Thomas Sperbeck’s goal line spurt

If the key to Boise State’s offense Saturday at Wyoming is maximizing the passing game, then we can continue the Thomas Sperbeck talk. Sperbeck, of course, is now the Broncos’ career leader in receiving yards, but here’s another thing that stands out about the senior star: he’s going the distance more regularly this season. Two years ago, he had 51 catches after Matt Miller was lost for the season, but Sperbeck scored only three touchdowns on them. That’s one TD for every 17 receptions. Last year, Sperbeck tied the school record with 88 catches, but his eight touchdowns were kind of pedestrian proportionately—one for every eleven grabs. This season it has improved immensely, down to one touchdown for every 6.7 receptions (seven TDs on 47 catches). Boise State wants to see him in the end zone in Laramie.

Sperbeck touched another record last Thursday. He caught nine passes for 109 yards to record his 13th career 100-yard game, tying Ryan Ikebe for Boise State’s all-time lead. But there was something different about the Boise State passing game against BYU, and it’s something the Broncos want to carry into the Wyoming game. For the first time this season, someone other than Thomas Sperbeck, Cedrick Wilson or Chaz Anderson had multiple receptions for the Broncos. Sean Modster pulled in four catches for 82 yards, including a 56-yarder to the BYU 15-yard line in the first quarter (it didn’t lead to points, as Tyler Rausa’s ensuing field goal was blocked). The first breakout by the “second wave” at wide receiver.

Now, can the tight ends break out as well? That group registered just one catch last week, its first in three games, but it was gargantuous. Jake Knight, the former Rocky Mountain standout who transferred to Boise State from the Auburn track program, gained 46 yards on a crucial third-and-six throw from Brett Rypien in the fourth quarter, taking it to BYU’s four-yard line. Jeremy McNichols scored the eventual winning touchdown on the next play to cap a 90-yard drive. There was another huge play by a tight end in the game—a tackle. Alec Dhaenens saved a possible touchdown after BYU blocked a Tyler Rausa field goal in the first quarter, tripping up Kai Nacua at the Bronco 47-yard line. The Cougars would have to settle for a field goal. And, by all accounts, the position has been blocking well this season.

There’s increasing buzz around the Wyoming offensive line and its role in the Cowboys’ profilic running game and opportunistic aerial attack. The reason: the Pokes have lost their starting right tackle, likely for the season, with a foot injury. Ryan Cummings went down in the win at Nevada last Saturday. Wyoming had gone with the same five-man combo on the O-line all season, and Cummings, a 6-6, 319-pounder, had 26 career starts for the Cowboys. He’ll be replaced by sophomore Brinkley Jolly, who stands 6-5 and a relatively svelte 273 pounds. Jolly is a converted tight end who hasn’t played this season and appeared in just one game last year.

Washington’s next tussle for Pac-12 superiority is Saturday at Utah. This week’s ESPN The Magazine has a feature headlined “Coach Peak” on former Boise State coach Chris Petersen and how he has the Huskies contending for a College Football Playoff berth in his third season. Among the points in the story by Brock Huard (one-time UW quarterback): “No one is bigger than the team…no one.” The focus there was Petersen’s dismissal of eventual first-round NFL Draft pick Marcus Peters two years ago. Huskies upperclassmen told Huard this summer they cite that move as “the moment the program began to mend itself” after the Steve Sarkisian era.

Another point: “He found a right-handed Kellen Moore.” Huard notes that like Moore, quarterback Jake Browning “withstood early whispers of arm-strength concerns.” And, like Moore, “Browning’s prolific numbers have quelled doubts” (he’s second in the nation in pass efficiency). “What elevates him is a Moore-like chemistry with Petersen,” adds Huard. And another Coach Pete observation by Huard: “He’s a master of trench warfare.” That means the defensive line in particular. “The math behind Petersen’s success is the same in Seattle as it was in Boise: mixing high-profile names with lower-visibility projects,” writes Huard. Here, that could have been high-profile Billy Winn next to lower-visibility Shea McClellin. Both were drafted into the NFL, and it was Marsing’s McClellin who went in the first round.

At 2-5, Idaho State has to win out now to achieve a winning season. The Bengals start the stretch run at home Saturday against Southern Utah. The offense has been a disappointment for ISU this season, last in the Big Sky in yardage at 346.9 per game and 12th in scoring with a 21.6-point average. The Bengals might be getting SUU at a good time, though. The Thunderbirds had a 36-14 lead at home last week against rival Weber State before allowing 23 points in the final eight minutes and losing 37-36. Southern Utah is winless on the road this season.

The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl has announced that its annual ticket kickoff luncheon held last week generated over $40,000 in ticket sales. The event marked the beginning of the celebration for the bowl’s 20th game. Executive Director Kevin McDonald also reminded the crowd that the Football Bowl Association will be holding its annual meeting in Boise in April, 2018, the first time it’s visited a small bowl market. Originally the gathering was held in major markets in general, then it went to city where BCS national championship game would be held. FIPB officials are expecting about 400 attendees over 3-4 days, including the executive directors from every bowl game and College Football Playoff head Bill Hancock—and the bowl folks will show them the sights.

After a scoreless first period last night, the Idaho Steelheads tallied the first two goals of the game against the Reading Royals in the second period at CenturyLink Arena. But the Steelheads couldn’t hold the lead, losing 3-2 to the Royals to fall to 1-3-1 on the young season. Meanwhile, encouraging to all Idaho players is the journey of former Steelhead Justin Dowling, who made his debut with the Dallas Stars Tuesday night. Dowling was a Steelie four seasons ago and scored 46 points in 34 games. He split time between Idaho and the Texas Stars that season and has played for the AHL’s Stars every season since. The current Steelheads continue their series with Reading Friday night.

In a span of a few days, former Boise Hawk Kyle Schwarber has gone from the Arizona Fall League to the featured performer in Game 2 of the historic 2016 World Series. Schwarber was the Cubs’ designated hitter again in Cleveland and came through, going 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored in the 5-1 Chicago win that evened the Series at a game apiece. It was the Cubs’ first win in a World Series game in, well, 71 years.

Expectations are high for the Boise State womens basketball team, as the Broncos are predicted to finish second behind Colorado State in the Mountain West preseason coaches/media poll. The Broncos have four starters back, including senior Brooke Pahukoa, a preseason All-Mountain West pick for the second straight year. The Boise State men play their first exhibition tomorrow night against Lewis-Clark State, who opened the season last weekend with a couple of epic routes of Northwest Indian College—by counts of 106-49 and 135-53.

This Day In Sports…October 27, 2004:

The Curse of the Bambino ends convincingly, as the Boston Red Sox win their first World Series since 1918 with a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals. This was on the heels of one of the greatest accomplishments in sports—the rally by the Red Sox from a three-games-to-none deficit to the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. Boston’s quirky but popular Manny Ramirez was the World Series MVP.

(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.)