Figuring out Rypien’s freshman year

Will Brett Rypien’s performance for Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl define his first year as a Bronco? Brett Rypien’s performance for Boise State against Northern Illinois Wednesday in the Poinsettia Bowl will be the one everybody most remembers going into the offseason. But will it define Rypien’s first year as a college quarterback, for better or for worse? It shouldn’t. It’s been a topsy-turvy affair for the Spokane native, who went from anointed one to struggling youngster to game manager in a period of 11 games. Rypien didn’t have the benefit of a redshirt year to allow him to hit the floor running the way Kellen Moore did when he arrived in 2007. I liken Rypien’s situation more to that of Ryan Dinwiddie, who redshirted in 1999 and played sparingly in 2000—then embarked on a high-impact sophomore year in 2001. Rypien will be able to apply his body of work in 2015 to a clean slate next season.

After sterling games in his first three starts against Virginia, Hawaii and Colorado State, Rypien suffered the indignity of the 52-26 loss at Utah State, when he tossed three interceptions and lost two fumbles. He was outstanding at UNLV with his 469-yard game on Halloween before being called upon to throw a school-record 75 passes in the devastating loss to New Mexico. Rypien was below 50 percent in the loss to Air Force. In his final regular-season outing, the 40-23 win at San Jose State, Rypien may have found that middle ground. He let the game come to him, and took what the Spartan defense gave him (which, in the secondary, wasn’t much). Rypien passed for only 197 yards, but he went 25-of-33 with two touchdowns (and without an interception). Now he’ll be facing the MAC’s top pass efficiency defense Wednesday against NIU.

Now, about Rypien’s forerunner. It’s still hard to believe it’s really happened. Kellen Moore became the first former Boise State quarterback ever to take a snap in an NFL regular season game Saturday night when he relieved Matt Cassel in Dallas’ 19-16 loss to the New York Jets. Moore was inserted early in the second quarter with the Cowboys trailing 6-3. His first pass went for a loss of a yard. His second was intercepted. But he hung in during a situation that could have gone south, and just before halftime he threw his first NFL touchdown pass to the Cowboys’ favorite malcontent, Dez Bryant. For the night, Kellen was 15-of-25 for 158 yards, the one TD and three picks (the last one a desperation deep throw in the final minute).

What analysts really liked about Moore’s night, interceptions aside, was that he got the Dallas wide receivers involved in the offense again. Kellen eschewed all those safe check-down throws that had dominated the Cowboys attacked for all those weeks under Cassel and, before him, Brandon Weeden. Moore’s first eight NFL throws targeted wideouts, including the TD pass to Bryant. Moore aimed 18 of his 25 attempts in the game at wide receivers—seven of them to Bryant, who caught four passes for 50 yards. But Dallas coach Jason Garrett says he’s “not ready” to name Moore the starter for this Sunday’s game at Buffalo.

One of the great success stories of recent years in Boise State football was that of Beau Martin, who took a chance in 2011 when he left his starring role at Division II Colorado State-Pueblo to transfer to Boise State as an FBS walk-on. Now Martin is transferring to Boise State a second time, this time from Auburn to be assistant strength and conditioning coach under Jeff Pitman. Martin had been on the strength and conditioning staff at Auburn this season after wrapping up his Bronco career a year ago in the Fiesta Bowl. Ironically, it was Martin who steered Auburn graduate transfer offensive lineman Will Adams to Boise State this month.

In what could be a low-scoring slugfest in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl tomorrow, there will be a lot of feature players on both defenses. One is Utah State defensive lineman Jordan Nielsen, an imposing figure with his long blond locks. Nielsen seemed tame when accepting the esteemed bowling trophy at Saturday night’s Humanitarian Awards dinner. But he’s full of fury on the football field—a story in the Deseret News over the weekend called him “God of Thunder.” The 6-5, 275-pound senior has been the cornerstone of the Aggies’ defensive front, according to D-line coach Ikaika Malloe. Nielsen, who has 51 tackles and three sacks this season, will set a USU record tomorrow by playing in his 54th career game.

Akron coach Terry Bowden has been asked this question many a time the past four years. After coaching at the pinnacle in the SEC, and then comfortably serving as an ABC commentator for 10 years, what was it that attracted him to Akron after a short stint at North Alabama? “They called me,” said Bowden, who was quarterbacks coach with the Zips for one season in 1986. “I came back to help.” And he’s been patient through the process. In his fourth year, Bowden has led Akron to its first winning season and first bowl game in 10 years. Bowden, who turns 60 in February, seems very content at this point in his life. A win in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl tomorrow would give the Zips eight wins, their most since moving up to the FBS in 1987.

The Mountain West is 1-1 in bowl games after Day 1 of the postseason. Try as it might, New Mexico couldn’t keep up with Arizona, falling 45-37 to the Wildcats in the New Mexico Bowl. But San Jose State showed some grit on the other side of the country, coming from behind to beat Georgia State 27-16 at the Cure Bowl in Orlando. Elsewhere, you had the Las Vegas Bowl between BYU and Utah. The Cougars could not have started worse, committing five turnovers—four of them from Tanner Mangum—and facing a staggering 35-0 deficit at the end of the first quarter. Two of Mangum’s three interceptions were pick-sixes. The rest of the way, the Eagle High grad threw for 273 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score as BYU’s rally fell just short in a 35-28 loss.

James Webb III didn’t have his typical double-double yesterday. He just did most of his damage on the offensive end as Boise State rolled past Bradley 90-70 on a Sunday brunch special at Taco Bell Arena. Webb notched his first 30-point game as a Bronco, putting up 31 while pulling down eight rebounds. He was 10-for-20 from the floor and got three of his field goals on dunks. The only place where Webb wasn’t clicking was the three-point line, where he was 1-for-6. If three more of those treys had gone down, we would have had Boise State’s first 40-point game in 37 years. Still, with just one more non-conference game to go (against UC Davis a week from tomorrow), it was a nice table-setter for Mountain West play.

As expected, Boise State coach Leon Rice had to go with just an eight-man rotation against Bradley, with injuries hobbling Montigo Alford and Robin Jorch, and David Wacker sidelined long-term. The extended minutes were valuable to the Broncos’ thin bench. Despite going 0-for-5 from the field, Paris Austin concentrated on his defense and tied Webb’s game-high with eight rebounds. Zach Haney’s confidence grows by the game, and he played that way yesterday, with six points, four rebounds and a block in 16 minutes. As for Chandler Hutchison, he’s just doing what he does, be it as a starter or off the bench. Hutchison contributed 11 points, four rebounds, four assists and two blocks.

On the pro front, the Idaho Stampede split the final two games of their California road trip, falling to the L.A. D-Fenders 117-107 Friday and topping the Santa Cruz Warriors by the same count Saturday. Tyus Jones poured in 25 and 30 points in the two games, respectively, and Jeff Ayres contributed double-doubles each night for the Stampede. The Idaho Steelheads also split their two contests with the Allen Americans in CenturyLink Arena. The Steelheads erupted for four goals in the third period Friday night—shades of Wednesday’s 8-5 victory—to win 6-3. Then the Americans, despite being held to 15 shots on goal, bounced back for a 3-2 shootout win Saturday.

This Day In Sports…December 21, 2000, 15 years ago today:

UNLV upsets Arkansas in the Las Vegas Bowl, 31-14, in a battle between Rebels coach John Robinson and Razorbacks coach Houston Nutt, the former Boise State head man. UNLV surprisingly outrushed Arkansas by 187 yards as the Rebels won their hometown bowl game for the second time. UNLV has been to only one bowl game since, though.

(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.)