Boise State was flat-out ready to play

I had a lot of time to think about what to lead with after Boise State destroyed Oregon 38-28 in the Las Vegas Bowl Saturday (the score, of course, doesn’t represent the Broncos’ dominance). The takeaway is what a stellar coaching job it was by the Boise State staff. That team was incredibly prepared for what it was going to face from the Ducks. Players totally bought into the plan and obviously executed. And they had fun doing it. Offensive coordinator Zak Hill called a masterful game, right down to the Nutcracker Suite on the first and last touchdowns of the game. (Is it too late to add Ryan Wolpin, Alec Dhaenens, John Bates and Matt Pistone to the cast at the Morrison Center?). And, as good as Leighton Vander Esch and crew were, it was defensive coordinator Andy Avalos who put them in position to do it.

There were so many defining moments at Sam Boyd Stadium. The two blooper touchdowns by Oregon in the final minute of the first half were the definition of letting a team back in the game. Boise State’s 75-yard touchdown drive to start the second half was the definition of an unflappable team that was not going to be denied in this one. I especially look at the Broncos’ possession midway through the fourth quarter, when they were backed up on their own 14-yard line and leading 31-21. Instead of taking the air out of the ball, they marched 86 yards for a clinching TD. Brett Rypien’s 41-yard third-down throw to Cedrick Wilson was one thing, but earlier there was a third-and-nine at the 15, and Rypien, about to be sacked, scrambled and found CT Thomas for 22 yards. It was that kind of a day.

And oh, Mr. Wilson. How often does a junior college transfer become the heart of an offense (in more ways than one) the way Wilson did the past two seasons? He saved his best for last, and that’s sayin’ something. Wilson’s 221 receiving yards were the most ever in bowl game by a Bronco (Winky White had a 264-yard day in the 1990 Division I-AA Playoffs). There was a bevy of NFL scouts on hand in Las Vegas. The evaluators didn’t get to see Oregon star Royce Freeman, but they did get to see Wilson—gutting it out on two painful ankles. The NFL guys surely didn’t see any flaws in Wilson’s game. Not in his routes, nor his hands, nor his willingness to mix it up and make tough catches. And who recovered the Ducks’ last-gasp onside kick in the fourth quarter? You know it.

If Vander Esch stays for his senior year rather than declare early for the NFL Draft, Boise State will have all 11 of its starters back next season. How about that. And one of starters isn’t Kekaula Kaniho. It was like old times for Kaniho Saturday, who “picked up” (pun intended) right where he left off as a senior in high school in Hawaii last year. Kaniho ended last season with pick-sixes in five straight games, so he looked right at home when he stepped in front of a Jordan Herbert throw in the second quarter and returned it 53 yards for a touchdown. And it was Kaniho who had earlier stripped Herbert while sacking him, forcing a fumble recovered by Tyson Maeva. A playmaker-in-waiting.

In wrapping a bow on this, it is Boise State’s 10th 11-win season in the past 16 years. The win over Oregon was also the Broncos’ 12th bowl victory in 18 tries. At some point, can we credit the man at the top? When people had given up on this team (and him) at the end of September, Bryan Harsin didn’t. Since filling the biggest shoes in college football four years ago, Harsin has gone 42-12 with two Mountain West championships and three bowl wins. The chemistry on his team this year was very real. Witness this tweet from DeAndre Pierce: “The best team I’ve ever been a part of. If you’re not in the locker room you can’t understand!! Love my teammates and we’re going to be back and better next year!!” And to all a good night.

The non-conference hoops schedule wraps up tonight for Boise State, and what a way to go. The Broncos visit SMU, which now has the nation’s second-longest home winning streak at 29 games. Boise State knows about such things after it’s conquest at Oregon 2½ weeks ago. The Mustangs are 8-3, while the Broncos are 10-1 and riding the second-best start in school history next to the 16-1 burst by the great 1987-88 squad. Can Boise State get its three-point eye back after the 5-for-24 hiccup against Grand Canyon last week? Justinian Jessup has been quite the story from long-range—top 10 in the country in both made threes (3.73 per game) and three-point accuracy (53.2 percent).

Boise State registered one of its best wins of last season when it toppled SMU 71-62 in Taco Bell Arena. The Broncos led the Mustangs by 20 points at halftime before holding on down the stretch. Chandler Hutchison was big again in a big game, scoring 21 points with seven rebounds. Boise State held SMU to a 1-for-11 night from three-point range—and defense from beyond the arc has been a hallmark of this season’s Broncos, who are allowing less than 27 percent shooting from three-point land. What has changed? The Mustangs outrebounded Boise State by 15 last year. Now the Broncos’ rebounding margin is plus 8.7, and they’re fifth in the nation at 31.5 defensive rebounds per game.

Nostalgic storylines abound tonight when the Boise State women play their second marquee game of the non-conference season in Taco Bell Arena tonight versus Washington State. The Cougars are coached by June Daugherty, who built the Broncos into a power during her seven seasons from 1989-96, leading Boise State to its first NCAA Tournament berth in 1994. As she did then, she has husband Mike by her side as associate head coach. And on Daugherty’s staff is Rod Jensen, who coached the Bronco men from 1995-2002. Daugherty brought Wazzu to Boise State two years ago and won 57-52. But coach Gordy Presnell took the Broncos to Pullman last year and upended the Cougs 77-73 in overtime.

The Idaho Steelheads and Wichita are jockeying for second place in the ECHL Mountain Division, and they jockeyed head-to-head over the weekend, each winning a game in CenturyLink Arena. It was one up, one down for Steelheads goalie Ryan Faragher. On Friday night Faragher was crafting a shutout until 23 seconds remained in the game in a 3-1 victory. Then, after the Steelheads had scored twice in 22 seconds midway through the second period Saturday night to take a 2-1 lead, Wichita tallied three times in the third, sparking to its 5-3 win. And the two teams remain tied for second, three points behind the Colorado Eagles.

This Day In Sports…December 18, 1981:

Brigham Young edges Washington State 38-36 to secure back-to-back wins at the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. Tom Holmoe (current BYU athletic director) intercepted a WSU pass and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown to give BYU a comfortable 31-7 advantage in the third quarter, but a revitalized Wazzu scored 29 points in the second half to close the gap. BYU’s Jim McMahon, the nation’s leading passer and inaugural winner of the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award, passed for 368 yards and three touchdowns, preventing a WSU comeback win.

(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.)