It was a toasty September night in 2009 when Oregon visited Boise State for the only time. The crowd of 34,127 was a record at the time, and Chip Kelly was making his head coaching debut for the Ducks. Known for his offensive wizardry, it didn’t work that evening. Oregon didn’t so much as pick up a first down until more than half of the third quarter was gone and was held to 152 total yards in the 19-8 Bronco victory. LeGarrette Blout’s right-hand to the chin of Boise State’s Byron Hoyt put an unbelievable postscript on what had been a memorable night. Now another Oregon head coach is set to make his Ducks debut against the Broncos, with Mario Cristobal having been promoted Friday following a clamoring of support from players. Much has changed the last eight years, but hey—there’ll be fireworks.
Cristobal has taken an Oregon team that was fractured and distracted last Thursday and placed it back on the practice field over the weekend to switch its focus to Boise State and the Las Vegas Bowl. This will be a very together bunch of Ducks. Cristobal’s 27-47 record as a head coach at Florida International clearly didn’t matter—and doesn’t matter. He’s a Florida native of Cuban heritage and was a fish out of water when he joined Willie Taggart’s staff as co-offensive coordinator a year ago. But by all accounts, Cristobal has embraced the culture of the Phil Knight-influenced Oregon program, as well as the community in Eugene. The key word now is continuity, as Cristobal is seen as capable of saving most of a recruiting class that had been rated one of the nation’s best a week and a half before the new early signing day.
Oregon is hungrier than you think, even beyond the infusion of energy provided by the promotion of Cristobal. The Ducks have learned not to take bowl games for granted. Last season they finished the season 4-8, sitting home for the holidays while getting used to their new coach, Willie Taggart, after the firing of Mark Helfrich. They bounced back this year, going 7-5 overall and 6-1 when Justin Herbert was healthy enough to play quarterback. Oregon has its mojo back, and there’s buy-in from oddsmakers. Boise State is the team in the rankings, at No. 25 in the three major polls after winning the Mountain West championship game. Oregon is the team that’s favored—by more than a touchdown.
So why, at 7½ points, are the Ducks that strong a favorite this Saturday? Well, we’re in a “what have you done for me lately?” world. So here’s what the Oregon and Boise State offenses have done lately, as in, the last two games. First, the Ducks have averaged 58 points a game versus just 17 for the Broncos. The really startling numbers can be found in the ground game: 332 yards for Oregon, just 108 for Boise State, with everyone wondering who’s going to run the rock for the Broncos at Sam Boyd Stadium. Boise State has a slight edge in passing yards, 274 to 250, but Oregon averaged a full 170 yards more in total offense in its wins over Arizona and Oregon State than did the Broncos in their two matchups with Fresno State.
The best quote from last week’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl press conferences came from Central Michigan quarterback Shane Morris: “Football is football no matter where it’s played, indoor, outdoor. I like playing in the cold so I’m happy about it. I like throwing the ball in the cold. I think the ball’s a little bit tackier. Sticks to my fingers better. I’ve just always liked it. Playoff weather. End of the season weather. Important games are played in the cold, in Michigan. I’ve been playing in it my whole life.” Morris, a senior and former Michigan Wolverine, has thrown for 2,908 yards with 26 touchdowns against 13 interceptions this season for the 8-4 Chippewas, who face Wyoming on the blue turf on December 22.
Former Boise State star DeMarcus Lawrence did not endear himself to NFL brass yesterday after he and Dallas dominated the New York Giants 30-10. Lawrence certainly has a hefty fine coming after he ripped NFL officials for a lack of holding calls over the past several games. I mean, Lawrence went on and on about it, concluding with “(expletive), (expletive) them refs. That’s all I got to say.” He entered the week as the NFL leader in sacks with 13.5 and didn’t record one against the Giants. There’s this from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: opposing offensive linemen have been called for two holding penalties in the past 10 games against the Cowboys.
With six minutes left in the first half against Sacramento State Saturday, Boise State was muddling along having gone just 1-for-8 from three-point range. The motto of this team, though, is “shooters gotta keep shootin’.” And they did. When the dust settled, the Broncos had drilled 13 three-pointers in a 77-54 rout in Taco Bell Arena. Justinian Jessup was the main man from long-range again. Jessup has hit five treys in each of the past four games and is now shooting 54.9 percent from beyond the arc this season. The king of the hill, of course, is Chandler Hutchison, who logged his third straight game with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, putting up 21 and 12. It was the ninth 20/10 game of Hutchison’s career.
Boise State is 9-1 for the first time since Chris Childs’ senior year. That was 29 years ago, when Bobby Dye was coach and what was then the BSU Pavilion was rockin’. The Broncos deserve a rockin’ house this season, but that’s a story for another day. Right now it’s all about the team coach Leon Rice has assembled, perhaps the best of his eight seasons at Boise State. “We’re winning because of culture,” said Rice on Idaho SportsTalk Friday. “We lucked out with the transfers we got as far as the kind of people they are,” Rice said. Lexus Williams’ place in the 2017-18 storyline is cemented after what happened at Oregon. The gritty Christian Sengfelder put up 13 points Saturday against Sacramento State.
Idaho Steelheads goalie Ryan Faragher is liking these contests against his former team. After picking up a win last Wednesday in his first start against his old Utah Grizzlies mates, Faragher posted his first shutout as a Steelhead in a 2-0 victory Saturday night in CenturyLink Arena. Faragher stopped all 31 shots he faced as his record improved to 4-3-1 on the season. Steve McParland scored in the second and third periods as the Steelies avenged a 2-1 loss Friday night that snapped Utah’s nine-game losing streak.
This Day In Sports…December 11, 2010:
Boise State’s Kellen Moore finishes fourth in Heisman Trophy voting at ceremonies in New York, the highest honor yet for the school’s most decorated player. Moore joined Auburn’s Cam Newton, the runaway Heisman winner, Stanford’s Andrew Luck, and Oregon’s LaMichael James on ESPN’s nationally-televised program. Moore was, needless to say, the Broncos’ first-ever Heisman Trophy finalist. Earlier that day, the Football Writers Association of America named Moore its first-team All-America quarterback, passing over Newton and the ongoing play-for-pay controversy surrounding the Auburn superstar.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)