Let’s set the scene for Boise State-Oklahoma State tomorrow. This decade, Boise State is 12-8 record against Power 5 programs—6-4 under coach Bryan Harsin. Since the Broncos logged their landmark victory at No. 8 Fresno State in 2001, they actually have a winning record against ranked teams, at 13-12. How is the game being viewed in Oklahoma City? Barry Tramel of the Oklahoman writes, “ OSU-Boise State might be the Big 12’s best offering Saturday, and it’s a wonderful matchup. A rock ‘em/sock ‘em showdown of teams that have built national brands in the last decade. Boise State with more than its blue field, OSU with more than its Imelda Marcos closet of uniforms. This is OSU’s most marquee non-conference home game since Georgia visited in 2009.” Well, there is some respect back there.
When Boise State’s John Bates hauled in a 24-yard touchdown catch from Brett Rypien in the first quarter against UConn last week, you had to think, “The tight ends are back.” They were on that play—nice grab by Bates. But that was it for the tight ends. Again. In two games, that position has two receptions for 35 yards. The encouraging thing to come out of the UConn game was the run-blocking prowess of the tight ends. We saw Matt Pistone line up occasionally at fullback, for example, and spring some of Alexander Mattison’s dashes. The Broncos don’t rush for 400 yards without ‘em. Is there something this group is going to unleash tomorrow at Boone Pickens Stadium?
To be successful at Oklahoma State, Boise State won’t need its running game to be as explosive as it was against UConn. I mean, who’d expect the Broncos to rush for 400 yards again? But the ground attack will have to be much better than at Troy, as much tougher sledding awaits the offensive line in Stillwater. Among the running backs, Mattison looked like 2017, midseason style, in picking up his sixth career 100-yard game last week. Now, who is truly the backup? It was Andrew Van Buren who was a beast off the bench versus UConn, with 13 carries for 75 yards and a touchdown. Robert Mahone had just two carries for 10 yards (plus two catches for 20 yards).
I’m anxious to see what Boise State defensive coordinator Andy Avalos has dialed up for Oklahoma State, and how the Broncos will hold up against the Cowboys’ tempo offense (what we used to call a no-huddle). I’m sure it’s been done before, but I guess I didn’t pick up on it—two offenses going at the same time in practice to try to replicate OSU’s pace. The Boise State defense, after defending a play from Offense A, would turn around to see Offense B already lined up and ready to snap the ball. If preparation matters—and it always has for Boise State—then you have to like the visitors’ chances. One category to keep an eye on: turnovers. The Broncos have not lost one yet, while the Cowboys have turned it over five times.
The Mountain West gets its final six shots of the regular season against the Power 5 this weekend. Outside of the showdown in Stillwater tomorrow, the best shot the conference has at a “power victory” is probably in Reno, where Nevada hosts the eternally-struggling Oregon State Beavers. Fresno State is a slight favorite at UCLA, too. If Colorado State is into surprises like the one it pulled on Arkansas last week, maybe the Rams can get it done again at Florida. Under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t want to undersell San Diego State against No. 23 Arizona State at what was once Qualcomm Stadium. But the Aztecs will be working without injured quarterback Christian Chapman. Also, San Jose State plays at Oregon. ‘Nuff said.
It was a Skinns game yesterday at Hillcrest Country Club (I’m sure I’m not the only one using that line). David Skinns, a 36-year old Englishman with a great Boise story, fired a seven-under 64 to take a one-shot lead after the first round of the 29th Albertsons Boise Open. Sangmoon Bae, who made the International team in the 2015 Presidents Cup, and Fabian Gomez, a two-time PGA Tour winner, are tied for second as the third phase of the Web.com Tour Finals gets underway.
Skinns departed after two rounds at last year’s Boise Open, but it wasn’t because he missed the cut. Skinns headed for Georgia, where his wife had gone into labor with the couple’s second child. He was in good shape at the time, tied for ninth and within striking distance of his first PGA Tour card. Skinns returned to the Web.com Tour this year and picked up a victory in July. If he wins at Hillcrest this weekend, he’d get that tour card for the first time in his 12-year career.
Circling back to football, College of Idaho is hungry after starting the season with three straight losses. But Portland State is probably hungrier, looking at tomorrow’s game against the Coyotes as its ticket to ending a 15-game losing streak dating back to 2016. PSU has also lost eight straight at home—at Providence Park and Hillsboro Stadium. After being routed at Nevada and Oregon, the Vikings are allowing 67 points per game. It’s still FCS talent versus the NAIA, though, and the Yotes know what they’re up against. C of I will have to be able to run the ball to stay in the game, something it did well at Southern Oregon last week, with 223 yards. And that was without sophomore Nick Calzaretta, who missed the game with an injury.
You never hear about offensive linemen, until they commit a penalty or do something quirky. Charles Leno Jr. fit into the latter category in Chicago’s loss to the Packers last Sunday night. Leno was split out with a wide receiver twice during the Bears’ opening touchdown drive. You could call it a screen decoy, as Chicago didn’t go that way on either play. Pro Football Focus gave the former Boise State star the third-highest grade of any Bear in the opener (he played all 74 offensive snaps). Chicago hosts the Seahawks Monday night. And, just when we thought Jeremy McNichols was getting one more NFL chance, he was released from the Indianapolis practice squad yesterday. The Colts had signed him 10 days ago.
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September 14, 1968, 50 years ago today: Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers defeats Oakland, 5-4, to win his 30th game of the season—the last time a pitcher has done that. McLain’s record for the season would be 31-6. The closest anyone has come since is 27, by Steve Carlton of the Phillies in 1972 and Bob Welch of the A’s in 1990. McLain’s career and reputation unraveled within a couple years, though, and he ultimately served several terms in prison for drug trafficking, embezzling and racketeering.
(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.)