Boise State versus Boise State

Boise State’s loss to Wyoming last week was only its third in the month of October in the past 15 years. Now it’s November, and it’s on the Broncos to play their best football of the year. They had been living dangerously ever since holding off Washington State in September, but you can see how good this could be. Is there a complete game in the offing tonight against San Jose State? Let’s not forget that Boise State has had two wins that could be considered complete ones—the 45-10 win in the opener at Louisiana-Lafayette and the 49-21 victory at New Mexico. Hmmm…those were both road games.

Boise State has been its own worst enemy all season. The Broncos built early 14-0 leads against both BYU and Wyoming before those games tightened and became donnybrooks. Does something happen to the team when it gets up early like that? “I don’t think we settle in and say, ‘I’ve got it,’” said coach Bryan Harsin. “When we do get going (like that), it’s not going to get easier, it’s going to get harder.” The other side also wonders what it will be getting tonight. As Jon Wilner wrote in the San Jose Mercury-News, “Will the Broncos be lethargic, even dazed, after the loss at Wyoming ruined their undefeated season and jeopardized their New Year’s Six bowl plans? Or will they be locked in, aiming to put a beating on the next team to appear in their crosshairs?”

Life changed for the Boise State defense on third down last week, and that was a huge factor in the loss at Wyoming. Preventing third down conversions had been at the heart of the defense’s success during the Broncos’ 7-0 start. In the four games preceding the trip to Laramie, you had BYU converting 23 percent of its third downs, Colorado State at 21 percent, New Mexico at 37 percent and Utah State at 21 percent. Then the Cowboys go out and roll through on 10 of their 18 third downs—a clip of almost 56 percent. Look for Boise State to circle the wagons tonight.

This has been discussed before—the fact that there are only two first-team slots at running back on the All-Mountain West squad. With Donnel Pumphrey of San Diego State a shoe-in, it’s between Wyoming’s Brian Hill and Boise State’s Jeremy McNichols for the other spot. The case for McNichols is his versatility, and here’s the updated evidence. He leads the nation in scoring with 108 points, in touchdowns with 18, and in consecutive games scoring TDs with 20. McNichols is second in the country in receiving yards by a running back with 390, fourth in all-purpose yards with 1500, and seventh in rushing yards with 1,058. I don’t have a vote, but I’m still going for the McWeapon.

There’s a lot on the line tomorrow when Idaho takes on Louisiana-Lafayette in the Deep South. Both teams are chasing bowl eligibility, with the Vandals coming in at 4-4 and the Ragin’ Cajuns at 3-4. As much as has been put on quarterback Matt Linehan’s shoulders, Idaho’s success this season has been somewhat aligned with its running game. The Vandals are 4-1 when they rush for more than 100 yards and are 0-3 when they don’t. Leading rusher Aaron Duckworth has posted just 70 yards on 21 carries with no touchdowns in the last two games—he’ll be a key at ULL. Another player to watch is tight end Buck Cowan, coming off his best game of the season: 10 catches for 118 yards and a TD at Appalachian State.

College of Idaho faces a rather tall task tomorrow at Montana Tech, the Frontier Conference leader and the seventh-ranked team in the NAIA. It’s strength against strength, as the Orediggers boast the No. 3 rushing defense in the country. They’ve yielded just 86.6 yards per game on the ground—and just one rushing touchdown longer than 30 yards this season. The Coyotes have rushed for over 200 yards in each of their last two games, but it’s been concentrated around quarterback Darius-James Peterson, who topped the 200-yard mark in one of the games and 100 in the other. Who do you think Tech will be keying on tomorrow?

Doug Martin missed his sixth consecutive game last night when Tampa Bay lost 43-28 to Atlanta on NFL Thursday Night Football. The former Boise State star was originally going to be out just three games when his hamstrung flared up in the Buccaneers’ September 18 game at Arizona. But Martin had a “setback” in his rehab a couple weeks ago. Martin netted 85 yards on 25 carries over the first two games of the season. There is still no established timetable for his return. The NFL’s other former Bronco running back, Jay Ajayi of Miami, has his jersey hanging in the Pro Football Hall of Fame after recording back-to-back 200-yard games. It’s in “Pro Football Today,” kind of a current events display.

It’s Father-Son Day tomorrow as Boise State men’s hoops hosts Northwest Christian in its second and final exhibition game. The obvious angle here is the Broncos’ Leon Rice coaching against his oldest son, Brock, who is a freshman for the Beacons. Brock, the former Timberline High standout, is averaging 2.7 points over NCU’s first three games, all victories. This is an important game for Dad, who will continue to look over the seven members of the 2016-17 Bronco squad who had never suited up for Boise State before the Lewis-Clark State game.

On the pro front, the Idaho Steelheads continue their road swing with a stay this weekend in Loveland, CO, to face the Colorado Eagles. The Steelheads are the only team in the ECHL yet to record a point on the road in the young season. They’ll be home again next Wednesday versus the Adirondack Thunder. And at the Shriner Hospitals For Children Open in Las Vegas, former Boise State stars Troy Merritt and Graham DeLaet shot three-under 68 and two-under 69 in the first round yesterday, respectively. That’s sounds good, but the scores were really low at TPC Summerlin. Merritt is tied for 31st—DeLaet is tied for 51st.

I’ve been as bad as anybody in stretching it when referring to “former Boise Hawks” over the years. But in this historic instance, it fits. Sure, Chicago’s Javier Baez is a reach after playing just two games for Boise in 2011. And the scorer of the Cubs’ go-ahead run in Game 7 of the World Series Wednesday night, Albert Almora (15 games in 2012), and Cleveland’s Brandon Guyer (19 games back in 2007) are obscure. But other Cubs are more mainstream. Willson Contreras was a Hawks regular in 2011-12, playing 124 games. And John Lackey, the last player from the Hawks’ Angels era who’s still active, has always been a good story.

Then there are the Cubs’ stars, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. Their stays in Boise were brief, but they were instantly in the spotlight at the beginning of the 2013 and 2014 seasons, respectively. Bryant was the second overall pick in the Major League Draft in 2013, and Schwarber was fourth overall the following year. They were all over local TV and radio until their call-ups, and they were really good while they were here.

This Day In Sports…November 4, 2012:

Former Boise State star Doug Martin becomes the first player in NFL history to score three rushing touchdowns of 45 yards or more in a single game. Martin’s TDs went for 45, 67 and 70 yards as he ran for a franchise record 251 yards, 10th best NFL mark ever, in Tampa Bay’s 42-32 win at Oakland. The Buccaneers rookie had a fourth score from one yard out to put the game away in the fourth quarter.

(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.)