Scott Slant Wednesday Weekly: Staying fresh on the defensive front

In the heyday of the Boise State defense a decade ago, the Broncos essentially utilized two waves on defensive line, sometimes substituting all four positions at the same time. The Air Force game Saturday could sure use something like that. Keeping the D-line fresh is crucial, not only because the constant chunk yardage the Falcons’ triple-option rolls off can take its toll, but because this game will be played at 6,621 feet. You hear a lot about Laramie’s altitude—well, this is the second-highest FBS stadium in America. So is Boise State deep enough for two waves? The first wave, George Tarlas, Scott Matlock, Demitri Washington and Herbert Gums is certainly capable. In this one, the Broncos will need quality time from some combination of Isaiah Bagnah, Jackson Cravens, Divine Obichere and Ahmed Hassanein.


We’ve kind of forgotten about Falcons running back Brad Roberts as a Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year candidate. He is MW Offensive Player of the Week after he made life miserable for UNLV last Saturday in a 42-7 victory at Allegiant Stadium. Roberts rushed 29 times for 144 yards and four touchdowns. So certainly he busted off a couple long runs, right? You know what his longest gain of the night was? Nine yards. Roberts did it several times, but c’mon now. That means gains of four, five, six yards…over and over and over again. Boise State is going to need some mental fortitude to withstand that kind of monotony in Colorado Springs. Roberts has not been tackled for a loss all season.


Boise State’s status as the national leader in pass defense may not change against Air Force. The Broncos are allowing just 134.3 yards per game, nine yards better than Illinois. And the Falcons completed just one pass in their 42-7 rout of UNLV last week. The cautionary tale: the Broncos have been on the short end of an Air Force air ambush in the past, getting sucked in to stop the run only to see the Falcons go over the top on them. Here’s the number that’s about to change: Boise State is 19th in the country against the run, allowing 101.3 yards per game going into a game against the No. 1 rushing offense in the nation. Other numbers on that side of the ball: total defense is second at 235.7; third-down conversion down to ninth at 28 percent after Fresno State converted 8-of-15.


Boise State interim offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said Monday that quarterback Taylen Green is “probably real tired” of hearing him talk. But you’d better believe Green is listening. “Taylen is not anything close to the quarterback he’s going to be. The only way you get better at that is to experience through live reps,” said Koetter. “Progress is being made. There’s going to come a time when we’re going to need our passing game.” Could be Saturday at Air Force. The 10 days since the Fresno State win have been all about Koetter and Green spending time together. Green hasn’t thrown that much so far, so the measure of his effectiveness as a passer has to be found in his pass efficiency rating. It’s 111.3, which is considerably below average. Time for that next step.


There were some good nuggets from Monday’s Boise State press conferences. Coach Andy Avalos hopes to have the open offensive coordinator’s job filled by early signing day in December. That has spurred speculation that wide receivers coach Matt Miller is the front-runner, although it wouldn’t be impossible to go outside the program as soon as the regular season is over and getting the interviewing and vetting processes handled. That’s why God made airports. Meanwhile, if you needed any more proof that Koetter is interim, the former Broncos and NFL head coach said while the rest of the staff was out recruiting during the bye weekend, he was on the golf course in McCall. It’s all offense all the time—nothing else—for Mr. Koetter.


I did this on Sunday Sports Extra the other night—looking at Boise State’s season at the halfway mark. But instead of using the natural differentiator, the struggles of the first four games versus the successes of the past two, I divided it at halftime of the San Diego State game, so you have the first nine halfs of the season against the last three halfs. Scoring average: 9.8 points per half leading up to the intermission of the Aztecs game, 25 per half since. Total offense average has gone from 142 yards per half to 248, rushing from 58 yards per half to 196, and yards per carry from 3.6 to 7.1. Those are stark numbers, a testament to when the offensive light went on when the Broncos trailed 13-0 at the break 2½ weeks ago.


It’s hard to quantify what Idaho’s win at Montana last Saturday means. The Vandals, who have recorded only two winning seasons this century, seem a lock for one this year after taking down an undefeated perennial power that was ranked No. 2 in the FCS—and in front of 26,314 fans, no less. Quarterback Gevani McCoy has been a real find. After going 21-of-27 for 286 yards and two touchdowns in Missoula, here’s McCoy’s stat line in three Big Sky games: 61-74 (82.4 percent) for 768 yards and seven touchdowns against just one interception. Idaho is a heavy favorite in the Kibbie Dome Saturday versus Portland State, and the stands should be relatively full.


College of Idaho is coming off its own bye week as it gears up for the stretch run in the Frontier Conference. The Coyotes, at 6-0, are one of only four undefeated NAIA teams left this year. The second half of the season kicks off Saturday with a long road trip, as Montana-Western awaits in Dillon, MT. The Bulldogs are 3-4, but one thing they do well is stop the run, as they allow only 93.4 yards rushing per game. That’ll be the challenge for Allamar Alexander, Hunter Gilbert and company (the Yotes average 217.0 per game on the ground).


Funny that Boise State men’s basketball is sharing the spotlight with football in mid-October, especially with the showdown against Air Force coming up. But interest in hoops is high these days. On Monday the preseason AP Poll was revealed, and the Broncos received nary a vote after finishing the regular season in the Top 25 last March. San Diego State is No. 19, and Wyoming got 25 points in the “others receiving votes” category. But the Aztecs have four starters back from last season’s 23-9 team. And Wyoming returns most of its core. Voters obviously want to see Boise State to prove itself without Abu Kigab, Mladen Armus and Emmanuel Akot. The Broncos get a dress rehearsal Saturday—more valuable than any exhibition game—as they’ll face Oregon in a closed practice game at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene.


We’ve spent plenty of time over the years in this space talking about college football preseason magazines. College basketball mags? Not so much. But Boise State is very relevant in hoops now. And lo and behold, the Broncos’ Tyson Degenhart is on the cover of the West Coast edition of Lindy’s. Degenhart shares it with Gonzaga’s Drew Timme, Oregon’s Will Richardson and Washington’s Jamal Bey. And to think Degenhart was just a hot but unproven recruit out of Spokane a year ago. Now you can safely call the reigning Mountain West Freshman of the Year a super sophomore.


Monday was officially the 25th anniversary of the first game in Idaho Steelheads history, but they’ll celebrate the milestone all through the season. The 2022-23 campaign opens Friday night on the road with the first of a two-game series against the Iowa Heartlanders. The Steelheads swept the Utah Grizzlies in their annual exhibition series last weekend. A player to watch for the Steelies is center Jordan Timmons, who saw action in six games for Idaho last season. Timmons, who turns 24 next Tuesday, scored two goals last Saturday in the Steelheads’ 5-2 win over Utah in West Valley City. The home season at Idaho Central Arena begins a week from Friday versus the Grizzlies.


Troy Merritt is back from the ZOZO Championship in Japan, where he did make the cut but finished 71st after a three-over 75 in the final round. Now it’s all the way back across the Pacific—and across the country for the CJ Cup in South Carolina, teeing off Thursday morning. The former Boise State star has played three PGA Tour events in the new season, making two cuts and earning $36,980.

This Day In Sports…brought to you by BACON BOISE…fresh breakfast and brunch every day!

October 19, 1996: One of the highlights of Capital High grad Jake Plummer’s outstanding senior season at Arizona State, as the fifth-ranked Sun Devils notch a thrilling 48-35 double-overtime win over USC in Tempe. The Trojans led much of the day before ASU scored the game’s final 20 points in the OTs. A touchdown pass from Plummer to Keith Poole sent the game to a second OT—then, after the Sun Devils opened the second overtime with a second TD, Courtney Jackson returned a USC fumble 85 yards to end the game when the Trojans took their turn. Arizona State was the first team in college football history to win an overtime game by 13 points.

(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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