Setting the scene for Boise State’s home opener Saturday night against UConn. It’s one of those 8:15 (ahem, 8:26) kickoffs on the blue turf, but the weather’s going to be perfect—a clear night after a daytime high of 84. The Broncos are 31-point favorites over the Huskies, but this is a game that should attract fans wanting to see their own team after last week’s 56-20 win at Troy. It won’t be the packed house Boise State was once accustomed to, but I’m thinking 33,000 or so for this game. Average attendance dipped to 31,126 per game last season, but I’m expecting a rebound this fall. There’s good buzz about this team.
Here’s what strikes me as the difference in Albertsons Stadium. It was reinforced after I saw comments by Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford regarding Bulldog Stadium after the rout of Idaho. “It seemed like there were a lot of people there, but it’s not really loud,” Tedford said in the Fresno Bee. “We can do a lot better.” One thing that has characterized Boise State home games in the new century is noise. On almost every defensive down. It’s a differentiator at a Group of 5 venue. Troy, for example, was relatively quiet despite the largest crowd in school history last Saturday. Colorado State fans were placid in their fancy digs in Fort Collins during Week Zero. Bronco Nation just has to do what it does best this week.
Your developing storyline with the Boise State offense: are the tight ends just layin’ in the weeds, or are they just not going to be utilized much in the passing game this season? There was only one catch made by a tight end at Troy, the 11-yard third-down conversion by Mountain View High grad Garrett Collingham. I seem to remember John Bates, the presumed feature tight end, targeted once. Last September against Troy, it seemed like it was all about the tight ends, with Jake Roh scoring the clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter. But Roh had only two receptions for 14 yards in the game, and Chase Blakley had one grab for 13 yards—and that was it. Let’s just say for this year’s group, it’ll be a process.
A Scott Slant reader from Indian Valley would rather compare Boise State’s opener with UCF’s opener than wait for the two team’s common opponent, Connecticut. The Knights, of course, drilled UConn 56-17 on the road last week. She notes that the Knights are making a big deal out of “HeuperSpeed” this season with new coach Josh Heupel in charge, so they’re calculating their points per minute. UCF scored about 2.5 points per minute against the Huskies. The Broncos put up 2.2 PPM at Troy. The Knights’ quickest scoring drive was 53 seconds—Boise State’s was 51 seconds. The numbers she pointed out on defense were revealing: “While UCF gave up three fewer points, it also allowed over 100 more yards to UConn than the Broncos did to Troy (486 vs. 379), mostly on the ground.”
Which of the Mountain West’s three first-round NFL Draft picks from last spring will have the biggest impact in Week 1? Will it be Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch, San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny or Wyoming’s Josh Allen? Vander Esch rejoined practice this week with Dallas, which opens against Carolina Sunday. And he was not on the Cowboys’ injury report yesterday after missing a lot of training camp with an injured groin. Vander Esch is primed to make his NFL debut, although Dallas may not go full-tilt with him yet. Penny just had a cast removed from his finger last Wednesday and is not slated to start for Seattle Sunday in Denver, but he’s likely to play.
Allen won’t be thrown to the wolves, er, Ravens right off the top on Sunday. The No. 7 overall pick will watch from the sidelines as Buffalo sends Nate Peterman onto the field to start against Baltimore. It’s just not time for Allen yet. He absorbed five sacks and ended up with a concussion evaluation while going 6-of-12 for 34 yards in Preseason Week 3 against Cincinnati. Neither Allen nor Peterman played last week. Keep an eye on the Bills’ schedule, though. Next week they face the L.A. Chargers. It was against the Chargers last season that Peterman threw five interceptions in one half.
First things first, though—Philadelphia’s Jay Ajayi takes the field tonight as the NFL kicks off its season with the Eagles hosting the Atlanta Falcons. Will this be the year that sees Ajayi become an elite NFL feature back? The former Boise State star does have his Super Bowl ring in Philly, but last season was still herky-jerky despite his big finish with the Eagles. Ajayi netted a combined 873 rushing yards and just one touchdown on the ground with Miami and Philadelphia. He wasn’t a workhorse. This season he’s expected to be one.
Update on former Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano, who’s been living in Boise since being dismissed by the Colts at the end of last season. Pagano is going to be a weekly contributor on KTIK’s Idaho SportsTalk this season. He started his segment yesterday and said he hasn’t closed the door on coaching—and it wouldn’t have to be as a head coach. “If it’s the right time, the right fit, the right place, we’ll see,” Pagano said. He’s looking forward to his first football game in the stands in a long, long time, as he’ll be attending the Boise State-UConn game this Saturday night to pull for his nephew, Bronco linebacker Will Heffner. (Pagano is married to the former Tina Heffner, the sister of one-time Boise State wide receiver Terry Heffner).
Troy Merritt’s season is over, and it’s probably a blessing in disguise as he gets his left arm back to 100 percent after last month’s emergency blood clot surgery. The former Boise State star missed the cut last weekend in the Dell Technologies Championship at TPC Boston, but Merritt has the comfort of knowing he has a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour thanks to his win in the Barbasol Championship this summer. He made $1,326,989 this season, the second-best take of his career. Meanwhile, the countdown to the 29th annual Albertsons Boise Open is on—it’s seven days away at Hillcrest Country Club.
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September 6, 1995: Baltimore shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. break Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played, appearing in his 2,131st consecutive contest. There was a 20-minute celebration at Camden Yards when the game became official at the end of the fifth inning. Ripken would extend the streak for three more years before voluntarily taking himself out of the Orioles lineup on September 20, 1998, and ending it at 2,632.
(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.)