The Broncos’ disturbing triple-digits

Boise State is living a lifestyle to which it is not accustomed right now. Boise State is living a lifestyle to which it is not accustomed right now, ranking in the 100’s nationally in six different statistical categories going into Game 3 tonight against Idaho State. The Broncos’ total offense figure of 349 yards per game is 104th. Scoring is at 20 points per game—that’s 106th. For comparison’s sake, understanding that there are at least 10 games left this season, BSU was 14th in total offense and ninth in scoring last year with 494 yards and 39.7 points per game, respectively. Also, the team’s pass efficiency rating is 115.4, ranking 101st. Boise State has allowed three sacks per game, 110th in the country, and in punt returns and net punting, the Broncos rank 104th and 114th, respectively.

Boise State is in the 90’s in three more categories, all of them rather important ones. There’s the rushing offense, which has tailed off after a 152-yard first half versus Washington. The Broncos are 98th in the nation on the ground at 124 yards per game. After going 2-of-12 on third down at BYU, they’re converting just 33 percent now, the 92nd-best mark. Boise State is minus-1 per game in turnover margin, which doesn’t seem terrible. But that’s No. 96. The Broncos are top 15 in the country in just one department, rushing defense. They’re allowing 50 yards per game on the ground, with the only real letdown so far coming in the fourth quarter in Provo.

Tonight’s game is a real treat for Boise State fans. It’s a 7:00 kickoff that will kick off, like, pretty close to 7:00. Later starts have proven to be a bugger. On this weekend a year ago, the Broncos’ 34-9 win over Louisiana-Lafayette began at 8:34 p.m. Like tonight’s telecast, the game was on CBS Sports Network, which has longer breaks than ESPN. An odd thing happened in the second half. I wrote it down at the time. During a TV timeout with 9:48 left in the game, Albertsons Stadium cleared out. It wasn’t cold. It wasn’t an out-and-out rout. A game-clinching touchdown hadn’t just been scored. It was just time for everybody to go home.

There’s a segment in Idaho State’s weekly release titled, “We Are Idaho’s Team,” pointing out that ISU has 33 players on its roster from the state of Idaho, “the most out of the Division I programs in the state. Boise State has 23 players on its roster from Idaho and Idaho has 19 players.” The Bengals have 18 guys from the Treasure Valley, starting with wide receiver Madison Mangum (who we talked about yesterday). Mangum is one of five valley starters—the others are linebacker Hayden Stout and defensive end Chris Edwards of Meridian High, defensive end Tyler Kuder from Payette, and kicker Zak Johnson out of Nampa Christian. There would be a sixth if star linebacker Mario Jenkins from Columbia High hadn’t sustained a season-ending injury in fall camp.

Idaho State coach Mike Kramer waxed poetic on Idaho SportsTalk the other day about the opportunity for his players (and Idahoans in particular) to play on the blue turf. Kramer also gave props to Boise State for being FBS-fast. “Our game plan is to throw it, throw it, throw it, throw it, throw it, throw it, and reverse it and reverse it, and try to use the Broncos’ speed against themselves,” declared Kramer. But do you believe that? Quarterback Michael Sanders is still getting his feet wet, and fans tonight will have a chance to see one of the best running backs in Idaho State history. Senior Xavier Finney passed the great Merril Hoge last week into the No. 3 spot on ISU’s career rushing list with 2,799 yards. And Finney isn’t even the Bengals’ leading rusher right now. That’s Jakori Ford, who has run for 228 yards in the first two games.

That brings us to the Boise State linebackers, who, as coaches like to say these days, need to have their eyes in the right place tonight. If Kramer is going to throw-throw-throw-throw and reverse-reverse, well, the ‘backers will have to be aware. There are typically only two linebackers in the Broncos’ defensive alignment, and they don’t rotate as much as the defensive linemen. That creates some hard-luck situations for some pretty talented guys, as Tyler Gray and Joe Martarano back up Ben Weaver and Tanner Vallejo. But Gray and Martarano certainly don’t see it as a “hard luck” situation. Gray has logged a lot of playing time the first two games, and Joe Martarano turned in one of the defensive highlights of the win over Washington when he leveled running back Myles Gaskin for a statement-making four-yard loss in the second quarter.

The Mountain West is poised for another tough week at the office against Power 5 schools, with eight such matchups on tap. The team with the best shot is Colorado State, as it takes on rival Colorado in the Rocky Mountain Showdown. It would have seemed Utah State would have a chance at Washington tomorrow, but USU quarterback Chuckie Keeton will have to make it through the game. I can’t believe Keeton finished the loss at Utah, but there doesn’t look to be much concern about his hobbles down in Logan. “Chuckie Keeton’s a winner,” Aggies coach Matt Wells said after last week’s game. “He can’t even walk after every other hit and he battles. He’s a warrior in every sense of the word, every sense of the word.”

Elsewhere, the Mountain West’s only unbeaten team is Air Force. But…the Falcons play at Michigan State tomorrow. And how about these apples? New Mexico, coming off a home loss to Tulsa, plays at Arizona State tonight. UNLV, routed at home by UCLA last week, visits the Big House at Michigan tomorrow. Nevada goes to Texas A&M, San Jose State is at Oregon State, struggling Wyoming heads for Washington State, and quarterback-challenged Fresno State tries to challenge Utah at home.

Idaho’s defense will have to be disciplined when Wofford visits the Kibbie Dome tomorrow. The Terriers run a funky option attack and have for years. Mike Ayers is in his 27th season as head coach at Wofford, where he is 181-126-1. Consequently, the Terriers have an established system, and they know their stuff. The offensive stuff is called the “wingbone,” and it can do some damage. The Terriers rushed for 444 yards on Tennessee Tech last week and have been ranked in the top seven of the FCS in rushing for 18 consecutive seasons. Last year they were third at 296.7 yards per game. The Vandals’ Jordan Grabski and Chris Edwards had nine tackles each last week in the 59-9 loss at at USC, with Dorian Clark adding eight. It’ll be a different type of tackling they have to do versus Wofford.

College of Idaho looks to get Marcus Lenhardt cranked up tomorrow as defending NAIA national champion Southern Oregon comes into Simplot Stadium for Homecoming. The Coyotes will need the sophomore tight end from Eagle if they’re going to go toe-to-toe with the potent Raiders. It doesn’t happen often, but Lenhardt was neutralized in the loss at Montana Western last week, making only three catches for 26 yards. But one of the receptions was a highlight reel grab, a one-handed reception in the right corner of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown in the first quarter, helping C of I build an early 10-0 lead. Just 14 games into his career, Lenhardt is already No. 9 on the C of I’s career receiving list with 53 catches, and he’s No. 7 with 855 receiving yards.

Tanner Mangum now moves on to face a fellow true freshman phenom, UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, as BYU ventures into the Rose Bowl. And the Eagle High grad takes the tag “Heisman hopeful” with him, at least according to some national scribes. Here’s FoxSports.com’s Stewart Mandel: “For the second straight week, a freshman quarterback tops my Heisman Top 5. This one, however, is 22, and seems to have a magical ability to throw game-winning touchdowns. Mangum has remarkably delivered two ‘Heisman moments’ already. Unlelievable.” Mangum is bound to have some freshman moments along the way, too. We’ll see which end of the spectrum outweighs the other.

Only 17 golfers completed the first round of the BMW Championship before rain interrupted the proceedings in Lake Forest, IL. Troy Merritt was one of those who made it into the clubhouse, though. The former Boise State star turned in a par on every hole except two, Nos. 9 and 13. Merritt birdied 13—and had a triple bogey on 9. Math will tell you that’s a two-over 73. Merritt is tied for 55th in the 70-player field at the third leg of the PGA Tour’s FedExCup Playoffs. At the Web.com Tour Finals, Nampa’s Tyler Aldridge is near the bottom after carding a three-over 75 at the Small Business Connection Championship.

This Day In Sports…September 18, 2009:

Boise State clears one of its biggest hurdles on the way to an undefeated season with a wild 51-34 win at Fresno State. The Broncos had three scoring plays of 60-plus yards, including one that saw Titus Young recover a fumble in the end zone after Jeremy Avery had run for 74 yards. Bulldog tailback Ryan Mathews had three touchdown jaunts of 60-plus yards himself and rushed for 234 yards. Avery rushed for 186 yards on only 11 attempts for a school-record 16.9 yards per carry.

(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.)