From rafting the Salmon to wreaking havoc

Leighton Vander Esch had to be runnerup to San Diego State’s Noble Hall for Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week, didn’t he? Vander Esch clocked in with 16 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble last Saturday in Boise State’s loss to Washington State. I think it’s time to talk a little more about the one-time walk-on from Riggins, since he’s becoming the heart-and-soul of a burgeoning Bronco defense. You could tell it was coming—Vander Esch captained the defense during player-run practices this summer (and in the Bronco Football Summer Classic softball game). When Vander Esch arrived at Boise State from tiny Salmon River High, he was a strappin’ 6-4, 185 pounds, and he was tagged with the nickname “Baby Giraffe.” That no longer applies. Vander Esch now weighs in at 240.

When Boise State plays New Mexico, it’s all about the triple-option. The fact that the Lobos have thrown more than they’ve run the first two games of the season is beside the point. The Broncos need to stop this version of the ground game, and they’ve spent some extra time on the triple-option during spring football and fall camp. We do know Boise State is much improved against more conventional running games. The Broncos gave up just 22 yards rushing and one touchdown on the ground to the Cougars last Saturday, less than a yard per carry. That brings the season average to a stingy 49 yards a game and 1.8 yards per tote. Can they keep it up? They certainly seem to be living up to that “blue collar thing.” In 2016, Boise State allowed 177 rushing yards per game and 4.3 yards per attempt.

Something good is going to happen to Reid Harrison-Ducros before too long. In Boise State’s first game of the season, Harrison-Ducros had a pick-six bounce off his hands, right into those of a Troy receiver headed for the end zone (Desmond Williams saved the day by forcing a fumble that became a touchback). Last Saturday, of course, Harrison-Ducros had a punt glance off his helmet through no fault of his own, one of the turning points in the fourth quarter of the loss at Martin Stadium. But he’s been solid in his first two games as a starting cornerback. Harrison-Ducros has 12 tackles, one for loss, with a pass deflection.

Harrison-Ducros’ teammates in the Boise State secondary are predicting better days all around. They’re pullin’ themselves up by the bootstraps after the bizarre night in Pullman. “We going to be back and better, just wait on it,” tweeted safety Deandre Pierce. Added cornerback Tyler Horton in another tweet Sunday, “Couldn’t be any more proud of my bros last night, tough one but good one.” Pierce, Horton and the fourth secondary starter, Kekoa Nawahine, have all made significant contributions through the first two games of the season.

Troy Merritt plays his seventh Albertsons Boise Open this week—and his first since 2013. There’s a lot more at stake for the former Boise State star than there was four years ago. Merritt is home in an effort to retain his PGA Tour card after finishing below the top 125 in FedExCup standings this season. He missed the cut two weeks ago at the first stop of the Tour Finals, so he really needs to play the weekend in the second leg this week at Hillcrest Country Club to give himself a shot at one of the 25 remaining PGA Tour cards up for grabs. “I’m going to try to take full advantage of knowing Hillcrest and having some home support out there,” said Merritt yesterday on KTIK’s Idaho SportsTalk.

Back to football—the state of Idaho was skunked in college football last week. Beyond Boise State’s loss on the Palouse was another one, Idaho’s 44-16 thumping at the hands of UNLV. Like the Broncos, the Vandals have some resolve. “It’s not going to bring us down,” said wide receiver Jacob Sannon. “We are going to come back harder this week and prepared next week. Last year, we had a couple losses and that didn’t define our season so it’s definitely not going to define our season this year. We always fight, we always work hard and we are going to do that the rest of the season.” The thing is, Idaho faces another tough bunch of Broncos on the road Saturday, the ones at Western Michigan. They’re the ones who were unbeaten in the regular season last year and went to the Cotton Bowl.

You also have Idaho State’s 51-13 smackdown at Utah State last Thursday. ISU is back on the road Saturday at Nevada, which will unleash its new true freshman quarterback on the Bengals. And College of Idaho took it on the chin 42-25 thanks to myriad mistakes against Southern Oregon last week to fall to 0-3. There’s no rest for the weary, as the Coyotes’ early-season buzzsaw of a schedule continues Saturday at Simplot Stadium against Eastern Oregon, the NAIA’s 11th-ranked team. The Yotes haven’t grabbed a turnover in either of their last two games.

This should be required refresher reading for a certain faction of Dallas Cowboys fans. At the Cox Media fan site, Stephen Knox writes about the key to quarterback Dak Prescott’s success—according to Prescott. This has not changed from the end of last season. “(Kellen’s) a genius behind the scenes, who doesn’t get enough credit for what he does helping me out and helping this offense out,” Prescott told the Dallas Morning News’ Jon Machota then. “He’s an offensive coordinator in his own mind. He’s simply a genius when it comes to helping coach Linehan out and early in the week giving looks, helping me out with things the defense does, maybe little keys here and there to tip me off or coverages or blitzes.” And that, sports fans, is why Kellen Moore was re-signed by Dallas.

At the end of the regular season, Kellen’s brother, Kirby, will face his old team, Boise State. First, he faces his old coach Saturday in Seattle. Kirby Moore is now wide receivers coach at Fresno State, who has to face Washington in Husky Stadium. Moore was a grad assistant for Chris Petersen the past two seasons in Seattle, and new Bulldogs coach Jeff Tedford was an offensive consultant there last season. Tedford was obviously sold on Moore, and Petersen was not surprised. “It’s a special family,” Pete said. “I think Kirby, he’s a lot like his brother. Both of those guys are soft-spoken guys. They’re really smart, really into football. Kirby did a great job around here. Jeff saw him work with us for the year—he’s just a smart, efficient worker. You ask him to do something and it is done better than you thought it would be.”

This Day In Sports…September 13, 1965:

Willie Mays of the San Francisco Giants hits his 500th career home run in a 5-1 win over Houston. It was an MVP season for Mays, who would belt a career-high 52 that season on his way to 660 homers lifetime—now fifth in major league history behind Alex Rodriguez, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and godson Barry Bonds. By the way, on this day in 1971, Frank Robinson hit his 500th career homer.

(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.)