Boise State football: Ready for prime time

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018.

In Boise State’s five season openers under Bryan Harsin, the Broncos have been good enough to go 4-1. But the only two times they looked in midseason form right out of the gate were the true road games they played in the Deep South, the 45-10 rout of Louisiana-Lafayette two years ago and the 56-20 throttling of Troy Saturday night. The 2016 team would go 10-3, but the season didn’t end so well. This Boise State squad has a different feel, and it’s going to be interesting to see what happens. The 56 points against the Trojans were the most ever by the Broncos in a season opener on the road, eclipsing the 47-24 victory at Idaho in 1973. Second on the list—until Saturday night—was that steamy win in Lafayette.

The easy takeaway from Boise State’s victory at Troy was the Opening Day resurgence of Brett Rypien after what happened on the blue turf last September. Rypien left last year’s game against the Trojans after just 160 yards passing, no touchdowns, a pick-six, four sacks and a lost fumble. He was 4-for-4 for 52 yards on the Broncos’ first drive this time, capped by the 20-yard touchdown throw to Sean Modster. By halftime Rypien had tossed four TDs—he didn’t have four touchdown passes last year until October 28. You could see a calm demeanor as he hung in the pocket and went through his progressions, and his array of wide receivers were on point in the first game of the post-Cedrick Wilson era. This is the senior edition of Brett Rypien.

When you tie an NCAA record, you’re probably a favorite for Mountain West Player of the Week honors. Tyler Horton did indeed get the defensive nod after becoming only the fifth player in history to return two fumbles for touchdowns in a single game. Horton made Boise State’s new “Turnover Throne,” which went viral over the weekend, his personal perch. His first scoop-and-score came in the third quarter when a forced fumble by Kekoa Nawahine shot straight into the air and into his hands, and he raced 55 yards to paydirt. The second TD was even easier, when a perfect bounce following a sack by Durrant Miles resulted in an 11-yard score. Horton also broke up a pass that resulted in the Broncos’ first of four turnovers forced on the night, setting up Tony Lashley’s interception.

The game at Troy was packed with firsts for Boise State players. CT Thomas and Akilian Butler snagged their first touchdown receptions (it’s been a long wait for Butler). Sean Modster posted his first 100-yard game, and then some. Backup quarterback Chase Cord, on his second snap as a Bronco, got his first touch—and a 44-yard touchdown. John Hightower and Garrett Collingham logged their first receptions. For Collingham, the one-time Mountain View High quarterback, it was quite a moment. Lashley, the graduate transfer from Idaho, made his first career interception. He never had one as a Vandal. And there was a first for sophomores Kayode Rufai and Jabari Watson: a combo sack.

Boise State’s one concern on the injury front out of Troy is Avery Williams, who crumpled to the ground midway through the fourth quarter holding his elbow. At his press conference yesterday, coach Bryan Harsin said the staff would meet with team doctors at the end of the day to discuss Williams’ status for this Saturday’s home opener against Connecticut. “In his mind, he’s good to go,” said Harsin. But he added, “I think he’ll be limited.” Cornerback is one of the few positions lacking depth for the Broncos. In fact, on this week’s depth chart (last week’s, too), Jalen Walker was listed as the backup at both corner spots behind Williams and Horton. There’s also the issue of kick returns to deal with.

Idaho’s return to the FCS could not have started worse Saturday night. It was hard to believe the Vandals and Fresno State were in the same conference seven years ago, as the Bulldogs embarrassed the visitors 79-13. Idaho clearly has a problem at quarterback, as Matt Linehan’s shoes aren’t close to being filled. Mason Petrino and Colton Richardson combined for five interceptions among the Vandals’ seven turnovers. Fresno State’s Tank Kelly had two of the picks, one of which he returned 39 yards for a touchdown. “It was like taking candy from the candy shop today,” Kelly said. “It was just being thrown out there. Everything was for free or on sale.” Ouch.

A 10-10 halftime tie melted away for College of Idaho Saturday in a 36-16 home-opening defeat to Montana Tech. With Darius-James Peterson still banged up from the previous week’s loss at Eastern Oregon and suffering from a stomach bug, the Coyotes called on backup quarterback Nathaniel Holcomb again. Holcomb threw for 272 yards and two touchdowns, but he was just 22-of-44 on the day. More concerning, though, was the Yotes’ running game, which struggled even more in Game 2. C of I netted just 19 yards on 23 carries.

I’ll go with Mike Prater’s math on former Boise State Broncos in the NFL. There are 13 of them, with a chance it could go to 14 if San Francisco’s injury crisis at running back makes them re-sign Jeremy McNichols. The most ironic turn of events came in New York. Darian Thompson and Donte Deayon had been running mates in the Boise State secondary from 2012-15. Thompson set the Mountain West career interceptions record with 19 and was drafted in the second round by the Giants. Deayon had 17 career picks but went undrafted. Deayon was picked up by the Giants, reuniting him with Thompson—he finally made his NFL debut last year. Over the weekend Thompson was cut, and Deayon made the 53-man roster.

The Boise Hawks left their fans with one of those “only-in-the-Northwest-League” innings as they wrapped us their season season with an 11-2 rout of the Eugene Emeralds last night. The Hawks put up an eight-run fourth inning, aided by a whopping five Eugene errors in the frame. The Emeralds were out of sorts—they had clinched a spot in the NWL Playoffs the night before in Memorial Stadium and maybe, just maybe, prolonged the celebration in Downtown Boise. As it is, the Hawks finish the season 35-41, their fourth straight campaign under .500.

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September 4, 1999: Boise State plays its first-ever game against UCLA, opening the season in the Rose Bowl. A pre-game ceremony honored the late Paul Reyna, a Bronco freshman who had died tragically two weeks earlier. BSU fell to the Bruins, 38-7—providing no clue as to the fate of each team’s season. UCLA would go 4-7, while the Broncos would win the Big West and Humanitarian Bowl titles with a 10-3 record. Incidentally, Boise State’s only score of the game came on a touchdown pass from a backup quarterback named Bryan Harsin.

(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.)

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