Heading Higgins off at the pass?

Coaches like to zero in on an opposing player and say, “we have to know where he is at all times.” Coaches like to zero in on an opposing player and say, “we have to know where that guy is at all times.” For Boise State tomorrow night that would be No. 82 for Colorado State, superstar wide receiver Rashard Higgins. With Garrett Grayson as his quarterback last year, Higgins led the nation with 1,750 receiving yards and 17 touchdown catches on his way to becoming a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award. This year he was tabbed as Preseason Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year, but many wondered if he would miss Grayson. New QB Nick Stevens has had his problems with consistency, but he has consistently connected with Higgins, who has 30 receptions for 426 yards and four touchdowns in four games.

You want more numbers? Higgins certainly has ‘em. Start with his career stats. Higgins played his 30th game for CSU in last week’s loss at Utah State, and he had 10 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. Just another day at the office. With that, Higgins went over the 3,000-yard mark in his career. Do the math—he averages over 100 yards per game in the long-term. He’ll probably go over 200 catches tomorrow night, as he comes in with 194. And Higgins has 27 career touchdown grabs. He is certainly the key to the CSU offense.

So do you think the Boise State defense relishes the challenge? Yes indeed. In particular the two ballhawks, Donte Deayon and Darian Thompson, who have gone against Higgins the past two years. Higgins has made his mark on the Bronco defense, with a combined 21 catches for 242 yards. No touchdowns, though. And that’s a telling number. The Broncos haven’t let him get behind them. Deayon and Thompson would like to add to their shared career interception total of 17, but not at the expense of a gamble that would turn Higgins loose. And, of course, Thompson has to make good decisions on behalf of his new baby daughter, born this week.

I’m curious to see who will carry the Hammer for Boise State tomorrow night. Will it be Chanceller James? The original definition of a Hammer honoree was a guy who made a defining hit on special teams, and James delivered the block of the year on a second-quarter punt return against Hawaii last Saturday. He laid out an unsuspecting Warrior, which brought an “oooooh” as loud as any ever heard in Albertsons Stadium. It was a couple minutes before the buzz died down. Fortunately the Hawaii guy appears to be okay.

One of the subplots of Boise State’s season is Tyler Rausa becoming a weapon. The junior kicker already has a 51-yard field goal to his credit, plus a 54-yarder that hit the upright. Rausa is 9-of-10 on field goals this season, but his most underappreciated stat might be touchbacks. You would have thought Rausa’s leg would be tired after 10 kickoffs, seven extra points and two field goals against Hawaii last week. But he booted nine of 10 kickoffs into the end zone without a return. Twenty of his 38 kickoffs this season have gone for touchbacks.

If Rausa boots a field goal tomorrow night, I’m sure his teammates will make an extra effort to congratulate him. After a successful kick against Hawaii, Rausa was left grasping air when an offensive lineman didn’t notice his attempt at a hand slap. Rausa finished the multi-motion celebration by himself. Coach Bryan Harsin showed the video in a team meeting, pointing out that “kickers are people, too.”

For the first time this season, all 12 Mountain West teams are playing conference games this weekend. The mild, mild West Division (I stole that line) has opened the door for some unlikely challengers. San Jose State, coming off a loss at Auburn that was not embarrassing, is a rare road favorite at UNLV tomorrow night. The Spartans are picked by three points despite facing a Rebels team coming off an 80-point game against Idaho State and an upset of rival Nevada in Reno. And Hawaii is favored by two points over San Diego State tomorrow night in Aloha Stadium. That’s how weird things are. Every team in the West Division has a losing record at this point.

Chris Petersen was in another “new coach vs. old coach” game last night, and he came out of it with a signature victory. Petersen and the Washington Huskies defeated former UW coach Steve Sarkisian and No. 17 USC 17-12 in the L.A. Coliseum. The Washington defense ruled the roost, holding Trojans star Cody Kessler to 156 passing yards, picking him off twice and sacking him five times. Of course, this victory helps Coach Pete’s old team at Boise State in terms of strength-of-schedule five weeks after the Broncos’ 16-13 win over the Huskies. And let’s just say Ryan Finley did every bit as well against that UW defense as Kessler did.

The College of Idaho has a golden opportunity to break its four-game losing streak tomorrow, rested up as it is after a bye week. The Coyotes visit Montana State-Northern, which is 0-5 this year. Get this—the Lights have managed just four touchdowns all season and are averaging 6.4 points per game, the worst number in the NAIA. Opponents are scoring 49 points a game. MSU-Northern gave up 82 points to Southern Oregon its last time out.

This is looking like a renaissance season for Doug Martin at Tampa Bay. The former Boise State star has bounced back from two rough campaigns to rush for 282 yards, tied for eighth in the NFL and on pace for a 1,000-yard season (it would be his first since his big rookie season in 2012). Martin has a run of at least 14 yards in all four games this season. “He comes to work every day, he works hard, he finishes plays, he knows his assignments, runs really hard breaking tackles,” said offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, the one-time Boise State head coach, at Buccaneers.com. “Doug is one of the guys that’s playing winning football right now.” The 1-3 Bucs host Jacksonville on Sunday.

Other notes: Unfortunately, injuries sometimes make decisions for coaches. Such is the case for Boise State men’s basketball coach Leon Rice. The Statesman’s Dave Southorn reports that true freshman Malek Harwell, the former Century High star from Pocatello, has suffered a torn ACL in practice and will be redshirted this season. And fans get their first look at the Idaho Steelheads tonight in the annual “season ticket holders only” game at CenturyLink Arena against the Utah Grizzlies. The two teams then head to Utah for another exhibition tomorrow night.

This Day In Sports…October 9, 1919:

The Cincinnati Reds defeat the Chicago White Sox, 10-5, to win the World Series. A year later it was learned that the White Sox threw the Series, leading to the infamous “Black Sox Scandal”. Shoeless Joe Jackson was at the center of it, and his guilt or innocence has been debated ever since—right through the motion picture “Field Of Dreams”.

(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.)