped passes—lots of them. And an obsession with a deep passing game that was not working. Boise State seldom has to play from behind. But when the Broncos do, they don’t often play well.

And things started out so swimmingly. New Mexico had the ball first, and lost 13 yards on three plays (plus five more on a false start). The Broncos got the ball, and Brett Rypien hit Thomas Sperbeck for 42 yards on the first snap. Then Shane Williams-Rhodes, perhaps overly excited at the prospect of his first touchdown catch of the season, turned toward the end zone before securing the ball. And Rypien’s first pick came on the next play at the goal line. The Lobos got just one first down before punting on their next possession—and the Broncos marched 78 yards to the New Mexico five-yard line. That’s where Tyler Rausa stunningly missed a 22-yard field goal try, and the Lobos were officially hanging around.

The record book entries are kind of hollow this week. It’s a shame that Thomas Sperbeck’s epic night—Boise State school records with 20 catches and 281 yards—had to come in a game like that. Brett Rypien’s amended numbers were 506 yards, including school records with 41 completions and 75 attempts, the most throws by an FBS quarterback this season. But it’s the 34 incompletions that will haunt Boise State. It was a combination of overthrown deep routes, tipped passes for interceptions, and dropped balls that saw the Broncos continually shooting themselves in the foot. It was not Chaz Anderson’s night.

More for the history books: Boise State thus has only its fifth loss of the new century on the blue turf,. The first one was a 41-20 loss to Washington State in 2001. This defeat at the hands of New Mexico was the Broncos’ worst on the blue since that Wazzu game 14 years ago. It was only seven points, but facts are facts. Next in line was the six-point loss to Boston College in the 2005 Humanitarian Bowl, the two-pointer to San Diego State three years ago, and the one-point heartbreaker to TCU in 2011. And we might not even be talking about this had Austin Cottrell been able to get the final four yards of the Broncos’ wild lateral-fest on the final play of the game.

Now it’s just what the doctor didn’t order for Boise State. Air Force is headed for Albertsons Stadium this Friday night, coming off a 35-28 win over Utah State that has the Falcons knocking on the door of a berth in the Mountain West championship game. The Broncos aren’t yet eliminated, though. If they can beat Air Force and San Jose State, and the Falcons can, in turn, topple New Mexico, the Mountain Division crown can still be theirs.

Elsewhere, in the conference, Nevada joined the Lobos in bowl eligibility by dropping San Jose State 37-34 in overtime, San Diego State reinforced its claim as the league’s best team with a 38-3 rout of Wyoming in Laramie, Colorado State ran and threw its way past UNLV in a 49-35 home victory, and Fresno State heaped more misery on Hawaii by blasting the Warriors 42-14 on Oahu.

Idaho had its work cut out to stay with Appalachian State Saturday in the Kibbie Dome. But the Vandals did for a half, trailing one of the Sun Belt’s feature teams just 21-13. The Mountaineers dominated after the break, though, taking a 47-20 victory home to Boone, NC. The Idaho defense had another 500-yard game pinned on it, including 244 rushing yards by App State’s Jalin Moore. Vandal quarterback Matt Linehan had a solid day, going 20-of-31 for 243 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. The UI offense just didn’t have the ball much, with only 23 minutes of possession time—and just four in the third quarter. Idaho has now clinched a 15th losing seasons in the last 16 years.

What a way to head into the offseason for the College of Idaho. Carroll College, the team that beat the Coyotes 69-12 in last year’s finale in Helena, came to Caldwell to finish the 2015 season against the Yotes. On a sun-splashed Simplot Stadium afternoon, C of I forged a 21-14 lead at halftime thanks to the big play. Kyle Merritt broke away for a 60-yard touchdown, and Teejay Gordon threw scoring strikes of 87 and 34 yards to Tyler Higby. The Coyotes were hanging onto a 28-21 lead in the fourth quarter when they ate up most of the final five minutes of the game with a 68-yard scoring drive. Gordon capped his career on a clinching four-yard TD run with 29 seconds left. It was an exhilarating day for 14 Yote seniors, seven of which were part of “zero year,” when the program started up in 2013 without playing a game.

The hype machine for Boise State basketball blew a gasket Friday night in Missoula. Somewhere there’s a whistle stuck in its gears. The Broncos lost 74-72 to Montana in a game they coulda-shoulda-woulda won. They led by five points at halftime and by 11 midway through the second half. But there was the little matter of the Grizzlies’ parade to the charity stripe. “We’re a team that likes to drive it,” said a clearly perturbed coach Leon Rice on the Learfield Sports postgame show on KBOI. “We get 36 points in the paint, and we get 12 free throws. I’ll just leave it at that.” Montana attempted 36 free throws and made 25.

Now Boise State has to hit the reset button in time for its home opener tonight against another old Big Sky foe, Northern Arizona, in Taco Bell Arena. Takeaways from the Montana loss include a strong shooting performance and a below-par effort on the boards. The Broncos shot 56 percent from the field but were out-rebounded by four as James Webb III, dogged by foul trouble, played only 17 minutes. Boise State has won 12 straight home debuts, but the Lumberjacks won’t be any easier than the Grizzlies were. NAU hung with Washington State Friday night before falling 82-70 in Pullman and had five players score in double-figures.

Local pro sports wrap: the Idaho Stampede are 1-1 after splitting their series at Rio Grande Valley over the weekend. After falling just short in the season opener Friday, the Stampede put up 68 second-half points Saturday night to rally for a 112-101 win, with Brandon Fields and top draft pick Jeff Ayres both contributing 28 points. The Stamps open their home schedule Wednesday night against the Iowa Energy. And the Idaho Steelheads are now saddled with a six-game losing streak after a pair of losses at Florida. The Everblades came into the weekend second in the ECHL, allowing just 1.85 goals-against per game, and they proved their mettle with a 3-0 shutout of the Steelies in Saturday night’s contest.

It’s been Allie Ostrander’s kind of season. Boise State’s diminutive true freshman endured rain and high winds to win the NCAA Cross Country West Regional Friday in Seattle. And with a little help from her friends, the entire Bronco women’s squad qualified for the NCAA Championships after finishing second, one point behind Oregon. The Boise State men will also be in Louisville this weekend—they took fifth in Seattle and earned an at-large berth. It’s the first time Boise State’s men’s and women’s teams have ever qualified for nationals in the same year.

This Day In Sports…November 16, 1974:

Boise State quarterback Jim McMillan sets a record that even Kellen Moore didn’t break, throwing six touchdown passes in a 56-42 win at Montana. The victory in Missoula clinched a second straight Big Sky championship for the Broncos. It was McMillan’s senior year, and he finished the season with 33 TD passes, a record that would stand for 26 years until Bart Hendricks broke it in 2000 with 35 TDs. Moore is the current season record-holder with his 43 touchdown passes in 2011.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)