Last chance for D-line to shine

Going into the 2015 season, the Boise State defensive line was seen as the deepest in school history. Going into the 2015 season, the Boise State defensive line was seen as the deepest in school history. It was going to be hard to match the talent level of Shea McClellin, Billy Winn, Chase Baker, Jarrell Root and Tyrone Crawford in 2011, but the sheer numbers at the tackle and end spots were projected to overcome all obstacles. Fast forward to the days leading up to next Wednesday’s Poinsettia Bowl, and the Bronco D-line is looking to end a hot-and-cold season with a statement. The unit that recorded 47 sacks last season has only 28 so far this year. To be fair, that 47 number was a stratospheric one. But this D-line was seen as capable of threatening that. Northern Illinois has allowed 27 sacks this season. There’s a chance for a feel-good ending.

There are still 11 defensive linemen listed on Boise State’s Poinsettia Bowl depth chart. All of them can play. How well they play may be the key against Northern Illinois. The centerpiece of the group is junior defensive end Kamalei Correa, who looked like a candidate for early entry into the NFL Draft after leading the Mountain West with 12 sacks last season. But Correa has only five this year. Six of the other D-linemen are seniors, and three of those didn’t make it into September last year, so the final night in Qualcomm Stadium should be an especially big deal. Tyler Horn was lost for the season with a knee injury against Ole Miss, Justin Taimatuia was hurt in 2014 fall camp, and Deuce Mataele was academically ineligible. Horn and Taimatuia have been solid—Mataele has been a bit anonymous.

It ain’t over yet, but as it stands now this is the first season since 2001 Boise State has yielded more sacks than it has made (29-28). The much-maligned offensive line would like to go out on a high note, too. All five starters were back this season, but they had their ups and downs even before left tackle Rees Odhiambo was lost for the season in late October. Those 29 sacks allowed are one more than last year’s post-Fiesta Bowl total. In 2013 the Broncos gave up 26 sacks—they had yielded 10 or fewer the previous four seasons.

Monday night was big in recruiting for Boise State, according to Big, as in a 6-1, 309-pound defensive tackle commit out of California power Long Beach Poly, Emmanuel Fisili. He’s the fifth defensive lineman in the 2016 recruiting class to date. The Broncos also received a verbal from another Poly star, 5-11, 170-pound safety De’Andre Pierce, the son of former New York Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce. Instant chemistry for the Boise State defense of the future? Fisili and Pierce visited campus together in September and basically committed together this week.

The theory is that Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton will be up to snuff for next Tuesday’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. It will be only the second bowl game Keeton’s played in during his medically-extended six-year college career. He was active for the 2011 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl during his true freshman year but did not play in USU’s 24-23 loss to Ohio. But he was the one who led the Aggies to their 40-15 rout of Toledo in the 2012 game on the blue turf. This time, he may be sharing time with Kent Myers, who started most of this season. “We’ve got two good quarterbacks and they’re both healthy, so they’ll both have their role,” Utah State coach Matt Wells said. “Akron will have to prepare for both of them.”

Former Boise State staffers had the coaching carousel cartwheeling yesterday. At Washington, Chris Petersen elevated secondary coach Jimmy Lake to co-offensive coordinator with Pete Kwiatkowski. The Huskies have had a pretty good season defensively, I thought. Petersen also took the “interim” tag off former Bronco quarterback Bush Hamdan’s job as wide receivers coach. At Montana State, new head coach Jeff Choate shook the rafters in the Treasure State by stealing defensive coordinator Ty Gregorak away from the rival Montana Grizzlies. Choate, the one-time Boise State linebackers coach, had already added former Bronco players Gerald Alexander, Byron Hout and Matt Miller to the Bobcats staff.

One man’s opinion: The benefits of Boise State playing Colorado State at 5 p.m. on January 2 outweigh the slight decrease in exposure ESPN3 brings. It was either that or play at 8 p.m. on ESPNU. The minimal audience on ESPNU just isn’t worth that fan backlash that late tipoffs (and kickoffs) trigger. Utah State got the 8 p.m. start that night for its contest against San Diego State. Two other Bronco home tipoffs are still to be determined, against the Aztecs January 16 and versus USU February 2.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Mountain West football. The conference has taken it on the chin more often than not in the past week. The Big Sky won a couple against the MW—Northern Colorado stunned Colorado State 73-64 in Greeley, and Montana State topped San Jose State 91-83. Elsewhere, Southern University embarrassed Wyoming in Laramie 68-58, Army dropped Air Force 90-80, UIC Irvine beat Utah State 73-63 In Logan, and there was no signature win this time for UNLV, as the Rebels fell 56-50 at Wichita State. The Mountain West’s best win of the past week aside from Boise State’s takedown of Oregon may have been New Mexico’s 76-57 decision over Northern Iowa. The MW has a shot at a Power 5 win tonight when UNLV hosts Arizona State.

Tyus Jones was outstanding last night, scoring 29 points for the Idaho Stampede in Bakersfield. But the Jam’s Terrico White one-upped the former Duke standout, pouring in 34 (including seven three-pointers) and adding 13 rebounds to spark his team past the Stamps 106-97. Idaho was a little sloppy, turning the ball over 21 times. The Stamps stay in California for games against the L.A. D-Fenders Friday and the Santa Cruz Warriors Saturday.

The Idaho Steelheads return to a home that hasn’t been so sweet tonight. The Steelheads have won just two of nine games at CenturyLink Arena this season, and just one since Opening Night against the Rapid City Rush. And now they host Utah, the first-place team in the ECHL’s West Division. The Grizzlies are coming off a three-game sweep of the Alaska Aces. The Steelies will be without the guy who scored his first goal with the team to win the overtime tussle at Tulsa last Sunday. Cole Ully has been recalled by the Texas Stars of the AHL, along with Gemel Smith. Idaho plays seven of its next eight games in Boise.

This Day In Sports…December 16, 1973:

O.J. Simpson of the Buffalo Bills gains 200 yards against the New York Jets to become the first NFL player ever to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season. Simpson finished the season at 2,003. Enough said.

(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.)