Bulldogs out to change the paradigm

They say it’s not a rivalry if one team wins all the time. Especially if it hasn’t been played in awhile. Fresno State beat Boise State once in the 1970’s, once in the 80’s and once in the 90’s. But since they started playing conference games beginning with the landmark win by the Broncos in Fresno in 2001, Boise State has gone 13-2 against the Bulldogs. The average score has been 39.8 to 19.7, with three Bronco victories coming by 50 or more points. The two games in 2014 were close, though—10 and 14 points. Now, it’s an entirely new day, and Fresno State wants to create a new narrative..

Boise State got away without establishing the run last week by deftly finding opportunities against Air Force through the air. The Broncos won’t have that luxury this week (or next) against the Mountain West’s top-ranked defense. Fresno State is first in total defense, allowing just 307.5 yards per game. And that takes into account the Bulldogs’ games on the road at No. 1 Alabama and at No. 6 (at the time) Washington. Fresno State is also tops in the Mountain West in scoring defense at 17.3 points per game—and in third down conversions, allowing just 32.5 percent. Boise State has to get Alexander Mattison going again.

There is one Bronco who actually played the last time Boise State visited Fresno State in 2013. Gabe Perez didn’t record any stats, but he was witness to the crazy game that resulted in the Bulldogs’ second win in the series this century. Perez’s Bronco career has been checkered by a bunch of injuries, the worst being one to his shoulder that forced him to redshirt in 2015. He could have folded the tent at some point the past two years, but he keeps coming back for more. Coach Bryan Harsin is appreviative of that and the example of perseverance it has provided. “Every injured guy on our team has a whole different vibe because of him,” Harsin said. Perez is saving his best for the last—he recovered a first-quarter Air Force fumble last week, setting up the touchdown that gave Boise State a 17-0 lead.

Every facet of the Fresno State offense struggled last year during the 1-11 season, especially the passing game, which barely managed a 50 percent completion rate and had a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 13-13. So how is former Boise State standout Kirby Moore doing in his post as wide receivers coach? Moore has overseen two dominant receivers who have particularly grown since Marcus McMaryion moved into the starting quarterback job at the end of September. KeeSean Johnson has 58 catches for 741 yards and six touchdowns, and Da’Mari Scott has 48 grabs for 505 yards and one TD. Fresno native Tyler Horton, for one, will be plenty busy in the Boise State secondary.

There’s a fork in the road ahead as Idaho visits New Mexico State tomorrow. The Vandals and the Aggies have followed the same path for the past 22 seasons, playing together in the Big West (1996-2000), in the Sun Belt (2001-04), in the WAC (2005-12), as independents (2013) and in the Sun Belt again (2014-17). Both schools were ushered out of the Sun Belt’s future plans a year and a half ago and are in their final two weeks in the conference. That’s where the fork comes in, as Idaho will move to the FCS and the Big Sky next year, while NMSU will try to give it a go as an independent again. An interesting intangible tomorrow in Las Cruces will be the motivation factor—the Vandals are out of the running for bowl eligibility, while the Aggies can still get there with wins in their final two games.

Boise State hoops looks for a bounce-back tomorrow night when it hosts Loyola Marymount in Taco Bell Arena. Coach Leon Rice had some interesting takeaways after falling to Iowa State in the championship game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in November, largely without Chandler Hutchison: “I think we take from it that we can compete at a high level. We beat two very good teams and lost to a very good team as well, which we had the chance to beat. So if we take that from it and that we are competitors and we don’t stick our head in the sand if things don’t go our way, those are a couple of points we can take from it. We are not even close to being done, just growing and getting better.” And that involves a lot of Broncos. Against Illinois State last Friday, nine different players logged 10 minutes or more.

What’s missing on the holiday hoops scene? The Broncos and the Vandals. It was a bitter pill three years ago when the Boise State-Idaho series ended after 45 consecutive seasons. The two rivals had settled into the ideal solution as non-conference opponents, the holiday matchups at CenturyLink Arena (and before that at the Ford Idaho Center). The Broncos and Vandals played on a neutral floor, and it was—half of the crowd was made up of Idaho fans, and they were loud. The attendance for the last matchup, on a Tuesday during Thanksgiving week in 2014, was 5,672. At the Idaho Center on New Year’s Eve 2011 it was 7,540. Seems too natural to be gone forever.

The Idaho Steelheads looked to be in a pretty good position when Justin Parizek tied the game against Allen early in the third period Wednesday night. The Steelheads entered the series with a third period goal differential of plus-11, tied for the best mark in the ECHL with Toledo and Florida. The Steelies also went into Wednesday night’s game having scored 21 third period goals, tied for third in the league. Seven had come in the Steelies’ previous four games. But alas, the Americans tallied twice down the stretch for a 3-1 victory. Idaho and Allen tangle again tonight and tomorrow night in CenturyLink Arena.

This Day In Sports…November 24, 1960:

The Philadelphia Warriors’ Wilt Chamberlain sets an NBA record that stands to this day—and, like his 100-point game, will probably stand forever. Wilt The Stilt pulled down 55 rebounds, the most ever in an NBA game, in a loss to the Boston Celtics. Amazingly, Chamberlain and Bill Russell hold 24 of the top 25 single-game rebound totals in NBA history.

(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.)