Setting the table for this week’s Boise State showdown with Washington State got more interesting Saturday evening. What to make of the Cougars’ 45-42 loss to Eastern Washington? This is not the way Wazzu envisioned starting a season of high expectations following a 9-4 campaign in 2015. There’s some soul-searching in Pullman on the defensive side of the ball. It is, of course, the second straight season the Cougs have opened with a loss to a Big Sky school. Last season it was Portland State, and they recovered nicely. EWU is really good. Zak Hill, the Broncos’ co-offensive coordinator who was O.C. with the Eagles last season, will tell you that. So will BSU wide receivers coach Junior Adams, another former Eastern staffer. Now they get their shot at the Cougars.
The untested Boise State defense passed its first exam—the next one is much tougher. The Broncos made it through week No. 1 with surprising ease in their 45-10 victory at Louisiana-Lafayette, the biggest margin of victory in Boise State history in a season opener on the road. The Broncos collected five sacks among their 12 tackles-for-loss and held the Ragin’ Cajuns to 267 yards. The Boise State defensive line, the trendy question mark ever since the end of the Poinsettia Bowl last December, did not perform like a rookie group. But expect that yardage and points total to rise dramatically this week, if only by Wazzu osmosis. Regardless of what happened to the Washington State defense Saturday, Luke Falk still went 41-of-51 for 418 yards and four touchdowns, while Gabe Marks made 10 grabs for 108 yards and two TDs.
There were some good lines yesterday as reported by my media colleagues. Natural question for Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien: why did he choose Boise State over Washington State when his uncle, one-time Super Bowl champion Mark Rypien, was a star in Pullman? “It definitely helped me step out of his shadow—and into Kellen Moore’s shadow,” quipped Rypien. “No, I’m just kiddin’.” On the Palouse, Washington State coach Mike Leach was asked about the loiud and frenzied atmosphere he’s going to face in Albertsons Stadium this week. “I don’t think I’m going to get shot or anything,” deadpanned Leach.
Back to that defense, perhaps just as impressive in Louisiana was the young Boise State unit’s ability to overcome injuries. There were stomachs-in-throats when linebacker Joey Martarano went down midway through the first quarter with a leg or knee injury. But Darren Lee (who I called a “starter-in-waiting” last week) carried the flag, as they say. Martarano’s long-term status is undetermined. Then there were two defensive linemen helped off the field, Gabe Perez and Elliot Hoyte. Perez looked like he tweaked his troublesome shoulder, but Jabril Frazier and Sam Whitney held down the fort at the STUD position. Hoyte reportedly just suffered cramping in the Bayou heat. The Broncos were covered at tackle by committee.
We’ve been hearing about Cedrick Wilson since last winter, and what a great get he was for Boise State out of Coffeyville Community College in Kansas. Wilson looked good in April’s Blue & Orange Game—he looked great in Saturday’s opener. His first collegiate catch went for 28 yards three plays into the game (it was also Brett Rypien’s first completion of his sophomore season). On possession No. 2, Wilson hauled in a 42-yard touchdown pass, and he ended the quarter with six receptions for 103 yards. Yes, the “big three” at wideout is established, even if it was just a big two on Saturday—Thomas Sperbeck had six receptions for 130 yards, while Chaz Anderson had just one grab for nine yards.
Coach Bryan Harsin predicted that this year’s crop of true freshmen would make an impact this season. He wasn’t sure when that was going to be going into the game, but a bunch of them contributed. Raise your hand if you thought of a certain other No. 22 at Boise State when you saw Alexander Mattison make his debut in the third quarter. Mattison became the first Bronco true freshman running back to score in a season opener since D.J. Harper in 2007 when he crossed the goal line from two yards out in the fourth quarter. Mattison ended up being the Broncos’ leading rusher, with 61 yards on 11 carries (they didn’t need their running game much on this day).
How do you think Harsin’s return to play-calling worked out? Boise State certainly benefitted by it, especially at the end of the first half. Louisiana-Lafayette had started blitzing Brett Rypien and was having a little success—not through sacks, but in hurrying a couple of Rypien’s throws. Harsin called a screen to Thomas Sperbeck out in the flat. The Ragin’ Cajun rush headed for Rypien unimpeded, and he flipped an easy pass to Sperbeck, who waltzed in for a 35-yard touchdown. That came with 1:29 left in the first half and made the score 35-0. It was essentially game-set-match.
It seems a little harsh that Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth would fire defensive coordinator Melvin Smith after just one game. But the Ragin’ Cajuns were seriously out-coached Saturday. From Sperbeck and Wilson running free in the first quarter to the aforementioned easy touchdown on the screen pass to the trick play throwback that totally sucked in ULL’s defense, Hudspeth must have figured Smith has had his chance. The Cajuns yielded 584 yards of total offense to Boise State, including 426 through the air, and did not force a turnover Saturday. Louisiana- Lafayette collected just 11 turnovers all of last season, Smith’s first, and allowed 420.8 yards per game.
College of Idaho’s Opening Day magic didn’t extend into the third year of its football program’s revival, as the Coyotes fell 26-13 to Montana Western Saturday before 5,015 fans at Simplot Stadium. The Yotes held the Bulldogs to 234 yards, the fewest allowed since the C of I’s revival in 2014. But a short punt, a fumble, a muffed punt, a punt coverage breakdown and an interception allowed Montana Western to start five possessions inside Yotes territory, resulting in most of the Bulldogs’ points. Boise High grad Tyler Cox started quickly in his first start at quarterback for the Coyotes, throwing a touchdown pass to Mike Kirby on the first possession. But Cox ended 23-of-34 for 186 yards and tossed three interceptions. College of Idaho had won its previous two season openers.
The starting running back’s job in Miami was there for the taking in the preseason, but former Boise State star Jay Ajayi was unable to take it. Arian Foster, the former Houston Texan who was signed late by the Dolphins, did. It’ll be Foster getting the start when Miami opens the season this Sunday in Seattle. Coach Adam Gase cited Foster’s experience, consistency, and knowledge of the offense. That last item has to sting for Ajayi, who had the entire offseason to absorb Gase’s new playbook. On the other hand, Foster is coming off the Achilles injury that wiped out most of his 2015 season. How long can he go?
Donte Deayon would have been a Cinderella story had he made the roster of the New York Giants. Deayon, however, was among the final NFL cuts, along with fellow former Boise State standouts Jeron Johnson in Kansas City, Tyler Gray in Miami, Blake Renaud in Minnesota and Marcus Henry in New Orleans. Deayon got a good shot in the preseason, including quality time against New England’s Tom Brady last Thursday night. Deayon logged 11 tackles in Giants exhibition games. He and buddy Darian Thompson, the Giants’ second-round draft pick, aren’t separated yet, though, as Deayon was signed to the NYG practice squad. For Johnson, it could be the end of the line. He’s been in the league for five years and wasn’t retained by Washington after last season. Johnson was signed by the Chiefs this summer.
The Boise Hawks season ended last night the way it started, with a loss on the road. This was a decisive one, as Salem-Keizer romped to a 12-2 win. The Volcanoes piled up 11 runs over the second, third and fourth innings. The big draw in Keizer, OR, over the weekend was newly-arrived Jacob Heyward, the brother of the Cubs’ Jason Heyward. The younger Heyward provided the exclamation point in the finale, going 3-for-3 with four runs batted in. Anthony Brito and Wilkyns Jiminez each finished his season with a 2-for-4 night for Boise. The Hawks end the 2016 campaign at 33-43.
This Day In Sports…September 6, 2010:
Another landmark day in Boise State football, as the third-ranked Broncos open the season against 10th-ranked Virginia Tech in a made-for-ESPN game at FedEx Field in Landover, MD. BSU jumped out to a 17-0 first quarter lead, helped by a fumble recovery and a blocked punt—and two Kellen Moore touchdown passes. But the Hokies clawed back behind quarterback Tyrod Taylor, taking a 27-26 lead into the fourth quarter. Virginia Tech went up by four on a field goal, but it gave the ball back to the Broncos with 1:47 left. Moore then found Austin Pettis for a 13-yard TD with 1:09 left, giving the Broncos a wild 33-30 win in front of 86,587 exhausted fans.
(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.)