The most important number for Boise State QBs probably won’t be passing yards or completion percentage. When the box score rolls out of the copy machine tomorrow night in Charlottesville, VA, the most important number for Boise State quarterbacks Tommy Stuart and Brett Rypien probably won’t be passing yards or completion percentage. Granted, it could be touchdown passes. But most likely it will be turnovers—interceptions thrown and fumbles lost. The Broncos lost the turnover battle in the win over Washington and the loss to BYU, but they went turnover-free last week versus Idaho State. Under Virginia defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta, who was the interim head coach for Georgia Tech at the 2007 Humanitarian Bowl, the Cavaliers blitz consistently. The Cavs have devoured film of Boise State’s three-interception night at BYU and want to force an encore (those Provo picks, of course, came from Ryan Finley).
The rub for Virginia: no turnovers forced so far this season. The only other FBS team in that boat now is Wake Forest. “It’s definitely frustrating,” said senior defensive tackle David Dean in Charlottesville’s Daily Progress. “Takeaways are always a huge momentum boost for a team, and to not have any at this point of the season, it’s frustrating.” Especially so after Virginia created 29 turnovers last season, the team’s most since 2002. The Cavaliers ended the year with two defensive touchdowns on takeaways in their tough 24-20 loss to rival Virginia Tech. It’ll be a hungry bunch of Wahoos tomorrow night.
There’s another motivator for Virginia in this, the program’s first-ever Friday night game. The Cavaliers are in a “that’s not who we are” frame of mind after sneaking past FCS William & Mary last week, 35-29. Like Boise State’s matchup against Idaho State, it was an in-state game, but William & Mary was able to make the most of it. The Cavs let the Tribe hang around by not getting a single first down in the fourth quarter. They were pretty good on offense the first three quarters, though. Virginia scored on four plays of 25 yards or more, including an 80-yard touchdown on a screen pass from Matt Johns to running back Taquan Mizzell. Johns was 17-of-23 for 263 yards and three TDs on the day. That’s pretty good—more than 15 yards per completion. He also threw two picks, though.
One constant for the Boise State defense this season has been stopping the run. The Broncos have had only one bad quarter—the fourth at BYU—and are ranked second in the country this week in rushing defense at 45.7 yards per game. And it’s not just the defensive line getting it done. Of Boise State’s 21 tackles-for-loss over the first three games, more than half have come from the linebackers and the secondary. Virginia is averaging 112 yards rushing per game, 114th in the FBS. But you never know what can happen in a far-off land in front of a loud crowd in the neighborhood of 50,000.
Another notable number is red zone defense, where Boise State is third in the nation at 50 percent. Virginia is bound to get its yards with Johns chucking the ball, so this facet of the game could be big. Opponents have only made it into the Broncos’ red zone six times in the young season, and have scored points in three of them—understanding that the stat may be deceiving, since three of BYU’s four touchdowns two weeks ago came from outside the red zone.
Boise State coach Bryan Harsin has been trying to get Mack Brown and his wife out to Boise for a visit. But Brown’s schedule as an ESPN analyst has thus far prevented any get-together. So Harsin will settle for catching up with Brown, however briefly, in Charlottesville, VA. Brown, who hired Harsin away from Boise State to be the offensive coordinator at Texas in 2011, is going to be in the broadcast booth tomorrow night. No doubt both are looking forward to the customary meeting between coaches and network announcers today. It turns out Brown will be in Boise in November to work the Boise State-Air Force game on ESPN2.
Idaho State faces its second straight FBS (and Mountain West) opponent on the road when it faces UNLV Saturday night. Games against FCS (and Big Sky) foes are not a layup for the Rebels, who have lost in recent years to Southern Utah and Northern Arizona and narrowly escaped with a 13-12 victory last season over Northern Colorado. While watching Bengals star wide receiver Madison Mangum last week, I was thinking about what might have been had he walked on at Boise State. Mangum probably would have earned a scholarship after his first year and become a Tyler Shoemaker-type. The Timberline High grad leads ISU with 15 catches for 210 yards and three touchdowns this season.
The Albertsons Boise Open marks its official 25th anniversary this week. This year, of course, the tournament was played in July, but one year from now it will be back in September as part of the Web.com Tour Finals. The circuit’s 2015 playoffs continue today with the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship in Columbus, OH, the last event before the Web.com Tour Championship next week. Nampa’s Tyler Aldridge tees off at No. 14 on the Web.com money list with $189,671.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have finally made the official Bryan Gates announcement. The former Idaho Stampede coach will be an assistant on the staff of Sam Mitchell, who’s filling in while Flip Saunders is away on a leave of absence for treatment of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Gates led the Stampede to their only D-League championship in 2008 and was 101-51 with the club, winning two Dennis Johnson Coach of the Year awards (the Stamps haven’t had a winning season since). Gates spent the past five seasons as an assistant with the New Orleans Pelicans after one with the Sacramento Kings.
The Chicago Cubs are close to clinching a National League wild card berth, so there’ll be plenty of talk about Kris Bryant the next couple of weeks. But we have to mark this milestone now. Tuesday night, the former Boise Hawk hit his 26th home run of the season to break the 54-year-old Cubs rookie record held by Billy Williams. Keep in mind that Bryant got a late start, making his debut April 17 after the Cubs held him in Triple-A to get an extra season of service time from him before he becomes eligible for free agency down the road.
Ryan Fagan of Sporting News has come up with a list of the seven most disappointing Major League players of 2015. No. 3 is former Hawk Jeff Samardzija, the Chicago White Sox righthander. And Fagan unveiled that with full knowledge of Samardzija’s masterful one-hit shutout of Detroit Monday. After all, he had allowed 10 runs to Oakland in his previous start. The White Sox traded for Samardzija in the offseason, with plans for him to become their ace. But the one-time Notre Dame wide receiver is 10-13 with a 5.04 ERA. Writes Fagan: “The disappointing season could be costly for Samardzija on an individual level, too. He’s a free agent after the season, and might need to take a one-year deal somewhere to re-establish his value, because probably he’s not getting peak value after this performance.”
This Day In Sports…September 24, 1977:
Tony Knap coaches his first game in Bronco Stadium in two years, now as the leader of UNLV. In the last of a six-game series between the two schools in the 70’s, Boise State ambushed the Rebels, 45-14. Former Borah High star Terry Hutt sealed the deal with an 85-yard touchdown catch from Hoskin Hogan. The Broncos—with 629 total yards—bounced back stunningly from the worst total offense output in their history, 69 the previous week in a loss at Fresno State.
(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.)