Sometimes polarizing, but positively productive

We knew Dr. Bob Kustra’s retirement couldn’t be too far off. After all, he turns 75 next March. But it still came as a surprise yesterday when the Boise State president announced his retirement, effective June 30. Kustra will have been at the university 15 years when he bows out, and it’s been a high-energy era. Kustra rubbed some people the wrong way, but strong leaders often do that. Some will never get over the 2011 firing of athletic director Gene Bleymaier and the demise of wrestling earlier this year, for example. But Kustra has always set the bar high, both athletically and academically. The name of the university’s newest entity, the College of Innovation and Design, kind of sums up Kustra’s tenure. He identifies Boise State as a “metropolitan research university of distinction,” and he has largely succeeded in that quest.

Kustra made a concerted effort to get Boise State into the Mountain West seven years before it actually happened, and he almost engineered a path into a BCS conference six years ago, back when the Big East was considered one. He wasn’t directly responsible for facilities improvements, but the Caven-Williams Sports Complex, Steuckle Sky Center, Dona Larsen Park and Bleymaier Football Center were all built under his watch. After the Broncos’ first Fiesta Bowl victory, Kustra struck while the iron was hot and built enrollment around that excitement. He’s the ultimate “athletics is the front porch to the university” guy.

More than ever, Saturday will be Hurricane and Tornado time for Boise State. Hey, Air Force is No. 1 in the nation in fewest passing yards allowed at 143.1 per game. So Alexander Mattison, the Hurricane, will have to be at the very top of his game to compensate for any struggles the Bronco air attack encounters. And the ‘Cane will welcome an assist from the ‘Nado, Ryan Wolpin, who ran for 28 yards on five carries last week at Colorado State. With Mattison’s 242 yards against the Rams, the sophomore standout suddenly sits at 919 yards for the season, on the cusp of giving Boise State a 1,000-yard rusher for the eighth straight year. Auburn is the only other FBS team with such a streak. The Broncos actually have a run of eight straight 1,100-yard rushers, and nobody else in the country has that.

Air Force’s disruption of opposing passing attacks starts with the pass rush. Defensive coordinator Steve Rush (appropriately enough) creates havoc with frequent and unpredictable blitzes. They don’t really result in sacks that often, but they certainly gets quarterbacks out of rhythm. It has worked against Boise State. During their three-game losing streak versus the Falcons, the Broncos have completed just 47 percent of their passes and have taken eight sacks. “Quarterbacks don’t like getting hit,” Air Force linebacker Jack Flor said.

The Boise State defense carved out some time during spring football to work on that old bugaboo, the triple option. The Broncos did a decent job against it in their 28-14 win over New Mexico in September. But Air Force is different. Just because it’s Waterloo. In last November’s frustrating 27-20 loss to the Falcons, Boise State held them to a serviceable 4.1 yards per carry and two touchdowns. But Air Force ran it 77 times, gaining 314 yards and eating up more than two-thirds of the game clock. The Broncos couldn’t get out of drives—the Falcons converted 8-of-18 third-down situations. Those third downs are going to be huge Saturday night.

Idaho State won’t have a winning season this year, but a 5-6 record would be quite an accomplishment in coach Rob Phenicie’s first year considering the tumult of the past 12 months. It’ll take a big upset Saturday to get it done, though, as ISU wraps up its season at Weber State, which has won 13 of the last 14 games in the series. It’ll be the final game in the careers of two Bengals standout seniors from the Treasure Valley, Hagen Graves of Skyview High and Mario Jenkins of Columbia High. Graves, a wide receiver, has 25 catches for 362 yards and two touchdowns this season. Jenkins, a linebacker, has been a four-year defensive leader at Idaho State. Jenkins leads the Big Sky in tackles this season with 88.

Boise State gets it going at noon today at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in Myrtle Beach, SC, facing UTEP in the first round. This is the 12th meeting between the Broncos and Miners—and the first since the 2005 WAC Tournament. But the better sidebar is who is coaching the crew from El Paso for the eighth season. This is Tim Floyd’s fifth stint as a college head man, sandwiched around two NBA head coaching stops. Floyd’s first head coaching job was at Idaho from 1986-88, and he had some epic battles against Boise State and Bobby Dye in those two seasons, especially a pair of matchups in the BSU Pavilion. The Broncos and Vandals split those games, with each game drawing more than 12,000 fans.

Boise State has a “not-so-fast-my-friend” if UTEP tries to double-team Chandler Hutchison all day today. That’s what Southern Utah tried to do Sunday in Taco Bell Arena, and the Broncos had multiple answers, including one from Hutchison. The Preseason Mountain West Player of the Year scored only seven points in the 90-69 victory, but dished out a team-best five assists and had six rebounds to compensate. “Chandler doesn’t even blink about shooting (only) three shots,” coach Leon Rice said. “That’s the kind of kid he is and the kind of team we have.” Boise State graduate transfer Lexus Williams feels the Broncos can take that selflessness to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. “I think it will be a good chance for our team to show how together we are,” Williams said.

Notes from the pro front: the Idaho Steelheads rode a three-goal second period to a 4-3 win last night at Rapid City. The triumph was the Steelies’ second straight, and it snapped a four-game Rush winning streak. Ryan Faragher got the start between the pipes and earned his first victory as a Steelhead, making 27 saves. Troy Merritt tees off this morning at the RSM Classic at Sea Island Resort in Georgia. The former Boise State star has missed the cut in two of four tournaments during the early season. His top finish has been a tie for 51st in Las Vegas two weeks ago. And Chesson Hadley, who won the Albertsons Boise Open in September, has been named the Tour Player of the Year.

This Day In Sports…November 16, 1974:

Boise State quarterback Jim McMillan sets a record that even Kellen Moore didn’t break, throwing six touchdown passes in a 56-42 win at Montana. The victory in Missoula clinched a second straight Big Sky championship for the Broncos. It was McMillan’s senior year, and he finished the season with 33 TD passes, a record that would stand for 26 years until Bart Hendricks broke it in 2000. Moore is the current season record-holder with his 43 touchdown passes in 2011.

(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.)