Leighton Vander Esch is just relentless, and that trait has caused a paradigm shift in speculation over whether the Boise State star linebacker will enter the NFL Draft as a junior. Vander Esch just won’t stop one-upping himself on the field, turning in 12 tackles, three tackles for loss with one sack, plus a forced fumble in the win over Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl. He’s just so consistent with these jaw-dropping performances that I’ve gone from “he needs one more season of seasoning” to “well, why not?” now that 2017 is over. Just a year ago, Vander Esch was just beginning to become a defensive regular for the Broncos. He didn’t even start against Baylor in the Cactus Bowl. At NFLDraftScout.com, for example, there’s no projected round for Vander Esch yet. But next to “Stock” there’s a big red “up” arrow.
The defensive effort against Oregon involved much more than Vander Esch, and the theme of the day was not only youth, but depth, especially in the secondary. And that bodes well for 2018. True freshman Kekaula Kaniho’s huge pick-six in the second quarter has been well-chronicled. But there was also the first career interception of redshirt freshman Jordan Happle, he of the Mark Wahlberg tweet in February of last year: “Congrats Jordan Happle on becoming part of the Boise State family. Keep making your pops proud.” Happle did—and it was especially sweet for him as a Portland native.
And may I present the name Jalen Walker. What an unsung hero the redshirt freshman from Lawndale, CA, was. Walker was mainly a special teams player until it was clear that an injury was going to keep All-Mountain West cornerback Tyler Horton out of the bowl. Walker started and played the entire game, making six tackles, one for a loss. You can only wonder what was going through Reid Harrison-Ducros’ mind during the Vegas Bowl. That could have been Harrison-Ducros in Horton’s spot, but he left the team a month ago.
Oregon kind of approached Las Vegas Bowl week as robbing it of its most important recruiting weekend of the fall. It was certainly not a lost weekend for Boise State. The Broncos were able to spend three hours recruiting coast-to-coast on ABC Saturday. Coach Bryan Harsin surely knew the value of it with his “this is why you come to Boise State” in his postgame press conference. Whether it pays off in any new commitments for tomorrow’s first-ever early signing day remains to be seen. The Broncos currently have 15 commits for the 2018 class. In the past week they’ve lost quarterback Zach Wilson of Draper, UT, and picked up safety Chris Mitchell of Mission Viejo, CA.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl festivities kicked off yesterday with the annual bowling event between Wyoming and Central Michigan, and Cowboys quarterback Josh Allen was out there tossing those big bowling balls around with his healing right shoulder. Looks like Allen is going to play in Friday’s game on the blue turf. “We’ve got a gametime decision, but it’s lookin’ pretty good,” grinned Wyoming coach Craig Bohl on Idaho SportsTalk. This may not be Allen’s last chance to provide NFL scouts a game-type evaluation. Because he’s in his fourth year of college, he’ll be able to play in the Senior Bowl if he chooses to forgo his final season at Wyoming—and if he’s invited to Mobile. “That’s kind of one of the reasons that I went forward and tried to get my degree this semester,” Allen told the Casper Star-Tribune.
This was going to be a crucial game for Boise State in men’s hoops if it was going to continue to tickle the Top 25. Now the Broncos have to go to the back of the line after an 86-63 bruising suffered at the hands of SMU last night. The things that got the Broncos out to their 10-1 start deserted them last night in Dallas. Their three-point marksmen missed the target, and Boise State scored just 22 first-half points. The Broncos missed their last nine attempts from three-point range in the first half—that improved slightly after the intermission, but Boise State shot just 38 percent overall. Defense was even more glaring. The Mustangs shot an unfathomable 59 percent from the field while winning their 30th consecutive home game.
Boise State was exposed around the rim, outscored 30-20 in the paint, outrebounded by seven and getting just two points from its big men. Chandler Hutchison was good, as usual, but he couldn’t keep pace by himself. Hutchison scored 12 points in the first half and 18 for the game and pulled down six rebounds. “Nobody’s played 12 straight perfect games,” said Bronco coach Leon Rice on the KBOI postgame show. “It’ll hurt over Christmas, but we’ll regroup for Colorado State.” Boise State hosts CSU to begin Mountain West play a week from tomorrow night.
It was the revenge of the Daughertys (and Rod Jensen) last night in Taco Bell Arena. Former Boise State women’s coach June Daugherty, her husband and associate head coach Mike, and ex-Bronco men’s coach and current Daugherty assistant Rod Jensen guided Washington State to a 61-53 victory over the Broncos. Boise State was a frigid 2-for-19 from beyond the arc and turned the ball over 19 times. The Broncos have a busy pre-Christmas week, hosting CSU Bakersfield tomorrow night and St. Francis Thursday.
The Boise State Athletic Hall of Fame is back after a 10-year hiatus. The university will induct its first Hall of Fame class since 2007 on April 13. Consider that quarterback Bart Hendricks was the last football player inducted—and the slew of guys since him that are Hall of Fame worthy. They could reserve a section in Albertsons Stadium at the Spring Game and do a mass induction. But the Broncos are going to be orderly about it. Boise State is accepting online nominations for the first time, now through New Year’s Day. I know you’d like to induct Cedrick Wilson, like, right now. But to be eligible, student-athletes must be five years removed from earning their undergraduate degrees from Boise State. Wilson will be eligible December 16, 2022. Kellen Moore is eligible now.
This Day In Sports…December 19, 2002, 15 years ago today:
A couple years after the Seattle Mariners make a splash by signing Japanese superstar Ichiro Suzuki, the New York Yankees give the concept a try by inking outfielder Hideki Matsui to a three-year contract. Matsui was already 28 years old, but he played every game for the Yankees the next three seasons. He would later be named Most Valuable Player of the 2009 World Series, the Yanks’ last world championship. Matsui had a career batting average of .282 with 175 home runs.
(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.)