Let’s call Friday night’s Boise State-San Diego State game at Snapdragon Stadium the Mystery Bowl. For one thing, we don’t know enough about the Aztecs to comment on them yet (although nothing through their first four games has been jaw-dropping). But the same can be said for the Broncos. Their defense holds the key. If the SDSU offense can be corralled, as it often is, then good things will happen. We just don’t know where things stand yet. Boise State faced maybe its best opposing quarterback ever three weeks ago. Heck, Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. threw for 473 more yards and four more TDs at Michigan State. Then two weeks ago it was the relentless ground game of UCF. But the Broncos put the clamps on one of the best FCS offenses last week, allowing 183 yards. The truth is somewhere in between.
THE HEART OF THE BRONCOS DEFENSE
The Boise State linebackers will be on alert Friday night, not only because of the San Diego State running game, but also the passing of quarterback Jalen Mayden, who actually threw for 256 yards at Oregon State last week. Here’s hoping one of the ‘backers is preseason All-Mountain West pick D.J. Schramm. With Schramm out last Saturday, the tag team was Marco Notarainni and Andrew Simpson. Notarainni and Simpson were just fine, though. Late in the first quarter, they set the tone for the defense when Notarainni forced a fumble on a sack of North Dakota QB Tommy Schuster, and Simpson scooped it up and returned it 17 yards. Notarainni was a first-time starter, and he led the Broncos with 13 tackles in the 42-18 win.
MCALISTER MAKES HIS MOVE
How about that: Boise State’s leading pass-catcher for the season is now a wide receiver. And it’s not Stephan Cobbs nor Billy Bowens. Yes, it’s Eric McAlister, who pulled in six receptions for 143 yards and two touchdowns against North Dakota. (Running back Ashton Jeanty had been the leading receiver through the first two games.) McAlister now has 15 catches for 238 and the two TDs. He’s easily on pace to top Latrell Caples’ team-leading 51 grabs last year. And he’s become the Broncos’ go-to guy in place of the injured Caples.
It’ll be interesting to see where the wide receivers room goes from here. Cobbs has been fine since the drops at Washington, but Bowens is having a tough season. On the flip side, Chase Penry is looking like a really dependable option—hopefully he’s not too dinged up after the hit he took after he fielded a second quarter punt Saturday. And there is probably nobody who watched the game who didn’t notice true freshman Prince Strachan’s first career catch. Strachan came in briefly in the second quarter and promptly caught a 26-yarder from Taylen Green.
JEANTY OWNS IT
How can you not like Ashton Jeanty’s resolve after losing two fumbles last Saturday against North Dakota? Jeanty has put it on his shoulders and should be steely-focused at San Diego State Friday night. The good news was his three touchdowns to key the Broncos victory. And the better news coming out of the Mountain West: Jeanty is the only player in conference history to have 200-plus rushing yards and 200-plus receiving yards through his team’s first three games of a season. Jeanty is also only the seventh FBS player to do that over the last 25 seasons. He’s rushed for 210 yards and four touchdowns and has 236 receiving yards and one TD on 14 catches.
There’s a chance George Holani will miss a third straight game this week due to a lower leg injury, so the one-two punch against the Aztecs will have to be Jeanty and Breezy Dubar. In his first two games, Dubar has 91 yards on 15 carries. If he catches on like it looks he will, I can here “Breeeeeeeeeeeezy” choruses coming out of the stands, much like “Shooooooooe” for Derek Schouman and Tyler Shoemaker in the olden days.
MOUNTAIN WEST ON THE RISE?
With Boise State opening Mountain West play Friday night, let’s take a look at this confounding conference. Still trying to figure it out, but it looks better than we thought. Chris Vannini’s ranking of all 133 FBS teams is out in The Athletic—and the Broncos are only the fifth-highest in the MW at No. 69. At the top is Fresno State at No. 40. The Bulldogs shut out Arizona State 29-0 Saturday but were taken to double-overtime by Eastern Washington the week before. Wyoming, which was tied 10-10 with Texas going into the fourth quarter, is No. 49. Air Force, which dismantled Utah State, is No. 55, and the Aztecs are No. 65, four spots ahead of the Broncos. Here’s what’s nuts: Colorado State, which made a quarterback change and should have beaten Coach Prime and Colorado, is only No. 117? C’mon.
SHOULD BE NOISY UP NORTH
When was the last time Idaho had a home opener with this much juice? Saturday, the Vandals make their Kibbie Dome season debut against defending Big Sky champion Sacramento State. What have the Hornets done lately? Last Saturday they went down to Stanford and upset the Cardinal (and their former coach, Troy Taylor) 30-23. Idaho was on the other side of the bay, taking a 17-0 lead on Cal before falling 31-17. The Vandals defense needs to figure out Sac State’s Kaiden Bennett, the one-time Boise State quarterback who led the takedown of Stanford. Bennett, who left the Broncos after one spring to help his dad battle prostate cancer, passed for 279 yards and rushed for 100 at Stanford—and threw the 49-yard touchdown pass with 1:32 left that won it.
YOTES ON THE ROAD VS. RANKED FOE
College of Idaho’s first road game is on September 23? That’s the way the schedule shook out, as the Coyotes head to Butte Saturday to face Montana Tech after three home wins and a bye week. This will be a test for the Yotes, who moved up to No. 7 this week in the NAIA Coaches Poll. The Bulldogs are ranked 15th—they’re 2-1, with the loss coming by two points to Carroll College in their opener. C of I quarterback Andy Peters, the Timberline High grad, has hit his stride this year. After averaging 182 yards per game through the air last season, he’s up to 254 per game this year, including a career-high 335 yards against Montana Western a week and a half ago. Peters also has six touchdown passes against only one interception.
NFL DOWNS AND UPS
The most important NFL story surrounding former Boise State stars is the one involving racist taunts toward Alexander Mattison in Minnesota. All that because he lost a fumble. Mattison is an unquestionably high-character guy, and everybody knows it. This is 2023. At least I think it is. Props to everybody who’s circled the wagons to support him. Elsewhere, it was a big Sunday for Khalil Shakir and John Bates. Shakir made his first catch of the season for Buffalo—and it went for an 11-yard touchdown from Josh Allen in the Bills’ 38-10 win over the Raiders. Bates had three receptions for a career-high 46 yards in the Commanders’ 35-33 win at Denver.
A BREATH OF FRESH AIR FOR MERRITT
Troy Merritt’s season on the PGA Tour has been one collective case of the yips, especially on greens. But the Fall Series is giving the former Boise State star a second chance at securing a fully exempt tour card for the 2024 season. Merritt took advantage last weekend, recovering from a first-round 74 and finishing with a 65 to tie for seventh at the Fortinet Championship in Napa, CA. His Sunday score was the best of the day at Silverado and vaulted him from No. 133 to No. 118 in FedExCup standings. Six events remain before the standings are solidified. The top 125 will be finalized after The RSM Classic the week before Thanksgiving in Georgia.
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September 20, 2013, 10 years ago today: Fresno State finally snaps Boise State’s seven-game winning streak in the battle for the Milk Can with a thrilling 41-40 victory at sold-out Bulldog Stadium. The Broncos fell behind 34-19 in the third quarter before scoring 21 straight points to take the lead midway through the fourth. But quarterback Derek Carr, who riddled Boise State with 460 passing yards and four touchdowns, marched Fresno State 87 yards for the winning score. For Carr, it was an emotional atonement for the Broncos’ legendary 35-30 upset of the eighth-ranked Bulldogs in 2001, when his older brother, David, was quarterback.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)