Scott Slant Wednesday Weekly: Broncos offense poised to reload in Reno?

One man’s opinion: Boise State’s offense is ready to get untracked again at Nevada Saturday night. The Broncos gained only 79 yards in the first half against BYU, thanks to three-and-outs and the fact they hardly had the ball. But Boise State really got in a rhythm in the second half, rolling up 245 yards and 21 points. The running game wasn’t what it had been, although George Holani did rush for 50 yards and two TDs after halftime. But Taylen Green was right there, passing for 220 yards, completing 74 percent of his throws and averaging 9.6 yards per attempt. Green only had four pure rushes, but his running game will happen when it needs to. The Wolf Pack, by the way, is ninth in the Mountain West in rushing defense and have allowed 4.2 yards per carry.


The Mountain West has three of the tallest quarterbacks in the country, and they all could be on display Saturday night in Mackay Stadium. Green is 6-6, of course, and looks every bit of that standing in the huddle. Nevada, coming off a bye week, hasn’t named its starting QB for the game, but either way, the guy will be up there. Nate Cox is 6-9. That’s right, 6-9. Cox has played more than 6-6 Shane Illingsworth, but neither has been particularly effective. For example, they’ve thrown only two touchdown passes apiece, and both sport sub-110 ratings in pass efficiency (that’s not good). Cox is completing 53 percent of his throws compared to 62 percent for Illingsworth, who was backing up Oklahoma State quarterback Sean Sanders a year ago.


It’s another rivalry game Saturday for Boise State, the longest existing one on the schedule, dating back more than 50 years. This one has lost some luster, though, now that the Broncos and Nevada don’t play each other every year. The Mountain West’s divisional rotation kind of popped that balloon. The Wolf Pack sure considers this a rivalry, and they sure rose to the occasion last year with a 41-31 win on the blue turf in front of a sellout crowd. But this is a different Pack, led by a new coach, Ken Wilson, and gutted by the transfer portal. Nevada is 2-7 and has lost seven games in a row. With a losing campaign now in the books, the Wolf Pack is looking at the Boise State game as a season-saver.


Boise State needs to set the tone at Nevada—something BYU did to the Broncos last Saturday. On the first possession of the game, the Cougars marched 75 yards, piling up seven first downs and facing only one third down while taking a 7-0 lead. It was a classic punch in the month to a Broncos team that came in ranked second in the nation in total defense. And it got worse. The fear was that Boise State had simply not faced a good offense since Opening Night at Oregon State, and it’s hard to dispute that now. It was obvious that the Cougars’ Jaren Hall was going to be the best quarterback the Broncos had seen, and he proved that through to the nth degree. What wasn’t expected was a Khalil Shakir-type performance from BYU wide receiver Puka Nacua.


There were so many pivotal moments in the second half for the Boise State defense against BYU. I zero in on this one. With about 8½ minutes left in the game, the Cougars had a third-and-seven at its own 39-yard line with the Broncos leading 21-17. The Boise State offense was in a groove at that point, and a stop would be huge. Instead, Hall completed a 13-yard throw to Brayden Cosper for a first down. It was on the next play that the Cougars quarterback dialed up a screen to Hinckley Ropati. The Broncos’ two best defensive players, JL Skinner and Scott Matlock, both missed tackles, and it turned into a 48-yard touchdown. It was that kind of night. For a defense that had led the nation by allowing less than 134 passing yards a game to give up 377 was sobering.


Boise State has its 13th and 14th commitments of the 2023 recruiting class with the addition of Demanuel Brown, an edge specialist from Houston, and Khai Taylor, a defensive back from Pittsburg, CA, who flipped on a commitment to Nevada. I know what you’re thinking. Are Brown and Taylor eligible right now? With George Tarlas already out for the year, and Isaiah Bagnah in the transfer portal, and Demitri Washington injured on the very first play of the BYU game, the pass rush didn’t have a chance against BYU last week. And the Broncos secondary paid the price, getting torched by Hall.


This isn’t your mama’s home opener at ExtraMile Arena. No paddy-cake for Boise State. South Dakota State went 30-5 last season. Not in Division II. In Division I. The Jackrabbits made it to the NCAA Tournament before their run was stopped in the first round 66-57 by Providence. They’ve been doing it for a while. It bears mentioning that SDSU lost its opener on the road Monday night in an overtime 81-80 thriller at Akron. As for the Broncos, it’s going to be fascinating to see how the new starting lineup performs. Tyson Degenhart is the assumed leader of the group, with an assist from Marcus Shaver Jr. Those are the returning starters. The rest: Texas Tech transfer Chibuzo Agbo, veteran Max Rice, and Lukas Milner, trying to emerge from the rather long shadow of Mladen Armus.


It might not be a perfect storm, but it’s a good storm. When Boise State tips off against South Dakota State, Leon Rice will become the first “coaching teenager” in the history of Broncos men’s basketball. Rice will be entering his 13th season as head coach, eclipsing the record of Bobby Dye (newly-inducted into the Boise State Athletic Hall of Fame). In late July, Rice signed a new five-year, $5 million contract, he’s coming off a school-record 27 wins and a first Mountain West Tournament championship, athletic director Jeramiah Dickey has committed to add resources to the hoops program, and season tickets have sold at a pace not seen since Dye’s glory days. It’s hard to get hoops attention in early November, but tonight’s opener is a marquee event on the ol’ sports calendar.


The FBS has 12 regular-season games; the FCS has 11. We’ve had to get used to that with Idaho back in the Big Sky—the Vandals have just two games left. The first is, as they say, crucial. Saturday is Senior Day, with Idaho hosting UC Davis and coach Dan Hawkins in the Kibbie Dome. The Vandals are 6-3. At 8-3, they’ll be all but a lock for the FCS Playoffs, and with a win over the Aggies, that would be assured, as Idaho finishes the season at Idaho State. At 7-4, a playoff berth would be dicey (although the Vandals’ strength-of-schedule works in their favor). Both Idaho and UC Davis are coming off routs, but Idaho’s (48-16 over Eastern Washington) is more impressive than UCD’s (43-3 over ISU).


College of Idaho is in good position for the NAIA Playoffs, but the Coyotes would like to get there without discussion. The first-place Yotes host second-place Carroll College in their season finale Saturday at Simplot Stadium, and with a win they’d be outright Frontier Conference champions and would earn the league’s automatic berth to the postseason. A Saints victory would mean the two teams share the conference title, and a set of tiebreakers would decide the automatic berth. C of I beat the Saints 31-20 in Helena on October 1. The Yotes’ Senior Day ceremony will last a while—29 players will be honored.


San Diego State appears to be headed to the Pac-12. The question is when. Radio host Dan Patrick said Monday the Aztecs could be invited as early as this week. Not so fast my friend, said The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach, who tweeted, “A source close to the situation tells The Athletic that the report is inaccurate. It’s been my understanding that the Pac-12 will do its media deal first before any conference expansion.” Bottom line, though: where there’s smoke, there’s fire. With USC and UCLA moving to the Big Ten, geography is SDSU’s friend. The Aztecs hardly own the San Diego market right now, but a Pac-12 invite would change that.


The Idaho Steelheads’ outstanding 6-1 start this season can be traced to their goaltenders—Jake Kupsky in particular. Kupsky has started four of the wins, and the last three against Rapid City have earned him ECHL Goaltender of the Week honors for the second time in his career. Kupsky went 3-0 with one shutout, a 1.00 goals-against average and a save percentage of .963 in three appearances against last week. He leads the ECHL with two shutouts, while ranking second in goals-against average and save percentage. The six-game home-and-home series between the Steelheads and the Rush moves to South Dakota tonight.

This Day In Sports…brought to you by VETERANS PLUMBING…eliminate your drips and drops!

November 9, 2002, 20 years ago today: Boise State avenges the pounding it absorbed at Rice the year before by pummeling the Owls 49-7 in Bronco Stadium. It was BSU’s eighth consecutive rout, and the next day the Broncos would make history with their first-ever Top 25 ranking. BSU was voted no. 23 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, and just missed the AP Top 25 by 15 votes. The Broncos would enter the AP poll the following week. Boise State rode the nation’s leading offense and leading scorer, Brock Forsey, to a Top 15 finish in both polls at the end of the season.

(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.)

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