Playmaking pays dividends for Broncos in Laramie

The thing that really set Boise State apart from Wyoming in the Broncos’ 34-14 victory Saturday night was the ability to make plays. And that was evident everywhere you looked in the second quarter. The first eye-opener came from A.J. Richardson, who made a leaping 21-yard touchdown catch at the goal line as he was being sandwiched by two Cowboys defenders. Then came the 92-yard drive that included a 46-yard catch down the sideline by Sean Modster and yet another highlight reel all-timer by John Hightower, the 31-yard one-armed grab at the one-yard line as his shoe flew off. The drive ended with Khalil Shakir’s first career touchdown, a wildcat play that saw him hit the corner and go airborne, curling the ball around the pylon for the score. Oh, and Hightower promptly blocked a punt on Wyoming’s next possession.

Somebody had to put up the playable throws for Richardson, Modster, Hightower and company. And for Brett Rypien, it was patience and persistence paying the dividends. Rypien was 11-of-16 for just 58 yards in the first quarter, admitting after the game that he was a little off. But in the second quarter he was 8-of-9 for 159 yards. By the time it was over, Rypien had his fifth straight 300-yard game dating back to the Las Vegas Bowl. And what better place to do it than his 2016 House of Horrors? This senior year start has been uncanny for Rypien. Through the first four games he played last season, he had thrown for one touchdown and three interceptions. This year it’s 12 TDs and zero picks.

It was an impressive Bronco defensive effort against a Wyoming offense that appeared to lack confidence. Take away the 75-yard touchdown run by Nico Evans on the first play of the second half and the 72-yard touchdown catch by John Price in the fourth quarter, and the Cowboys totaled just 148 yards and 3.1 yards per play. Without Evans’ run, the Pokes averaged 0.6 yards per carry. Of course, that was helped by five sacks of Tyler Vander Waal for a whopping 53 yards. And those came from five different Broncos.

It was a good win, but far from a perfect one. The first thing that is evident: the Boise State running game is just not there (understanding that we’re throwing out the UConn game as an aberration). Up until the Broncos’ final possession, they had netted 123 yards on 37 carries, an average of just 3.3 yards per rush. Alexander Mattison was under three yards per tote—20 carries for 57 yards—taking noithing away from his wild 13-yard touchdown run to open the scoring. Boise State’s offensive line, while allowing just two meaningless sacks of Rypien for three yards, is not steamrolling right now. The lack of a ground game bit the Broncos at Oklahoma State, and it will again without some progress.

The polls are inconsequential to the Broncos right now as they try to keep their eye on the ball in the Mountain West. But here you go anyway. Boise State is now first in line to get back in the AP Poll, two points behind the No. 25 team, which happens to be Oklahoma State. The Broncos are up one spot in the Coaches Poll to No. 24–OSU jumps back in at No. 21. San Diego State, on its way to the blue turf this Saturday afternoon after a bye week, is getting votes in both rankings. Hawaii received one vote in the AP Poll and Fresno State one on the Coaches list. The Bulldogs are seriously undervalued right now.

Just a hunch, but the Mountain West race is going to be wild this fall. Hawaii may be embarked on a charmed season, improving to 5-1 overall and 2-0 in conference with a 44-41 five-overtime victory at still-winless San Jose State. The Spartans had the Rainbow Warriors on the ropes in the fourth quarter before a 75-yard UH drive tied it with 4½ minutes left. Nevada won on the road for the first time in the Jay Norvell era with a 28-25 triumph at Air Force. Now the Wolf Pack has to face Fresno State, who walloped Toledo 49-27 Saturday night. The Rockets beat Nevada by 19 points the previous week. New Mexico was not a standard-bearer for the MW, falling behind Liberty 42-10 at halftime—in Albuquerque—before losing 52-43. Lobos fans are riled up.

Portland State was the perfect tonic for Idaho Saturday, as the Vandals earned their first Big Sky victory with a 20-7 win in the Kibbie Dome. The Vikings, who have lost 17 of their last 18 games, tried to make it interesting in the second half as they kept Idaho off the scoreboard after falling into a 20-0 hole at the intermission. Portland State held the Idaho offense to 289 yards, but the Vandal defense was better, limiting the Vikings to 261. Kaden Elliss is spending most of his time at linebacker these days, and he logged 1.5 of Idaho’s three sacks on the day. Not to forget special teams, which scored on a blocked punt by Jalen Hoover that Lloyd Hightower returned 32 yards for a touchdown.

Jay Ajayi played through his back pain yesterday to rush for 70 yards on 15 carries for Philadelphia yesterday. Ajayi also had three receptions for 11 yards. But late defensive letdowns led to a 26-23 Eagles loss at Tennessee. Ajayi’s successor at Boise State, Jeremy McNichols, got his first two NFL carries yesterday for Indianapolis, gaining four yards. The Colts fell in overtime 37-34 to Houston, though. McNichols was activated from the Indy practice squad on Friday. Leighton Vander Esch got a victory in his first NFL start as Dallas downed Detroit 26-24 at Jerry’s World. Vander Esch made six tackles, five of them solo. It was DeMarcus Lawrence who grabbed the headlines, sacking Matthew Stafford three times.

Doesn’t look like hoops weather out there, but preseason practice begins today for Boise State men’s basketball. No more Chandler Hutchison, of course, but I’m anxious to see if Roderick Williams can partially fill those massive shoes. Williams is the junior college transfer from East Los Angeles College. Williams’ size (6-7, 210 pounds) is not far off from Hutchison’s, nor are his numbers. Granted this was in JC last season, but he averaged 19.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Something that could be key to the Broncos’ fortunes this season is the fact that Williams consistently got to the basket and made a living at the free throw line in 2017-18, shooting 76 percent while averaging eight free throw attempts per game.

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October 1, 2005: One of the wildest games in Boise State history, as the Broncos erase a 20-7 halftime deficit with a 92-yard punt return for a touchdown, a 69-yard return of a blocked field goal for a TD, and a rare defensive two-point conversion on a return of a blocked extra point to stun Hawaii, 44-41. Quinton Jones had the school-record punt return, while Daryn Colledge knocked down both kicks and Orlando Scandrick scored on both runbacks. The victory at Aloha Stadium was BSU’s 27th in a row in the WAC.

(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.)