Tracking Boise State’s other trench

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Thursday, September 27, 2018.

One area of the Boise State roster that didn’t require crisis management after the loss at Oklahoma State was the defensive line. That group didn’t play its best game, but it was decent versus OSU, recording three sacks. Jabril Frazier lived up to his preseason clippings by recording two of them, his first ones of the season. The other sack came from Durrant Miles, who leads the Broncos this season with three. Frazier and Miles lead Boise State into its next assignment, Wyoming quarterback Tyler Vander Waal, who’s been slow to develop this month in Josh Allen’s absence. Vander Waal is completing only 53 percent of his throws over the first three games. Pokes coach Craig Bohl calls Vander Waal a “work in progress,” although progress was made in the winning drive against Wofford two weeks ago.

September has been slightly strange elsewhere on the Boise State defensive line. David Moa made his 2018 debut at Oklahoma State after missing the first two games of the season. Moa, the senior who led the Broncos in sacks two years ago, notched only two tackles, but one of them was on a second-quarter goal-line stand, a two-yard tackle-for-loss on a third-and-one, forcing OSU to settle for a field goal. The D-lineman poised for a breakout is Curtis Weaver, last season’s Boise State’s sacks leader. The sophomore All-Mountain West performer has just three tackles this month. However, all three were for loss, including one sack. There is more where that came from.

Saturday’s game matches all three Mountain West Preseason Players of the Year: Boise State’s Brett Rypien on offense, Wyoming’s Andrew Wingard on defense, and the Broncos’ Avery Williams on special teams. You’ve heard Rypien’s numbers—he’s filling the bill. Wingard is, too, leading the Cowboys with 32 tackles and an interception. It’s been an interesting go for Williams, though. The junior has been fine on defense despite his elbow injury, making 10 tackles with three pass breakups and adding a pick versus UConn with that big brace on his arm. But Williams has returned only three punts for six yards, as Khalil Shakir has evidently taken over that role. And Williams doesn’t have a kickoff return yet.

Speaking of special teams, Boise State is circling the wagons on its punting unit after the two blocks that led to 14 Oklahoma State points two weeks back. Among the punts the Broncos did get off in Stillwater, Quinn Skillin had one boot that went just 36 yards, and Joel Velazquez had one that traveled only 33 yards. Velazquez has been good on kickoffs, though, sending 13 of 23 into the end zone for touchbacks. On paper, it doesn’t look like Wyoming poses much of a danger on returns, as the Cowboys average just 4.4 yards on punt returns and 17.7 on kickoff returns.

The other compelling game in the Mountain West this week is Toledo at Fresno State. If the Bulldogs’ 38-14 undressing of UCLA in the Rose Bowl two weeks ago was a statement game, this matchup with the MAC’s Rockets can serve as a Group of 5 calling card. Toledo is 2-1 and is coming off 11-3, 9-4 and 10-2 records the last three years. The Rockets dropped Nevada 63-44 last week. The theory goes that two of the Mountain West’s top defenses will be facing off in Laramie Saturday. Well, Fresno State is the conference leader in total defense right now, allowing just 294.7 yards per game despite having two road games against Power 5 schools under its belt.

Sean Lee has played 75 career games for the Dallas Cowboys—Leighton Vander Esch has played 78 career snaps. But Lee has also missed 43 games, and he’s out with a hamstring injury for Sunday’s game against Detroit. So the former Boise State star is poised for his first NFL start, and he’s ready. “You can’t stress yourself out if things are too hard or not,” Vander Esch said Yesterday. “You’re here for a reason and you have to trust yourself in that because you wouldn’t be here if you’re not supposed to be. You have to have full confidence in yourself.” LVE is fourth on the Cowboys with 20 tackles, 16 of them solo. This could last awhile, as Lee is supposed to be sidelined for up to four weeks.

Who’d a thunk Idaho State would be leading the Big Sky in total defense after some of the nightmare seasons over the last two decades? But that’s the case going into ISU’s homecoming game against Northern Arizona Saturday in Holt Arena. The Bengals did allow 469 yards at North Dakota last week, but they gutted out a 25-21 win over the Fighting Hawks, helped by four field goals from Campbell Sheidow. Any road victory is a benchmark for Idaho State these days. NAU’s offense includes former Boise State running back Cory Young, who led the Lumberjacks in rushing last year with 784 yards and eight touchdowns. Young has 105 yards and one TD this season.

Idaho senior linebacker Ed Hall has been named a semifinalist for the 2018 William V. Campbell Trophy by the National Football Foundation. The award goes to the top football scholar-athlete in the country. Hall is a mechanical engineering major with a 3.83 grade-point average. He’s working with fellow engineers and finance students, including teammate Alex Boatman, to develop the Forever Shower, a shower for recreational vehicles that uses filtered, recycled water. Hall, a former walk-on, led the Vandals with three interceptions last season and is currently the team’s leading tackler with 26 stops. Idaho has never had an NFF National Scholar-Athlete finalist. Boise State got its first last season in the form of center Mason Hampton. This year’s list will be trimmed to 12-14 finalists on October 31.

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September 27, 1998, 20 years ago today: Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals hits his 69th—and, in his final at-bat—his seemingly impossible (for good reason, as it turns out) 70th home run of the season. By hitting five homers in his final three games, he finally pulled away from the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa in the home run race, 70-66. Both players had shattered Roger Maris’s 38-year-old major league record of 61 homers in a single season.

(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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