Boise State had only one of its top three scorers perform up to snuff Saturday night, and it doomed the Broncos in a 66-54 loss at Oregon. Alex Hobbs matched a career-high with 21 points, 16 of them in the first half, and drilled five three-pointers. A flurry by Hobbs at the end of the half put Boise State up 28-24 at the break. On the other hand, R.J. Williams and Justinian Jessup combined to go 1-for-15 from the field. With Hobbs so hot and Williams and Jessup so cold, the Ducks adjusted their defensive focus to Hobbs in the second half. Offensively, Oregon shot 65 percent after the intermission while outrebounding the Broncos by 13. Coach Leon Rice, while bemoaning Jessup’s and Williams’ struggles, hasn’t changed his tune: “If (all our guys) can be just a little more consistent with their play, that’s when we’ll start clicking.”
Hard to tell what this game would have been like had Oregon true freshman sensation Bol Bol been in the lineup. Bol, the 7-2 one-man wrecking crew, was scratched before the game due to a foot injury he suffered in practice last week. He sat on the bench wearing a protective boot on his left foot as he watched the Ducks beat Boise State. The Broncos’ Zach Haney had a decent game without Bol in the floor, scoring 11 points. Haney did have only four rebounds, though. Hopefully (at least for the sake of fans in Taco Bell Arena), Bol will be healthy for the rematch between these two teams December 29 in Boise.
THE FOURTH DOWN FOCAL POINT
It’s the calm before the storm for the First Responder Bowl, as nine days remain before next week’s game in Dallas between Boise State and Boston College. Coach Bryan Harsin designated one of this year’s projects to be improvement in fourth-down conversions. Massive improvement. And that’s what he got. The Broncos were dead last in the FBS in 2017, going 3-for-17 for 17 percent. This season they’ve converted 14 of their 23 fourth down tries for 61 percent. That’s currently 30th in the country. The two signature conversions this year were ones that kept the ball away from opponents in the waning moments of close games: the fourth-and-eight catch by CT Thomas at Nevada, and the touchdown plunge by Alexander Mattison with four seconds left versus Utah State.
A WELCOME COOLING TREND FOR KALANI
For a guy who was on the hot seat at the beginning of the year, coach Kalani Sitake sure appears to be in a much more comfy chair right now at BYU. Sitake overhauled his offensive coaching staff, and it appears to have an identity again going into this Friday’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Western Michigan with true freshman Zach Wilson settling in at quarterback. The offense in 2017 was woeful. The Cougars ranked 124th in the nation in scoring at 17.1 points per game, but now they’re 95th with an average of 25.4 points. There’s still a long way to go, but there’s an upward trajectory. Bowl eligibility is an accomplishment after last year’s 4-9 record.
TWO DOWN, FOUR TO GO FOR THE MW
The Mountain West is off to an impressive 2-0 start in the postseason. Conference champion Fresno State dug in against Arizona State and won the Las Vegas Bowl 31-20 Saturday, earning a school-record 12th victory. On the surface, it was a standard Bulldogs performance: 436 yards of total offense and 293 yards allowed on defense. But the ‘Dogs were letting the Sun Devils hang around and had to overcome turnovers on three straight possesssions in the third quarter. That was atypical of Fresno State. The Bulldogs largely did it with a running game that had been spotty this season. Ronnie Rivers, fresh off the winning touchdown in overtime in the Mountain West title game, churned out 212 rushing yards, including a game-turning 68-yard touchdown run.
Utah State had only four full-time coaches on the sidelines Saturday in the New Mexico Bowl, with Matt Wells having taken a bunch of staffers with him to Texas Tech. No matter, as the Aggies racked North Texas 52-13, tying their program record with win No. 11. Five of their seven touchdown drives consumed a combined three minutes and 20 seconds—kind of the story of their season. USU rolled up 556 yards of total offense behind sophomore quarterback Jordan Love. Former Boise State offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr., fired last month as head coach at Western Kentucky, was revealed as Utah State’s new O-coordinator Friday. Sanford’s walking into a pretty good situation.
LENO PULLS AN IAN
We don’t know if Charles Leno Jr. got this idea from Ian Johnson. After all, Leno was still a sophomore in high school when Johnson proposed to Chrissy Popadics right after the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. But Leno, the former Boise State star, got down on one knee just after he and the Chicago Bears beat the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field Sunday and proposed to his girlfriend, Jennifer Roth. She said yes. Leno planned it last week once he realized that the Bears would clinch the NFC North for the first time since 2010 with a win over the Packers. He asked coach Matt Nagy permission first. Leno can afford the ring—he signed a four-year contract extension last summer worth $18 million.
STEELIES SPURT INTO SECOND
Don’t look now, but the Idaho Steelheads are now in second place in the ECHL Mountain Division, just one point behind the Utah Grizzlies. The Steelheads completed a three-game sweep of Kansas City over the weekend, beginning with a 3-0 decision Friday night. This time it was goalie Ryan Faragher’s turn to record a shutout, his first of the season, supported by two goals from Reid Petryk. Saturday night it was a 3-2 Steelies victory, and the game-winning goal ended up coming early. Alex Dahl got it five minutes into the second period; the two teams were scoreless from there. Tomas Sholl picked up his 12th win of the season for Idaho, making 30 saves.
BRONCO WOMEN RIGHT THE SHIP
Back to hoops: the Boise State women erased the sour taste of their loss at Washington State two weeks ago by winning the Husky Classic in Seattle Sunday night, beating Washington 73-69 in the title game. It’s what Riley Lupfer, the junior from Spokane, signed up for. Lupfer scored 22 points and drained seven three-pointers—Boise State was 14-for-30 from beyond the arc as a team. And the top-ranked College of Idaho men were stunned Sunday night in Eugene by Northwest Christian, who led wire-to-wire in an 84-80 upset. The night before the Yotes had picked up their biggest-ever road victory over Corban in a 75-53 rout. Now they have to hit the reset button. C of I now has an on-court record of 12-2.
This Day In Sports…brought to you by COMMERCIAL TIRE…keeping you and your family on the road.
December 17, 2011: In its 15th year, and its first as the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Boise’s bowl game produces a thriller. Utah State, making its first postseason appearance since the inaugural Humanitarian Bowl in 1997, led Ohio the entire way until 13 seconds remained in the game. That’s when Bobcats quarterback Tyler Tettleton ran in a four-yard keeper to give Ohio a 24-23 win, its first bowl victory in school history. The Aggies nevertheless finished with their first winning season since 1996.
(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.)