Blue & Orange Game: 1’s versus 2’s

In spring football, it’s always feast and famine rolled into one. And so it will be tomorrow when Boise State wraps it up with the Blue & Orange Game in Albertsons Stadium. If one side of the field is happy, well, the other is sad. There should be enough big plays to go around, as the first-team offense faces the second-team defense, and vice versa. Fans will probably adjust their thinking about the backup quarterback situation—at least, coach Bryan Harsin intimated that to be the case yesterday on KTIK’s “Huddle Up With Hars.” Jake Constantine has emerged behind Brett Rypien this spring, while Rathen Ricedorff is still in acclimation mode. “I feel like he’s really blossomed,” said Harsin of Constantine, the redshirt freshman. “He has some natural ability in throwing the football, releasing it on time.” Man, is that important.

If you’re looking for new leaders on the Boise State defense, check out DeAndre Pierce tomorrow. Pierce may be only a sophomore, but he played older than his years as a true freshman last year. His numbers may have been pedestrian (19 tackles and two pass breakups in 12 games), but it was almost like there was a story behind every stat. Pierce is listed as a cornerback, but he appeared at four different positions in the secondary last season. The Broncos may ultimately need him at safety.

Harsin rolled through some other players to watch in tomorrow’s event. He’s really high on Mike Young, the junior college transfer at cornerback who’s contending to take the spot vacated by Jonathan Moxey. “Mike’s a guy we feel is going to be a player for us,” Harsin said. The offensive line has been depleted by injuries this spring, and two guys in particular have really taken advantage of the opportunity for reps. Ezra Cleveland, the 6-6, 304-pound redshirt freshman who was Boise State’s Scout Team Offensive Player of the Year in 2016, could be the Broncos’ left tackle of the future. And Dante Harrington, a 6-2, 301-pounder who’s also coming off a redshirt year, has been impressive at center, getting prime time snaps while Mason Hampton and Garrett Larson heal up.

A lot of eyes will be on running backs Robert Mahone and Ryan Wolpin, who have shared the load this spring with Alexander Mattison sitting out. An underappreciated but crucial part of their portfolios is going to be pass protection, and Mahone and Wolpin have been perfecting the craft against some pretty good competition. “You’re going to be protecting against Leighton Vander Esch, against Sam Whitney, against Gabe Perez,” said Harsin going into spring ball. It’ll be important tomorrow, because quarterbacks will be hands-off. Once the pass rush reaches the QB, it’s tag football.

The rivalries have faded, but these two teams are back on Boise State’s schedule this year, so let’s get a spring football check-in. Fresno State started drills last week, and all is new. It had to be after an unthinkable 1-11 season during which coach Tim DeRuyter was fired. New coach Jeff Tedford has a bare cupboard and has pledged to recruit California with a vengeance and put Texas on the back burner. Tedford says attrition and related Academic Progress Rate problems mean it’ll be three or four years before the Bulldogs get back to 85 scholarships. On the field, Fresno State needs a quarterback. That’s been a problem since Derek Carr graduated. The ‘Dogs hope junior Chason Virgil will reach the potential that had the likes of Oklahoma and Louisville recruiting him heavily four years ago. Virgil is 1-10 as a starter.

At Nevada, they’re excited about the quarterback possibilities in coach Jay Norvell’s first season. One of Norvell’s first big catches was David Cornwell, who has been an Alabama Crimson Tide backup the past three seasons. To hear the Reno Gazette-Journal’s Chris Murray tell it, “Cornwell’s skill set, which had major college programs competing for his services out of high school, also has Wolf Pack fans salivating at his potential in Nevada’s new-pass first offense. The 6-foot-5, 228-pounder has NFL size, a rocket arm, displays excellent footwork in the pocket and the intellect to match (he graduated from Alabama in three seasons, which makes him eligible to play for Nevada this year as a grad transfer).” Cornwell may be calling the signals when the Pack returns to the blue turf on November 4.

Idaho’s first scrimmage of spring football is set for tomorrow in the Kibbie Dome. If past history is any indication, there’ll be lots and lots of snaps and, consequently, lots and lots of stats. That means plenty of opportunities for the wide receivers—seniors Jacob Sannon, Reuben Mwehla and Alfonso Onunwor, and junior David Ungerer. Their assignment this year is to help make up for production the Vandals lose at the tight end spot, where the departed Deon Watson and Buck Cowan have taken a combined 89 catches in 2016 with them. Onunwor is the leading returning receiver, with 39 grabs last season.

This weekend it’s the end of an era (unless, via some miracle formula, the Alaska Aces make the Kelly Cup Playoffs). The Aces host the Idaho Steelheads tonight and tomorrow night in what are poised to be the final two games in the history of the Alaska franchise. These are the only teams left from the West Coast Hockey League lineup of 1997-98, the season the Steelheads were born. Back then it was the Anchorage Aces, a staple of winter in the Frozen North. The fact they haven’t been able to survive is still stunning to me. Both Alaska and Idaho joined the ECHL in 2003-04—since then the Steelies lead the regular season series between the two organizations, 85-53-14.

Idaho doesn’t have many chances to face Boise State in sports anymore, so Sunday is a big day for the Vandals at the Appleton Center (weather permitting). Their men’s tennis team is good this year, and they get the usually formidable Broncos in serious rebuilding mode. This is only the third team competition of the athletic year between the two rivals, the second straight year they’ve met just three times. Idaho beat Boise State 1-0 in women’s soccer last September, and the Broncos won 164-128 in women’s swimming and diving in January. That’s it. There’s been no football between the two since 2010, and no men’s basketball since 2015. Boise State men’s tennis, by the way, also faces New Mexico today and Air Force earlier on Sunday.

This Day In Sports…April 7, 1969:

The New York Yankees spoil the managerial debut of Ted Williams at Washington’s RFK Stadium by beating the Senators, 8-4. However, the Hall of Famer—who in 1941 was the last player to hit over .400—would lead the previous year’s cellar-dwellers to a surprising fourth-place finish and a solid 86-76 record. Williams would be voted the American League’s 1969 Manager of the Year. The crowd of 45,000 that day included President Richard Nixon. The Washington Nationals opener on Monday, of course, did not include President Donald Trump.

(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.)