The Broncos’ inexplicable tailspin

Boise State’s loss to New Mexico felt a little fluky, but this one didn’t. Boise State’s loss to New Mexico the week before had its quirks and felt a little fluky. This 37-30 loss to Air Force Friday night was not a fluke. The Falcons were machine-like in their dismantling of the Broncos and, consequently, tradition. You’ve heard that it’s the first time Boise State has lost back-to-back home games in 18 years—and the first time in consecutive weeks in 26 years. Taking the loathsome history one step further, it’s the first time Boise State has ever lost two consecutive conference games on the blue turf. The last such occurrence was in the final two games of the 1984 season, the second-to-last year the turf was green, with losses to Weber State and Idaho.

And it all happened after a spectacular start by Boise State, the 83-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage by Jeremy McNichols and the fumble forced by Tanner Vallejo and recovered by Ben Weaver on Air Force’s first play of the night. That the Broncos were only able to get a field goal after getting the ball at the AFA 22-yard line following the turnover was a bad, bad omen. They led 10-0 just a minute and 20 seconds into the game—and were outscored 34-3 by the Falcons over the next 42 minutes and 47 seconds. Until Boise State’s final drive of the third quarter, Air Force’s Karson Roberts had outpassed Brett Rypien 279 yards to 91.

It might be a little easier to stomach if there was one thing you could point to the past two games. But it’s been a little bit of everything. Boise State had a bye week to prepare for back-to-back weeks against the triple-option—and the carefully-timed passes that go with it. The Broncos allowed an unthinkable 271 yards passing against New Mexico, and then it got worse, as Air Force threw for 279. The Falcons popped for a stunning 31 yards per completion. Their 607 yards of total offense was the fifth-most ever allowed by Boise State at Albertsons Stadium, and they didn’t ignore their bread-and-butter running game. Air Force rushed for 328 yards, also the fifth-most the Broncos have ever yielded at home.

Then there was the BSU offense, which saw its whole package stifled. Rypien completed just 23 of 48 passes and was under pressure all night. The Broncos did not have an answer for Air Force’s patented blitz, and Rypien was sacked six times. The running game netted 141 yards and a serviceable 4.4 yards per carry. But without McNichols’ 83-yard dash on the first snap, the average was just 1.9.

At this point, we need a positive paragraph (maybe I’ll throw one of these in every day this week). Thomas Sperbeck did indeed set the Boise State school record for single-season receiving yards, breaking the mark set by Titus Young in 2010. Sperbeck now has 1,289 and is 12 catches away from Matt Miller’s single-season record of 88 with two games to go. Jeremy McNichols busted off the third-longest run ever by a Bronco—the 83-yarder ranks behind only Jared Zabransky’s 85 and Doug Martin’s 84. McNichols set a Mountain West record by rushing for a TD in ten straight games, and he went over 1,000 yards for the season, giving Boise State a thousand-yard rusher for seven straight years now.

Elsewhere in the Mountain West, Boise State’s loss Friday night rendered the Colorado State-New Mexico game irrelevant to the Broncos. For the record, the Rams won 28-21. It was quite relevant to Air Force, which consequently clinched a berth in the Mountain West championship game against San Diego State. The Aztecs romped past UNLV 52-14 Saturday night. San Jose State will be awaiting BSU this Friday with extra incentive—the Spartans will be playing for bowl eligibility after belting Hawaii 42-23 before the smallest UH crowd in the history of Aloha Stadium. Utah State rallied past Nevada 31-27, and Fresno State was pounded by Tanner Mangum and BYU, 52-10.

Even if it is an off-year at Auburn, I don’t think the Idaho teams of the past few years could have performed at Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday the way this UI crew did. The Vandals lost 56-34, but they outgained the Tigers 479 yards to 460, with quarterbacks Matt Linehan and Jake Luton combining for 356 passing yards. Despite the absence of the dismissed Dezmon Epps, Idaho had two receivers top the 100-yard mark, as Callen Hightower recorded 161 yards and Trent Cowan 118. And despite losing Elijhaa Penny to a strained knee in the first quarter, the Vandals still managed 150 yards on the ground. At least there’s a modicum of momentum heading into this Saturday’s finale versus Texas State in the Kibbie Dome.

Boise State makes a pit stop at home tonight to face Concordia before heading for the Wooden Legacy in Anaheim beginning on Thanksgiving Day. James Webb III came up big in the 88-76 loss at Arizona last Thursday, scoring the Broncos’ first 15 points of the second half and totaling a career-high 27 points. But the hottest start by a Bronco this season belongs to guard Mikey Thompson. The fifth-year senior was limited during preseason practice—he had his knee scoped about a month ago. But Thompson was healthy enough when the bell rung and has been in double figures in all three games, including 12 points and a career-high seven assists versus the Wildcats. Thompson has 15 assists against just two turnovers so far this season while averaging 14.7 points per game on 66 percent shooting from the floor.

Nick Duncan is coming off a strong effort at Arizona, where he not only drained five three-pointers and scored 21 points but also drove to the hoop and played respectable defense against the Wildcats’ seven-footers. Joe Cravens, the one-time Idaho coach who handled analysis on ROOT Sports last Monday night at the Northern Arizona game, was impressed by Duncan’s versatility considering his stocky build. “He looks like he should be playing in the Tavern League,” remarked Cravens during the game while marveling at the 6-8, 260-pounder’s massive minutes and outside shooting ability.

In local pro doings, the Idaho Stampede are now 1-3 after being smothered by Bakersfield Saturday night in CenturyLink Arena, 98-79. The Stampede shot only 33 percent from the field and were out-rebounded by the Jam by 15. The Idaho Steelheads lost two more at Colorado over the weekend and have now dropped eight of their last night games. Saturday night’s defeat was a 2-0 shutout, the second time in the past four games the Steelheads have been blanked. It was Philippe Desrosiers’ turn in net for the Steelies—he turned away 17 of 19 Eagles shots.

Tyler Aldridge was in position for a nice payday when he entered the final round of the RSM Classic in Sea Island, GA. Aldridge was tied for 12th, making his move with a pair of 67’s on Friday and Saturday. But the Nampa product slipped to a one-over 71 yesterday, undone by a double-bogey on the 16th hole and a bogey on the 17th. Aldridge finished 33rd, but he still made $27,049.

More weekend wrap: the Treasure Valley got its high school football mojo back with three state champions. It was guaranteed in 5A, where Rocky Mountain avenged its September loss to Mountain View and dropped the previously undefeated Mavericks 41-22. Bishop Kelly became the first three-peat state champion since the playoffs were instituted when it took down Sandpoint 34-21 for the 4A title. And Emmett won its first state crown with a 54-22 rout of Gooding in the 3A championship game. And Boise State’s Allie Ostrander capped a magnificent true freshman season by finishing second Saturday at the NCAA Cross Country Championships in Louisville. Ostrander was just five seconds behind the champion, Molly Seidel of Notre Dame. The Bronco women finished 11th as a team, while the men were 16th.

This Day In Sports…November 23, 2007:

Proclaimed as the biggest game in WAC history and the most significant sporting event ever in the state of Hawaii, the Hawaii Warriors and Boise State Broncos square off in a winner-take-all game for the outright WAC championship and a possible BCS bowl berth. Urged on by a sell-out crowd of almost 50,000 in Aloha Stadium, Hawaii star quarterback Colt Brennan dealt the BSU defense a number of body blows before the Warriors pulled away from a 27-26 third quarter Bronco lead to win going away, 39-27. Brennan ended up with 495 yards and five touchdowns through the air as Hawaii ended BSU’s run of five straight WAC titles.

(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.)