There are two questions that are, well, intertwined going into the Boise State-Fresno State game Saturday in Taco Bell Arena.Why is San Diego State so wildly inconsistent this season, and why do the Bulldogs seem to be rock-solid consistent? The answer may be new Fresno State coach Justin Hutson, who came over from the Aztecs last spring. Hutson was a key assistant on Steve Fisher’s staff at SDSU for four years (and Brian Dutcher’s last season). The San Diego Union-Tribune points out that Hutson was the Aztecs’ de facto defensive coordinator, and his teams regularly ranked in the top 30 nationally in Kenpom’s defensive efficiency metric. Defense has been deficient at San Diego State this season—and proficient at Fresno State. Hutson has the Bulldogs trending up.
Fresno State had a midweek bye this week. Like Boise State, the Bulldogs’ last game was also at home versus Nevada, a 74-64 loss last Saturday. While the Broncos scratched and clawed to make their clash with the Wolf Pack a one-pointer, the ‘Dogs bemoaned the fact that they let the Pack off the hook after their aforementioned defense forced Nevada to miss 27 (count ‘em, 27) three-pointers. Fresno State’s results against other common opponents would indicate Boise State has a legit shot at Taco Bell Arena. Against Pacific: Bulldogs by three, Broncos by 12. At San Jose State, Fresno State by 20, Boise State by 23.
One way to look at this game is bench against bench. Boise State’s reserves have contributed mightily to the team’s 3-1 start in Mountain West play. They’re collectively averaging 29 points per game in conference, tops in the MW. Fresno State is averaging seven bench points per game, last in the league. The Broncos got 18 points from the bench against Nevada, 14 of them from Derrick Alston. There’s one piece of the starting lineup that’s been lacking lately, though. RJ Williams played only eight minutes against Nevada and was 1-for-3 from the field. It’s puzzling from a guy who started this season so hot. Williams hasn’t scored more than six points in a game since before Christmas. Plus there’s Zach Haney, who missed a handful of point-blank layins while going 1-for-6 from the field against the Wolf Pack.
THE QUEST FOR A LASTING IMPRESSION
One more tweet regarding Brett Rypien ahead of Saturday’s East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg—from NFL Draft Blitz: “Rypien is definitely the best QB at (Shrine Game practices). He showed that on Wednesday. He shows clean footwork, quick release and is accurate in the short/intermediate area. He ran the two-minute drill to perfection today.” There’s video of Rypien’s practice throws all over the Twittersphere. Of course, all these accolades have been the result of practice performances and not actual game action. What Rypien does tomorrow will be an important piece of the puzzle as NFL clubs draw conclusions about him.
WICKERSHAM’S WORK PAYS OFF
He grew up in Elko as a Boise State fan, rooting on fellow townspeople Jeff and Pete Cavender. All he ever wanted as a little boy was to be a Bronco, and he walked in with the program in 2016. Benton Wickersham has become more than just a special teams player, logging a combined 35 tackles his first two seasons. In fact, he started in the First Responder Bowl last month. Last night, coach Bryan Harsin announced on Twitter that Wickersham has been awarded a full scholarship. Reaction from teammates followed, plus this tweet from Tyson Maeva, the fellow linebacker who unceremoniously parted ways with the team earlier this month: “This man has deserved this since day 1!”
HERE WE’LL CALL IT ‘FINISHING THE BREAKOUT’
This was making the rounds yesterday: “College Football’s Top 30 Early Projected Breakout Players for 2019” from Steven Lassan of Athlon Sports. The only two Group of 5 players on the list are from the same team, wide receivers John Hightower and CT Thomas of Boise State. Writes Lassan, “With Sean Modster and A.J. Richardson out of eligibility, Boise State is losing its top two receivers from 2018. However, coach Bryan Harsin’s group is stocked with potential breakout options. Hightower averaged 16.3 yards per catch last season, while Thomas collected 41 receptions for 535 yards.” The breakout has already started, hasn’t it? The only question here: What is Hightower’s status following his academic suspension from the First Responder Bowl?
CHECKING THE STEELIES’ ROSTER CHURN
The Idaho Steelheads get a reliable goaltender and a top-flight scoring threat back from the AHL this weekend as they finish their three-game series against the Allen Americans. Netminder Ryan Faragher had been with the Stockton Heat since the beginning of the month. A a Steelhead, Faragher is 4-3-0 with one shutout and a 2.82 goals-against average this season. Brad McClure spent a week with the Texas Stars. The playmaking McClure is the Steelies’ second-leading goal-scorer this season with 11 tallies. The interesting addition earlier this week was defenseman John Nyberg, who was assigned to the Steelheads by the Dallas Stars from Texas. Nyberg, a native of Sweden, came across the Atlantic for the first time this season after playing parts of four seasons in the Swedish Hockey League.
The Boise State women are likely on the cusp of getting votes again in the Top 25. A win at Fresno State might get them some. It won’t be easy—like the Broncos, the Bulldogs are 4-0 in conference play. The winner will have sole possession of first place in the Mountain West. The sidebar is Riley Lupfer’s quest for 1,000 career points. Lupfer, only a junior, is 10 points away. She had a tougher-than-usual time in the 75-74 win at Nevada Wednesday night, going 3-for-11 from the field and scoring 10 points.
The College of Idaho men look to solidify their hold on first place in the Cascade Conference as they return home to host Northwest Christian tonight and Corban Saturday night in Caldwell. The Yotes are No. 2 in the NAIA Division II coaches poll, but the top 25 is only released bi-weekly. The No. 1 team, Oklahoma Wesleyan, has lost since, so a sweep could put C of I back on top. Also, Northwest Nazarene is in the middle of the most brutal road trip in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, the one in the Frozen North. But Thursday night, NNU won its fifth straight game with an 83-73 victory at Alaska-Fairbanks. The Nighthawks, still tied for first in the GNAC, face Alaska-Anchorage Saturday night.
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January 18, 2015: Boise State wins its first game ever at The Pit, the iconic home of the New Mexico Lobos. Senior Derrick Marks and sophomore James Webb III combined for 54 points as the Broncos bested UNM, 69-59, ending a tight game on an 11-2 run. Marks scored 31 points to extend his school record in career 30-point games to eight. Webb connected on all seven of his three-point attempts and finished with 23 points. Boise State had been winless in Alburquerque since joining the Mountain West 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.)