“If we’ve got to tear it all apart and start over, we’ll do that.” That comment on special teams from coach Bryan Harsin after Boise State’s win over Air Force perked up a few ears—some of them no doubt on the Broncos roster. Harsin completely changed the coaching procedure on special teams this year. Only he knows if it needs another makeover. After some progress against Portland State, there was a regression versus the Falcons. There was an offside penalty on a kickoff (not the first this season) and—following a welcome 40-yard field goal by Eric Sachse—the dreaded block of an extra point, the most hated of special teams transgressions after what happened to Boise State last December.
But the most visible concern right now is the inconsistent punting of Joel Velazquez. His first boot last Friday went only 29 yards; then he uncorked a nice 46-yarder. But after that came a 20-yard punt that took a massive backward bounce. Boise State is No. 126 in the country in punting, averaging just 35.9 yards, and the Broncos have paid the price in field position. Velazquez, who was solid last year as a kickoff man, has also had some problems in that area. He had a kickoff go out of bounds at the 10-yard line against Air Force. Hopefully the bye week will allow Velazquez to hit the reset button.
LOCHER LOCKED INTO THE COMMUNITY
For years, Boise State football has been visibly engaged in the community. The standard-bearer this year is defensive tackle Matt Locher, who has been named a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy from the National Football Foundation. The award goes to the the player who best combines “academic success, football performance and exemplary community leadership.” Locher, a senior from Los Alamitos, CA, will find out October 30 if he’s a finalist. Two seasons ago, Broncos center Mason Hampton was named one of the 13 finalists for the honor.
NONDESCRIPT WEEK IN THE MOUNTAIN WEST
Boise State’s next opponent, UNLV, travels to Laramie to face Wyoming Saturday. It would seem to be advantage Cowboys, but there’s a distraction. Wyoming coach Craig Bohl has suspended defensive back Allen Smith III indefinitely after the true freshman was charged with two felonies for allegedly pointing a gun at two people last week. Smith faces faces two counts of aggravated assault and battery “with the threat to use a drawn deadly weapon.” The Pokes also have some significant injury problems. Elsewhere in the Mountain West, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of drama. Hawaii’s game at Nevada will be interesting Saturday, and San Jose State’s Friday night game at Air Force could be more interesting than anyone thought.
VANDALS, YOTES SEEK KEY ROAD WINS
Idaho plays its inaugural Big Sky game of the 2019 season Saturday at Northern Colorado (the Vandals’ 35-27 upset of Eastern Washington last week was non-conference, of course). Idaho has controlled the tempo of its last three games, dominating the time of possession. For the season, the Vandals are averaging 33:53 of clock time, the top mark in the Big Sky and No. 6 nationally. UNC is 0-4, so with Idaho’s running game on a roll, the trend could continue. College of Idaho is at Rocky Mountain College Saturday, with the 10th-ranked Coyotes seeking their first 10-game winning streak since 1953. What will Yotes quarterback Darius James-Peterson do in Billings? Last year in Caldwell against the Battlin’ Bears, DJP rushed for 179 yards and four touchdowns and passed for 233 yards and two TDs (albeit in a loss).
JAY-TRAIN STILL AT THE STATION
We’re three weeks into the NFL season, and former Boise State star Jay Ajayi remains jobless. As injuries to NFL running backs start to mount, you’d think there’d be a spot for a guy who netted 1,272 rushing yards for Miami just three years ago. The New York Giants worked out three backs Tuesday as they seek a roster fill-in for Saquon Barkley, who’s out with an ankle injury. But Ajayi was not one of them. After suffering a torn ACL in Week 5 last season, he “is close to being game-ready,” a source told Ian Rapoport of NFL Network on Wednesday. Maybe the source was in Ajayi’s camp. No doubt he wants the word out.
MERRITT BACK ON THE COURSE, STATESIDE
As I mentioned the other day, there’ll be no Graham DeLaet this week at the Safeway Open in Napa, CA. But fellow former Boise State star Troy Merritt will tee off today at Silverado after skipping the Greenbrier and the Sanderson Farms Championship the past two weeks. Merritt has been doing a little globe-trotting the past month, though. He played the European Masters in Switzerland four weeks ago and tied for 35th. Ten days ago, Merritt was conducting a “golf masterclass” at Dun Laoghaire in Dublin, Ireland. The Safeway Open marks Merritt’s 2019-20 PGA Tour season debut.
NOT A DRY HEAT
Tough conditions await former Boise State stars Allie Ostrander and Marisa Howard at the IAAF World Championships in Doha, Qatar. Ostrander and Howard will run their heats in the 3,000 meter steeplechase at 9:55 a.m. our time Friday. That’s 6:55 p.m. Qatar time, when the temperature’s supposed to be in the low 90’s. No problem in the desert heat, right? Well, this isn’t desert heat as we know it. Sitting on the Persian Gulf as Qatar does, the humidity shoots up. It will “feel like” 110 or more. Of course, Allie O won her third straight NCAA championship in June in 97-degree heat in Austin.
BRONCOS’ DIAMOND DOCKET
Boise State’s first home baseball schedule since 1980 is out now. We already knew that the much-anticipated Memorial Stadium opener will be Friday, February 28, against Northern Colorado, and that the Broncos have BYU on the home slate March 30. What we didn’t know is that a day later, Boise State will host its first Pac-12 opponent, Utah, and that the Mountain West schedule features a trio of three-game series in Boise against San Diego State, Nevada and UNLV. The Broncos will give fans a sneak preview next week with a pair of fall exhibition games versus Northwest Nazarene and MSU-Billings.
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September 26, 1998: One of the most storied drives in Boise State football leads to a 31-28 upset of Utah in Salt Lake City. With 2:08 left, quarterback Nate Sparks replaced Bart Hendricks, who had a pretty good night. Coach Dirk Koetter had a hunch. The Broncos had the ball on their own one-yard-line, trailing 28-24. Sparks marched Boise State 99 yards, capping the drive on an 11-yard touchdown pass to Rodney Smith with 45 seconds left. The victory was a catalyst for the Broncos, who would go on to the first of their 21 straight winning seasons, the longest current streak in the country.
(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.)