Now, if Virginia can prove it’s for real

For Boise State’s sake, I hope Virginia goes out now and validates its 42-23 thumping of the Broncos on the blue turf Friday night—a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. The 33,947 fans at Albertsons Stadium saw things they are unaccustomed to seeing. The Cavaliers had better talent, better schemes, and better togetherness than the Broncos. From the moment the Cavaliers took the field, there was tremendous energy on their bench. Obviously, that only grew. The Cavs played really, really hard. The ACC schedule is set up for Virginia to get on a roll. If the Cavaliers lay an egg in conference play again this year, it’ll only make things seem worse in Broncoland. But Bronco Mendenhall is proving that he knows how to rebuild a program, much like he did at BYU.

It’s hard to fault quarterback Brett Rypien for what happened to Boise State Friday night. With absolutely no running game, he was hung out to dry as he threw for 285 yards with an interception. Sure, a number of his throws were behind receivers, including several of Cedrick Wilson’s 13 catches, but Rypien was also plagued with all those drops. Incredibly, Wilson is the Broncos’ only offensive weapon (outside of the funkiness of Jake Roh). It was a shame to waste Wilson’s 209 yards, but what else did the Broncos have? The mystery is Robert Mahone, who came in during the second quarter when the score was 7-7, rushed three straight times for 21 yards, and disappeared. Not that the outcome would have ultimately changed, but Boise State was not yet to the point that it had to abandon the run.

Another mystery is the sudden toe-stubbing by the Boise State defense after it had started the season so well. If you dissect Virginia’s 440 yards of total offense, much of it is not that bad. But big plays and quick-strike drives killed the Broncos. Cavaliers quarterback Kurt Benkert hit on passes of 64, 31,30 and 27 yards, and there were runs of 56 and 25 yards. “Once the ball can be thrown downfield and the football run effectively, it’s amazing what can happen,” said Mendenhall. “That’s what has happened the last few weeks. It’s hard to cover our window throws. If we can run it and throw it down field, the points start going up.”

What happened to the dominant special teams Boise State unveiled in the season-opening victory over Troy? They were a liability against Virginia, and the fallout was field position. Five times on returns—three on kickoffs and two on punts—the Broncos were penalized for holding or an illegal block in the back that left the offense starting drives deep in its own territory. Then there was the botched fake punt in the second quarter. Alec Dhaenens couldn’t handle a direct snap, and the Cavaliers were handed the ball at the Boise State 35-yard line. Two plays later, Virginia was in the end zone, up 21-7. It was then that the game started to feel like it was getting away.

San Diego State keeps rolling, but the weather in Colorado Springs and the Air Force Falcons made the Aztecs work for it Saturday night. SDSU edged Air Force 28-24 in a game played in wind and drenching rain and delayed almost an hour and a half by lightning (fans did not return after that). It took superstar Rashaad Penny’s third touchdown of the evening, a 53-yard scamper with 5½ minutes left in the game, to keep San Diego State undefeated. The Aztecs are up to No. 19 in the AP Poll and No. 22 in the Coaches Poll after winning the game immediately following their entrance into the polls for the first time in 40 years. It happened twice last year—with losses in Week 4 and in Week 11 just after winning their way into the rankings.

Talk about facing adversity. Idaho was in unfamiliar surroundings in Mobile, AL, and in an unfamiliar climate—hot and muggy with thunderstorms. But the Vandals persevered with a 29-23 double-overtime win at South Alabama. The game was interrupted by two lightning delays, one that lasted almost 2½ hours midway through the fourth quarter, and another of more than a half hour smack in the middle of the second OT. Idaho provided drama after both, tying the game with 13 seconds left on a 10-yard pass from Matt Linehan to Alfonso Onunwor. Then Isaiah Saunders scored the winning touchdown from two yards out after the delay in overtime. The game-tying touchdown with 13 seconds left marks the latest fourth-quarter deficit Idaho has overcome since the 2009 Humanitarian Bowl.

Last year College of Idaho turned the ball over six times against Rocky Mountain College at Simplot Stadium and lost 20-7. It was a very unfortunate déjà vu for the Coyotes Saturday in Billings, as they suffered six more takeaways and lost again to the Bears, this time 31-7. Yotes quarterback Darius-James Peterson made some things happen but threw three interceptions on the day. C of I is now 1-4. In Greeley, CO, Idaho State amassed 619 yards of total offense but watched a 43-yard field goal go through the uprights as time expired, giving Northern Colorado a gut-punching 43-42 win. The Bengals’ James Madison rushed for 253 yards, the fourth-most in ISU history.

Jay Ajayi got some comeuppance yesterday—from the New York Jets, no less. The Miami running back and former Boise State star was bottled up in the Dolphins’ 20-6 loss in East Rutherford. The Jets ganged up on Ajayi in order to take their chances against Miami interim quarterback Jay Cutler, and it worked. After rushing for 122 yards against the L.A. Chargers last week, Ajayi was held to just 16 yards on 11 carries. “You watched the game,” coach Adam Gase said to reporters afterward. “He couldn’t get through anything. Guys were in the backfield so fast.” Ajayi also had two receptions for nine yards.

What a rally by Troy Merritt. And what a relief. After being perched precariously on the cut bubble last Thursday after a 73 at the DAP Championship, the Boise State grad fired a five-under 65 on Friday to zoom up the leaderboard. Merritt finished yesterday in a tie for 6th, earning $31,300 and securing his PGA Tour card for the 2017-18 season. The momentum he built at the Albertsons Boise Open stayed with him, and he has another year in the Show. The winner at Hillcrest Country Club a week ago, Chesson Hadley, made it into a three-way playoff yesterday before falling to Nicholas Lindheim. That was enough to lock up full exempt status on the PGA Tour next season and a berth in The Players Championship.

This Day In Sports…September 25, 2010:

In terms of before sunrise to after sunset, the biggest day in Boise State football history. ESPN College GameDay originated from the blue turf for the first time, drawing 13,250 fans at dawn. Then a record crowd of 34,137 turned out for the main event, a clash between the third-ranked Broncos and 24th-ranked Oregon State. It was Boise State’s first regular season game ever broadcast on network television, and the Broncos gave the ABC audience a 37-24 win over the Beavers. Only special teams gaffes and penalties kept the margin of victory from being larger—BSU outgained OSU 469 yards to 237. The offense was led by 288 yards passing from Kellen Moore and 138 rushing from Doug Martin.

(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.)