All hands on the defensive deck

I liked what Anthony Drmic said after the uneven win over UC Davis a couple weeks back. I liked what Anthony Drmic said after Boise State’s uneven win over UC Davis a couple weeks back: “When we play bad defense, it cancels out our entire game kind of.” Defense down the stretch is what kept the Broncos’ win over Fresno State from being cancelled out last Saturday. That end of the floor has been a long-term project during the Leon Rice era. That grit is especially needed on the road, where Boise State will be tonight when it takes on Nevada. Drmic and Chandler Hutchison are the defensive catalysts, and they’ll have to ratchet up in Reno.

Speaking of grit, that manifests itself on the boards, too. And by all rights the Broncos should have the advantage there, as they’ve been especially solid on the defensive glass this season. It’s there that the Wolf Pack misses A.J. West, who left the team for “personal reasons” in mid-December. West led Nevada in rebounding in four of the first five games this season before departing. He was averaging 9.6 points and 7.7 rebounds.

Your obscure stat of the day going into tonight’s Boise State-Nevada tilt: with its 86-63 win at Air Force last weekend, the Wolf Pack improved to 6-5 in Mountain West games played on Saturday in the last two seasons, but it’s 1-10 in MW games played on a weekday. The Pack has lost its last 10 weekday conference games, believe it or not. I guess it’s Wednesday/Hump Day in the Biggest Little City. Boise State and Nevada played only once last year, with the Broncos producing one of their most dominant games of the season in a 78-46 victory at Taco Bell Arena. They face the Wolf Pack twice this season.

Boise State tries to tie a 28-year-old school record tonight with a 10th consecutive victory. This is a team that knows how to win. It’s had to, because this is also the team that—during the current nine-game streak—had to rally to beat Loyola Marymount at the finish and struggled in getting past UC Davis. And the one that blew big leads against Oregon, Colorado State and Fresno State, turning those games into close wins. All five of the aforementioned games were at home. Now Boise State faces Nevada in the Lawlor Events Center. The Broncos are only favored by three points. Anything can happen.

The prevailing topic on Idaho SportsTalk yesterday was Chadd Cripe’s Statesman story on “turmoil” in the Boise State football program in the wake of offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz’s departure to North Carolina State. Some fans are trying to fry Cripe. It could be much ado about nothing, and there could have been too many dots connected. But Cripe has been very careful, measured and thorough in his 14 years as a beat writer for Boise State football. So don’t shoot the messenger. The Bronco staffers can now strive to prove there isn’t internal discord. They can go out and finish this recruiting season, present a united front going into spring football, and then fulfill the promise on the field this fall. Maybe they should sing “Kumbaya” at the spring game.

The term “way too early” in these premature college football rankings is an understatement. USA Today’s projections are out and, lo and behold, they have Boise State all the way up at No. 17 (Houston is the top Group of Five entry at No. 11). Paul Myerberg zeroes in on Brett Rypien as the key. Dennis Dodd’s list at CBSSports.com ranks the Broncos No. 24. “Fourteen straight senior classes have won at least 40 games in Boise,” writes Dodd. “It will be difficult making it 15 in a row. (The last three seasons have totaled 29 wins.) Entering his third season, Bryan Harsin gets back 1,300-yard rusher Jeremy McNichols and budding quarterback Brett Rypien.” Kind of a vanilla analysis.

You have to like Dodd’s No. 25, Washington State, who visits the blue turf on September 10. Dodd writes, “Mike Leach won nine in his third season at Wazzu. He has what a lot of teams in the Pac-12 North don’t—an accomplished returning quarterback. Luke Falk led the country in passing yards per game. Eight starters return on an offense that doubled its rushing output in 2015. The Cougars will be the dark horse to get to the Pac-12 title game.” That synopsis has more meat to it.

There’s also Mark Schlabach’s “Way Too Early Top 25” at ESPN.com that doesn’t include Boise State but ranks Washington State No. 20. “After a 24-17 loss to FCS foe Portland State in the 2015 opener, Washington State’s Mike Leach quietly put together one of the best coaching jobs in the country,” writes Schlabach. “The Cougars won seven of their last nine games, including a 20-14 win over Miami in the Sun Bowl, to finish 9-4. With quarterback Luke Falk coming back, the Cougars should again have one of the best passing attacks in the FBS. Falk threw for 4,561 yards with 38 touchdowns this past season, and one of his favorite targets, Gabe Marks, decided to return for his senior season. They play early road games at Boise State and Stanford in 2016, but they’ll have the benefit of playing Oregon, UCLA and Washington at home.”

Dirk Koetter has finally interviewed for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ head coaching job, according to numerous reports. The former Boise State coach is seen as a logical answer to Jameis Winston, the sequel. Under Koetter’s tutelage as Bucs offensive coordinator, the one-time Heisman Trophy became an NFL Rookie of the Year candidate, throwing for more than 4,000 yards and 22 touchdowns against 15 interceptions. And that benefitted former Bronco Doug Martin in his All-Pro season. Koetter interviewed with the 49ers last weekend.

Blake Renaud is getting another NFL chance. The linebacker-turned-fullback out of Boise State has signed a reserve/future contract with Minnesota and will go into offseason workouts with the Vikings. Renaud spent the last half of the season on the club’s practice squad—he re-signed in late October after being one of the Vikings’ final cuts before the season started. Renaud was a blocking back in August preseason games and he delivered some licks, but he also got a few rushing attempts and even scored a touchdown.

Back to hoops—the Idaho Stampede watched Santa Cruz bolt out to a 31-19 lead at the end of the first quarter last night in CenturyLink Arena. But the Stampede chipped away over the ensuing three quarters to lead by two at halftime and win going away, 101-91. The Stamps had six players in double figures, led by Jeff Ayres’ 18 points. Ayres also grabbed nine rebounds. Pierre Jackson scored 10 points in his return to Boise. The Stampede now hit the road for a test at Rio Grande Valley tomorrow night.

This Day In Sports…January 13, 2013:

Former Nevada star Colin Kaepernick produces his ultimate breakout night as a San Francisco 49er, setting an NFL record for rushing in a game by a quarterback in a 45-31 win over the Green Bay Packers in an NFC semifinal playoff tilt. Kaepernick ran for 181 yards, breaking Michael Vick’s mark of 173 yards set in a regular season game in 2002. Kaepernick, who two years earlier had helped the Wolf Pack break Boise State’s 24-game winning streak in a stunning upset in Reno, also threw for 263 yards while accounting for four 49ers touchdowns, two on the ground and two through the air. Must seem like so long ago now for Kaepernick.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)