Every team needs players to step it up a notch in the postseason. Let’s call them “bowl guys.” Every team needs players to step it up a notch in the postseason. Let’s call them “bowl guys.” And who will they be for Boise State at the Poinsettia Bowl against Northern Illinois Wednesday? Thomas Sperbeck established himself as a “bowl guy” last year at the Fiesta Bowl. The 38-30 win over Arizona in Glendale was Sperbeck’s career day until he smashed Bronco single-game records with 20 receptions for 281 yards against New Mexico last month. But his career highlight remains the Fiesta Bowl, where he was named the game’s Offensive MVP after making 12 catches for 199 yards. What did the Arizona and New Mexico games have in common? Sperbeck didn’t have a touchdown in either. He has scored just one TD in his last four games. Point production from Sperbeck would be quite helpful in San Diego.
Chaz Anderson looked like a “bowl guy” last year when he hauled in a 57-yard touchdown pass from Grant Hedrick in the Fiesta Bowl. Anderson had three catches for 80 yards for the game. But a couple drops threw some cold water on the big day. And drops have been a problem for the junior wide receiver this year. Anderson did catch a bomb for a decisive 54-yard TD at UNLV on Halloween, reminiscent of last season. But there just haven’t been very many similar moments. Anderson, the former cornerback, can still turn the corner as an impact wideout.
Defensively, Boise State’s primary “bowl guys” last year were Kamalei Correa and Donte Deayon. Will this be Correa’s last game as a Bronco, or will it not? The junior defensive end was the one who made the game-ending sack of Arizona’s Anu Solomon at the Fiesta Bowl. And, will the time off bring out a good ol’ healthy Deayon? He had a 16-yard pick-six that kept the Wildcats at bay in Glendale when the Boise State offense had bogged down in the third quarter. Deayon, of course, missed three straight games in late October and early November after minor knee surgery. He has 17 career interceptions but hasn’t registered a pick since October 3 against Hawaii. I’m sure Deayon feels he’s due.
Akron quarterback Thomas Woodson will be facing a really good Utah State defense in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Tuesday. It’ll be a good measure of Woodson’s development. Woodson, a redshirt sophomore, is getting a lot of credit for leading the Zips to their first bowl game in 10 years and only the second in school history. “I’m just comfortable with anything now and a lot of guys respond to me now,” Woodson told the Akron Beacon Journal. “I pretty much have to take that role, honestly. I’m fine with it now.” How good is he really? We’ll find out against the Aggies. Woodson has completed only 53 percent of his passes for 2,034 yards, with 12 touchdowns against 10 interceptions.
Kyler Fackrell is one of a bunch of good linebackers who’ll be featured on the blue turf Tuesday. Fackrell leads the nation with five fumble recoveries, with two of them coming in Boise State’s eight-turnover meltdown, the 52-26 loss to Utah State in mid-October. Another is his USU teammate, Nick Vigil. For Akron, there’s the much talked-about MAC Defensive Player of the Year, Jatavis Brown, who’s recorded 10.5 sacks this season. “He can flat run, and he represents our style of football,” coach Terry Bowden said. Bowden says he’d be happy with a low-scoring game in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, and these ‘backers may give him one.
The Mountain West bowl season starts tomorrow with New Mexico versus Arizona at the New Mexico Bowl and San Jose State against Georgia State at the Cure Bowl in Orlando. The Lobos would like to signal a shifting balance of power in the Mountain West with an upset of the Wildcats. This is the best thing that has happened to the New Mexico Bowl since UNM played in the game—its last bowl game—in 2007. As a 5-7 team, the Spartans are just in the postseason because of their APR score. Which is fine, but the 5-7 thing has to go. Good luck with that, though. Do you see any bowls raising their hands volunteering to go dark to keep this from happening again?
Boise State hoops has had the week off for finals, resuming play Sunday when the Broncos host Bradley. It’s the ninth of 10 games in the 2015 Mountain West-Missouri Valley Conference Challenge Series. And what a draw for the home team. It’ll be important that Boise State plays its game and not down to the level of the Braves, who come in at 1-9. In fact, Bradley has lost nine in a row after a season-opening victory over Ball State. The streak began with a 90-60 loss at Arizona. The Broncos, meanwhile, extended their home winning streak to 13 games with their conquest of Oregon last Saturday and are now 67-15 at Taco Bell Arena under Leon Rice (38-2 in conference games).
Rice made the term “glue guy” popular when he applied it to former Boise State guard Jeff Elorriaga a few years ago. Elorriaga was a walk-on who, after continually sparking the Broncos off the bench with superior effort, good decisions and clutch shooting, became a starter. Rob Heyer, another walk-on, inherited the moniker last season with his grit. Now there’s a scholarship player who might be emerging as a “glue guy.” He was the antithesis of Elorriaga and Heyer, arriving the way he did as a four-star recruit. But Chandler Hutchison is showing all the lead-by-example qualities of those predecessors at both ends of the floor. Hutchison is the one Rice trusts on defense in clutch situations, and playmaking is becoming second-nature to him on offense. Hutchison is averaging 7.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game—big points and big rebounds.
The Idaho Stampede enter the holidays 4-11, in last place in the D-League’s Pacific Division with road games against the L.A. D-Fenders tonight and the Santa Cruz Warriors tomorrow night. The Stampede were only a game worse at this point last year with a 3-12 mark. But this season’s club is in much better shape. Those 2014-15 Stamps were in the midst of a 13-game losing streak—and a stretch that saw them lose 25 of 26 games. The current squad has gone 3-4 in its last seven games and is trying to build on the presence—however temporary—of Tyus Jones, the Final Four Most Outstanding Player for Duke last April. Jones has averaged 23.3 points in his four games with Idaho.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Mountain View girls basketball team fares at the 19th annual Nike Tournament of Champions beginning today in Phoenix. The Mavericks’ Destiny Slocum, the Maryland commit and one of the best players in the country, is obviously a primary reason the defending state 5A champions were invited to the event. But traveling teams from Idaho have been performing well in recent years at the national level. According to the Statesman, the field includes 96 girls teams in six divisions from 21 states.
The Idaho Steelheads probably would have liked to save a few of Wednesday night’s goals for future reference. The Steelheads potted a season-high eight in their 8-5 win over Utah. Just as encouraging was that it came against the Grizzlies, the first-place team in the ECHL’s West Division. As much of a struggle as this season has been so far, the Steelies are not in last place in the division. That distinction belongs to the once-proud Alaska Aces, who are five points behind Idaho. Tonight and tomorrow night the Allen Americans make their first-ever visit to Boise. The Steelheads and Allen split a pair of games last week in Texas.
This Day In Sports…December 18, 1932:
The Chicago Bears beat the Portsmouth Spartans, 9-0, in the first NFL’s first playoff game. It was also the first NFL game ever played indoors, moved from Wrigley Field to Chicago Stadium because of a huge blizzard in the Windy City. The floor was covered with dirt because a circus had just appeared there, and the field was only 80 yards long. The Bears’ deciding touchdown came on a scoring pass from Bronko Nagurski to Red Grange.
(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.)