There are three players on Boise State’s defensive line whose names did not grace the public address system at Albertsons Stadium much last fall. Coaches weren’t confident enough to sub them in much, and the Broncos D-line mainstays wore down. That needs to change, because this trio has been bumped up to the starting lineup this season. One of ‘em is Sonatane Lui, the 6-1, 305-pound load from Sandy, UT. Lui only made 10 tackles last season, sharing one sack. But the Bronco staff felt strongly enough this spring about him to insert him at nose tackle, allowing David Moa to move over to defensive tackle, a more natural position for the Moa Constrictor. Lui was coming off a two-year LDS mission when he joined the Boise State program in the spring of 2016. Now he has his football legs back.
To be fair, Durrant Miles did get steady playing time at defensive end for Boise State last season, and did get his named called as he put up 35 tackles. Coach Bryan Harsin calls Miles perhaps the most consistent player on the team right now. The junior from South Jordan, UT, registered at least one stop in all 13 games in 2016, very consistet for a backup. Now Boise State hopes Miles can do his best Sam McCaskill impression this year. On the other side, Sam Whitney had a total of just five tackles last season—he missed six straight games down the stretch due to injury. But Whitney is healthy now and has worked his way to the top of the depth chart. Coaches will tell you the sophomore’s work ethic is off the charts.
Here’s the stunning stat that has the Boise State defense on high alert Saturday. Troy returns 98.7 percent of its offensive production from the 2016 season. That’s 98.7 percent. The only player the Trojans lost who collected stats last fall was a walk-on receiver who caught 10 passes for 113 yards. All the big guns are back, including 3,000-yard passer Brandon Silvers, 1,200-yard rusher Jordan Chunn and 80-catch receiver Emanuel Thompson. And it’s a disciplined bunch. How about another starter at wideout, Deondre Douglas? He led the country for the most receptions without a drop last season (Douglas had 60 grabs). “Every year is different,” said Harsin. “It’ll be interesting to see how they utilize those guys coming back.”
A coaching staff with numerous Boise State ties will set the table against Washington State Saturday, a week ahead of the Broncos’ visit to the Palouse. Montana State coach Jeff Choate, the former Boise State special teams and linebackers coach, leads the Bobcats into Martin Stadium with help from wide receivers coach Matt Miller and defensive line coach Byron Hout. But look for the Cougars to snap their streak of five straight season-opening losses under Mike Leach (including defeats at the hands of Portland State and Eastern Washington). MSU is extremely young—partly because 26 underclassmen left the program during the offseason, according to the Seattle Times. Uh, that’s a ton. Choate, by the way, also coached linebackers at WSU during Leach’s first season.
It’s all hands on deck for College of Idaho Saturday as the Coyotes step up into Big Sky competition at Northern Colorado. One of the Yotes’ deckhands on offense is Keenan Patwell, who memorably battled a inflammatory bowel disease through his senior year at Mountain View High last fall. Patwell had enough left to score six touchdowns in the Mavericks’ 5A state championship game victory over Rocky Mountain and elected to keep playing football at C of I. He’s made the Yotes’ active roster as a true freshman and contributed three catches for six yards, plus a couple of punt returns and a kickoff return in his debut in last week’s 16-14 loss at Montana Western. C of I could use Patwell’s playmaking ability at UNC.
Amidst the tightrope Kellen Moore is walking in Dallas and the trap door Jeremy McNichols is trying to avoid in Tampa Bay comes this more optimistic NFL nugget. “Rees Odhiambo was conspicuous for being inconspicuous (last) Friday,” wrote Larry Stone of the Seattle Times. “He succeeded by not failing.” That was the review of the former Boise State star’s work in his first start in an exhibition game, Seattle’s 26-13 victory at Kansas City. Odhiambo is making his case as the Seahawks’ starting left tackle after taming the Chiefs’ edge rush (with the exception of one sack of Russell Wilson) and opening things up for the Seattle ground game. Coach Pete Carroll hasn’t named him as a starter, but he called Odhiambo “very solid.”
The passing of former Michigan State hoops coach Jud Heathcote, he of the 1979 national championship with Magic Johnson, brought back memories of his days at Montana. He was a fiery guy, stomping the sideline with the Grizzlies for five seasons on visits to old Bronco Gym, where he went 1-4. Heathcote’s affinity for the Northwest and the Big Sky (and even Boise State) saw him agree to bring his national power Spartans team to town to serve as the Broncos’ first opponent to open the BSU Pavilion in November, 1982. MSU won that game 72-59.
Local notes on the pro side: The Idaho Steelheads have defenseman Charlie Dodero back in the fold for the upcoming season. This will be Dodero’s fourth campaign in Boise, making him the longest-tenured defenseman on the Steelheads roster. He played 77 games for the Steelies from 2013-14 to 2014-15 and returned to log 60 games last season. And the Boise Hawks, keyed by a fifth-inning grand slam from J.B. Moss, powered its way past Vancouver 10-5 last night. The grueling 15-game Western Idaho Fair road trip wraps up this afternoon.
This Day In Sports…August 30, 1997, 20 years ago today:
Houston Nutt makes his debut as head coach at Boise State, watching his team fall to Cal State-Northridge 63-23 before a record crowd of almost 27,000 in newly-expanded Bronco Stadium. BSU would rebound to come within 49 seconds of upsetting Wisconsin a week later. The Broncos went 4-7 under Nutt, who left after the season for his dream job at Arkansas (although his record was amended to 5-6 after Northridge forfeited for using an ineligible player). Exactly 11 years later, there was another Bronco Stadium grand opening, as the $36 million Steuckle Sky Center debuted during a 49-7 win over Idaho State.
(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.)