The Boise State passing game broke new ground (at least in 2017 terms) last Saturday at Utah State. It was evident on the Broncos’ first play from scrimmage, when Brett Rypien hit not Cedrick Wilson, but A.J. Richardson for a 32-yard gain. There was much more to come from Wilson’s supporting cast: Richardson had three other receptions for 33 yards, Octavius Evans made his first touchdown catch, CT Thomas hauled in a 24-yard strike over the middle, and Sean Modster shook off a drop to make a beautiful 38-yard grab on a throw from Montell Cozart. “We’ve tried to do that,” said Harsin of Boise State’s other wide receivers. “I don’t think we tried as much as we did (last) week.” Now, can this kind of production continue, or is it just a product of one-time game-planning? The Nevada game Saturday will tell us a lot.
For Evans, the true freshman, it was a really good sign. As a 6-1, 195-pounder, he oozes potential as an eventual replacement for Wilson. But Evans had logged just two catches for two yards since the season opener against Troy. “A lot of hard work paid off in that play,” said Harsin. “He had his best practice of the year last week.” Same goes for Thomas, Harsin noted. The nature of this year’s Bronco offense has held down Wilson’s numbers, but they’re still pretty good. He has 45 catches for 748 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 16.6 yards per reception. Wilson’s 19-yard TD catch that opened the scoring at Utah State was his first from Rypien this year. Wilson’s previous four touchdowns all came from Cozart.
The favorite punching bag of fans everywhere is play-calling. If your team’s offense isn’t performing like you want it to, it’s gotta be the play-calling. Well, Boise State offensive coordinator Zak Hill deserves props for calling a great game in Logan. Hill targeted all the Broncos’ receivers, mixed it up with the tight ends, and worked Alexander Mattison into the passing game. And Hill and staff have developed the rare two-quarterback system that works. It’s certainly a lot different than it was on Labor Day weekend. “You go back and self-scout,” said Harsin. “‘Alright, we did these things, and what can we do off of it? Or, ‘we did these things, and they didn’t work.’” The Broncos self-scout to anticipate what opponents might do to try to stop them. And they play-called their way out of the things USU wanted to do.
The list for the 2017 William V. Campbell Trophy has been pared down to 13 finalists, and Boise State’s Mason Hampton is on it. The award from the National Football Foundation and the College Football Hall of Fame “recognizes the absolute best football scholar-athlete in the nation.” The starting center from Meridian, who holds a 3.97 GPA in accounting, gets an $18,000 post-graduate scholarship and a trip to New York out of it December 5, when the trophy will be presented. Hampton has served as an Optimist Youth Football volunteer at multiple events and participates in Thanksgiving meal service each year through the Boise Rescue Mission. He also visits with patients from St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital and guides kids on tours through the Broncos’ facilities.
Followup on the Jay Ajayi trade from Miami to Philadelphia: Dolphins coach Adam Gase appears to have made Ajayi the fall guy for Gase’s distaste for his offense. The coach not-so-subtly criticized the Boise State product after Miami’s 40-0 loss at Baltimore a week ago. And there’s that stuff going around about Ajayi being disruptive in the Dolphins locker room. But then you hear how excited the Eagles’ brain trust is—and how analysts like ESPN.com’s Tim McManus write that “opposing defenses might want to buckle their chin straps extra tight when facing the Philadelphia Eagles” now that Ajayi is paired with LeGarrette Blount. “Philly now has two of the top bruising backs in all of the NFL.” This might be the best thing that could have happened for the Jay-Train.
Idaho is settled in Alabama, as the Vandals take on Troy tonight as 18½-point underdogs. What is up with the Trojans since they fell 24-13 to Boise State on that toasty Opening Day on the blue turf? Troy is now 6-2, with one tremendous high and one tremendous low. The high, of course, was the 24-21 upset of LSU in Death Valley in a game that wasn’t as close as the score appeared. The low came in the following game, when the Trojans were stunned by South Alabama 19-8. Since then Troy has routed a good Georgia State team and a bad Georgia Southern squad and is one game out of first place in the Sun Belt.
Dan Hawkins returns to the Gem State on Saturday. The former Boise State coach takes his UC Davis Aggies to Pocatello to face Idaho State in Holt Arena. Hawkins, in his first year at his alma mater, reaches a pivotal point of the season as November begins. UC Davis is 2-3 in the Big Sky and 4-4 overall, but it’s winning over fans after a 2-9 season last year. One way to do that is offense, and the Aggies lead the Big Sky and are No. 2 in the FCS in passing at 347 yards per game. ISU, meanwhile, needs victories in its final two games to achieve a rare winning season.
What is now known as the NBA G-League tips off its season this week. Anyone? Anyone? The team formerly known as the Idaho Stampede, the Salt Lake City Stars, open on the road against the Austin Spurs tomorrow night. Anyone? Anyone? Okay, back to college basketball. Boise State and College of Idaho are set for their exhibition tonight in Taco Bell Arena. Bronco fans are anxious to get their first game-action look at Christian Sengfelder, Lexus Williams and Casdon Jardine. And there’ll be plenty of purple-clad people in the building pulling for C of I. The Yotes will certainly be battle-tested after this week. Following their test against Boise State tonight, the Cascade Conference favorites travel to Spokane Saturday to face Gonzaga.
On the local pro front, it was a gratifying way to end a four-game losing streak for the Idaho Steelheads. That massive shots-on-goal barrage finally started to find the mark as the Steelheads took down defending Kelly Cup champion Colorado 6-4 last night in CenturyLink Arena—the same Eagles team that ushered Idaho out of the playoffs in the first round last spring. The Steelies got two goals apiece from captain Jefferson Dahl and Steve McParland. Also, Troy Merritt has had a lukewarm start to the 2017-18 PGA Tour, tying for 69th at the Safeway Open (just before the fires hit the Napa Valley), and missing the cut last week at the Sanderson Farms Championship. The former Boise State star and Meridian resident is in the field today as the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open tees off in Las Vegas.
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November 2, 1968: In its inaugural season as a four-year school, Boise State plays its first home game against an NCAA school—in-state rival Idaho State, no less. The Broncos stunned the Bengals and future NFL standout wide receiver Ed “The Flea” Bell, intercepting five passes and winning, 35-27, in old Bronco Stadium. It was the signature win of a debut season that saw Boise State go 8-2.
(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.)