Bronco Mendenhall would have been in Albertsons Stadium last season with BYU. He just skipped a year—and tomorrow night he comes back to the blue turf wearing orange-and-navy as the second-year head coach at Virginia. Mendenhall coached in two games against Boise State as defensive coordinator with the Cougars, getting racked by the Broncos 50-12 in 2003 and narrowly falling 28-27 in 2004. He took over as head coach in Provo in 2005 after Gary Crowton was fired and led BYU in the first four years of the current 12-year series between the Cougars and Broncos. Mendenhall was 2-2 in those matchups—the last one the stunning final-minute Hail Mary game that BYU won at Lavell Edwards Stadium in 2015.
Mendenhall has preached patience as he rebuilds the Cavaliers program, and that message resonated with senior Quin Blanding in particular last winter. Blanding is a first-team All-ACC safety who had considered entering the NFL Draft, submitting his name to the league’s college advisory committee. But he announced the day after Christmas he’d be returning to Charlottesville. “I believe in the system,” said Blanding, one of nine defensive starters back this year. “You know, why not go one more year and increase the status of Virginia?” Blanding had four tackles in the Cavs’ 56-14 home loss to Boise State in 2015.
Brett Rypien has been cleared to play tomorrow night, and Broncos coach Bryan Harsin indicates that he will see action for the first time since the crushing sack he absorbed at Washington State. Now we’ll see who starts, Rypien or Cozart. The latter recovered from a rough fourth quarter at Wazzu to lead Boise State past New Mexico last week. Cozart didn’t throw much against the Lobos, but one of the key factors for the Broncos on the night is that they did not turn the ball over. Cozart has thrown for five touchdowns against one interception in three games. Maybe he gets the start so Rypien can get a feel for the game and what the Cavaliers are bringing—and then Ryp gives it a go.
This is the team Rypien faced in his first career start two years ago, but it’s a different time now. He’s already been sacked six times this season in the equivalent of three quarters of work, and now he’ll be facing Mendenhall’s funky Virginia defense. Rypien’s pass efficiency rating gives you an idea of where things are. After posting ratings of 140.9 as a freshman and 155.7 as a sophomore, he’s at 122.0 in his two games this year. On the other hand, Rypien was 7-of-8 for 76 yards with a 44-yard completion and a 16-yard run before his injury at Martin Stadium. Rypien may have been able to get in a groove that night had he been able to remain upright. We’ll never know.
The Boise State defensive line has been the most pleasant of surprises so far this season. If the unit can put aside possible distractions (David Moa’s disturbing the peace arrest and Chase Hatada’s late hit on New Mexico’s Lamar Jordan), its depth can pay dividends again versus Virginia. Unlike last year, D-line coach Steve Caldwell has been able to rotate two entire lines—in fact, he was shuttling defensive linemen in and out in the middle of sets of downs against New Mexico. New starters Sam Whitney and Durrant Miles have been particularly impressive. Whitney leads the group with 13 tackles and has a sack and a forced fumble. Miles has 10 stops, an interception, two pass deflections and a forced fumble.
At the end of spring football, the tight end position looked like the deepest on Boise State’s roster. That’s one reason the Broncos felt they could move Nick Crabtree full-time to the offensive line. Then in fall camp, Jake Knight retired due to a chronic neck problem, and Chase Blakley went down with an injury at Washington State. The need to restock that spot for the future is evident, and the first step has been taken with the commitment of Cole Ramseyer from Blakley’s alma mater, Coeur d’Alene. Ramsmeyer is a 6-4, 230-pounder who’s been catching lots of passes from Vikings quarterback Colton Yankoff, who has already committed to Coach Pete at Washington.
New York Giants coach Ben McAdoo has hinted as drastic changes to his lineup this week after two lethargic losses to open the season. But he’s not going to mess with free safety. That’s where Darian Thompson roams. The former Boise State star logged five tackles and a pass deflection in Monday night’s 24-10 loss to Detroit. Thompson has now played in as many games as he did all of last year before being sidelined for the season with a Lisfranc injury. He already has more tackles, eight, than he did in 2016 (although he was beaten on a Matthew Stafford touchdown pass).
Troy Merritt got to take his kids to school in Meridian last Friday, as he had an afternoon tee time in the second round of the Albertsons Boise Open. Now the former Boise State star is back on the real-for-real road as the third leg of the Web.com Tour Finals unfolds today at the DAP Championship near Cleveland. Merritt would like to reach the top 15 this week and get a PGA Tour card wrapped up by the time the Web.com Tour Championship hits next week in Jacksonville. As it is, Merritt would be able to play 6-10 tournaments on the big circuit next season, but he craves the full tour status he’s become accustomed to since 2010.
This Day In Sports…September 21, 1990:
The first Boise Open tees off at Hillcrest Country Club, one of 30 events in the inaugural year of what was then called the Ben Hogan Tour. The tournament was 54 holes and had a purse of $100,000 (less than what the winner now receives by himself). The first Boise Open champion would be Ricky Smallridge, who took home $20,000. The event would become known as the Albertsons Boise Open, and in 2016 it became part of the Web.com Tour Finals.
(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.)