Scott Slant Wednesday Weekly: Two teams turned inside out

BYU and Boise State were two ships passing in the night at the end of September, but little did either know it. On Thursday the 29th, the Cougars beat Utah State 38-26 to move to 4-1 on the season with a No. 16 ranking.The next day, the Broncos went into the unknown with a new interim offensive coordinator and a new starting quarterback after one of the most devastating losses in school history. Boise State rocked San Diego State 35-13 to launch a four-game winning streak. Meanwhile, BYU has lost four straight since then. Now it’s the Cougars who are in dire straits, looking to turn it around. Can they do it? Kalani Sitake is a high-character coach, and he seems to be beloved by his players. They can respond. There’s also the matter of the shocking 26-17 defeat laid on the Cougars by the Broncos last year.


What’s the difference in Boise State between this year and last year going into this game? Well, the starting quarterback, of course. And the running game that has come to life with Dirk Koetter as offensive coordinator. About that running game: you may remember that the Broncos gutted out the 2021 upset with Cyrus Habibi-Likio and Andrew Van Buren at running back. George Holani didn’t play in that game. Holani is as good as he’s ever been right now. The guy who had only nine yards rushing in the season opener at Oregon State suddenly has a 1,000-yard season well within sight. Holani has 657 yards on the season, and with five games left (including a bowl game), he needs to average just 69 yards a game the rest of the way to get there. Holani has topped 100 in four of his past five games.


Green’s massive improvement in the passing game for Boise State is unmistakable, but something coach Andy Avalos said after the rout of Colorado State really struck me. “We saw him hit some throws off the last step in his drop, keep things on time and put the ball where it needed to be,” said Avalos. Think about that. Green hit some throws off the last step in his drop. That’s why wide receivers looked like they were running free much of the night. Green threw the ball when his receivers were coming out of their breaks, and threw before defenders could close. Instinct and anticipation. When was the last time we saw that in a Broncos quarterback? Brett Rypien had some of that. Grant Hedrick, too. Then there was the ultimate—the famous guy. But if this is the real Taylen Green moving forward, look out.


The other side of the coin in Green’s progression is the improvement at wide receiver. Boise State would have had its first 100-yard receiver of the season against Colorado State had Green not been spreading the ball around so proficiently. Four different players logged four catches, led by Stefan Cobbs covering 91 yards and Billy Bowens 73 with a touchdown. Eric McAlister had two receptions for 48 yards and Davis Koetter two for 28. There is no Khalil Shakir this year, and that has hurt. But this group has come a long way lately—and it’s clear that you can’t key on anyone in particular. They were moping around some at the UTEP debacle, and you could even see some of that during the San Diego State game when Green was getting his legs under him. But the receivers are rejuvenated now.


It was a scoreboard watch party in the stands last Saturday—would Boise State’s Taylen Green get to 300 yards passing, and would Colorado State get to zero yards rushing? Green topped 300 before taking the rest of the night off at the end of the third quarter, and the Rams got rid of that big minus sign we saw on the scoreboard with 5½ minutes left in the game. CSU ended up with all of three yards rushing. Boise State’s defense allowed just 170 yards, and it’s not lost on anybody that all but 61 of them came on two pass plays. It’s also not lost on anyone that the Broncos did it without their captain and best defensive tackle, Scott Matlock, backup Jackson Cravens and injured sackmaster George Tarlas. And they didn’t have Isaiah Bagnah to fill in at the edge, as he announced before the game he is transferring.


Boise State had been an afterthought in late September in the Mountain West. Now, the Broncos have buzz going into the BYU game. The conference itself featured a “Boise State File” on the front page of its weekly football release Monday. It included these nuggets: “Receiving votes in the Coaches Poll and AP Top 25. Winners of three games against FBS opponents with a .500-win percentage or higher, more such victories than Central Florida (2), Cincinnati (1) and the same number as Coastal Carolina. One of just 12 FBS teams undefeated in conference play in 2022. Since inserting QB Taylen Green into the starting lineup, Boise State is averaging 437.3 yards of total offense and 35.8 points per game. In the four games previously, the Broncos averaged just 283.3 yards and 22 points.”


It was not if, but when Bryan Harsin would be fired at Auburn. “When” arrived on Halloween, as soon as the Tigers had hired a new athletic director. Harsin never had a chance, and on Halloween, Auburn cut ties with the former Boise State coach after just 21 games. Any shot he had at success down there was sabotaged last winter by booster attacks on his character, so this year’s struggles were inevitable. A former SEC assistant calls Auburn “the worst good job in the country.” The only good it did for Harsin was give him a $15.5 million buyout. He was 3-5 this season and 9-12 overall at Auburn, but his career record remains an attractive 85-36. Other former Boise State staffers who were let go include offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau, tight ends coach Brad Bedell, Brad Larrondo and recruiting director Darren Uscher.


It’s hard to come up with takeaways from Boise State hoops exhibitions against NAIA foes. Coach Leon Rice started Tyson Degenhart, Chibuzo Agbo, Marcus Shaver Jr, Max Rice and Lukas Milner in the Broncos’ 76-58 victory over Carroll College Tuesday night. It was closer than you’d expect, as Rice went all the way down his bench. He used 12 players, including ones expected to redshirt this season. Degenhart led the Broncos with 19 points, but it’s Chibuzo Agbo that’s we’ll be watching when the season starts a week from tonight against South Dakota State. The Texas Tech transfer put up 14 points with a trio of three-pointers.


The No. 2 FCS team in the country got a supreme scare from Idaho last Saturday. The Vandals, who trailed 24-7 midway through the third quarter at Sacramento State, scored three straight touchdowns—all of them on connections between Gevani McCoy and wide receiver Hayden Hatten—to take the lead with 6½ minutes left in the game. The Hornets answered, however, and Idaho’s undefeated Big Sky start came to an end. The Vandals are very much in the FCS Playoffs race, though. They return to the Kibbie Dome Saturday against Eastern Washington, usually a Big Sky power. But the tables are turned this year, as the Eagles come in 2-6 overall and 1-4 in conference.


College of Idaho responded to its first loss of the season with a thriller last Saturday in Simplot Stadium. The Coyotes had to rally for victory—not the first time this season—scoring on a Jon Schofield wildcat run with 22 seconds left to top Southern Oregon 28-24. If it wasn’t for a 57-yard interception return for a touchdown by Jacob Arms late in the third quarter, the Coyotes may not have had that opportunity. For his efforts, Arms was named Frontier Conference Defensive Player of the Week. The Yotes are 7-1 with just two games left in the regular season—their final road game is Saturday at Eastern Oregon. This edition of the I-84 rivalry appears to be an easy one. On paper anyway. C of I routed the Mountaineers 41-0 in September.


The Idaho Steelheads’ tight 2-1 loss to Utah in their home opener last Friday was tough, but we can dwell on the Steelies’ answer the following night. The Steelheads blanked the Grizzlies 4-0 behind a 23-save shutout from goaltender Jake Kupsky, and they carry a 3-1 record into this week’s series against Rapid City starting tonight in Idaho Central Arena. The Steelies and Rush face off in the next six games, three in Boise and three in South Dakota. Individually, Ryan Dmowski has five goals already this season and is tied for the ECHL lead. As a team, Idaho has been masterful on the penalty kill, stopping 15 of 16 power play chances through four games to lead the ECHL in that category.


Former Boise State star Troy Merritt is back on the PGA Tour as he tees off tomorrow in the Worldwide Technology Champion at El Camaleon Golf Club at the Mayakoba resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Merritt has made the cut in three of his four events in the new season that began in September. In each of the three, his highest score was in the final round. His last time out at the CJ Cup in South Carolina, Merritt endured a disastrous 78 over the final 18 that left him in a tie for 67th.

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

November 2, 2013: It’s not just one of the great comeback stories in Idaho history, but in all of sports, as Gary Stevens wins the Classic at the Breeders Cup for the first time. Stevens, who got his start as a jockey in 1979 at Boise’s Les Bois Park, guided Mucho Macho Man to the winner’s circle by a nostril. The victory, paired with Stevens’ win in the Preakness Stakes in May of 2013, capped a remarkable year for the Caldwell native—two signature triumphs at the age of 50 after being out of the saddle for more than seven years.

(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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