Broncos’ Turnover Throne needs more breaking in

Presented by BIZ PRINT.
Thursday, October 4, 2018.

The Turnover Throne went viral on Labor Day weekend. Boise State’s creative creation to reward the players who get the takeaways was warmed four times in the 56-20 win at Troy. The Throne made a triumphant blue turf debut a week later—and sat idle for 60 minutes. The only time it saw the backside of a Bronco last Saturday at Wyoming was after Jalen Walker recovered a muffed snap on a Cowboys punt. The faucet has been turned off, and Boise State needs it back on against San Diego State. Along those lines, unless the turnover battle is even Saturday, something’s gotta give. The Broncos have won 17 consecutive games when they are plus-one or better in turnover margin, the third-longest active streak in the country. The Aztecs lead the nation with 24 straight victories when on the plus-side in turnovers.

The fact that the only turnover Boise State forced at Wyoming came on special teams was significant after what happened in the previous game. Later, John Hightower did his best Oklahoma State impression, smothering a Wyo punt. Quinn Skillin averaged 43.2 yards on four punts in Laramie, and all seven of Joel Velazquez’s kickoffs went for touchbacks. It was still an uneven evening, though. Khalil Shakir was throttled on punt returns, losing a net six yards on three runbacks and once having to recover his own fumble. And the Broncos committed three penalties on punt returns and had an offside on a kickoff. Of course, special teams set the tone at San Diego State last October when Avery Williams took a punt back 53 yards for a touchdown.

I don’t know if this angle will manifest itself in the game Saturday, but you can see the possibilities. Boise State backup quarterback Chase Cord has a package of plays, and the Broncos are starting to use them in the heat of battle. Four times during the second and third quarters at Wyoming—twice on one drive—Cord entered the game for one play for the Broncos. Three of the snaps were on first down; the other time he came in on second down. Cord ran three times for 18 yards and flicked a “pass” to John Hightower for a three-yard gain. Opponents are going to have to respect Cord’s running ability. Then, when you least expect it, he can pop up and hit one deep. Cord’s arm hasn’t been on full display yet.

One San Diego State mainstay who’s had October 6 circled on his calendar is linebacker Ronley Lakalaka. His full name is Ronley Saumaniafaese Lealao Lakalaka, so it won’t surprise you that he’s from Kalihi, Hawaii. His older brother, Steven, was a running back at Hawaii, so Ronley is familiar with the Broncos. “Boise has been the gold standard of the conference,” said Lakalaka at Mountain West Media Days in July. “It’s like playing a Pac-12 team. I’ve been watching Boise State since I was a little kid, so I know what they’re all about.” That’s as far as the niceties go. “Of course there’s motivation,” Lakalaka said. “They kicked our butts last year.” He has 17 tackles this season and has registered one quarterback hurry in each of San Diego State’s first four games.

The Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Week is rarely a story around here without a Boise State player being involved. But this week’s honoree, Hawaii’s Australian-born kicker Ryan Meskell, is worth a little storytelling after the Rainbow Warriors’ 44-41 five-overtime win at San Jose State last Saturday. Sometimes even the most veteran of collegiate football players get confused by NCAA overtime rules. Then there’s Meskell.

As UH coach Nick Rolovich tells it to TheAthletic.com (as only he can): “He’d never been through an overtime as the kicker. Taking this Australian kicker and throwing him into a five-overtime game, it’s like throwing me down there with Dundee trying to hunt a crocodile. He doesn’t know what’s going on. The first (overtime), we score a touchdown, and he’s not out there to kick the extra point. I look, and he’s over by the water. He thinks it’s over. He runs in and kicks the extra point. I’m like, ‘It’s overtime, you still need to be ready for field goals and extra points.’ Then he grabs his kickoff tee. I’m like, ‘No, no, there’s no more kickoffs.’ That’s a great experience for that young man.”

Saturday’s Idaho-Idaho State game will be the 40th in the series, although the schools have played only four times since 1995. The Vandals have had a clear upper hand, leading 28-11 and winning the last four in a row. To make it five, quarterback Mason Petrino will have to be on his game. Petrino’s pass efficiency rating has improved to 130.2, about average in that formula. One thing has become evident: the go-to wide receiver for Idaho is Jeff Cotton. The junior from Tuscon has 15 catches this season—and four have gone for touchdowns, second in the Big Sky and 14th nationally in the FCS. Cotton has a TD reception in each of the Vandals’ first four games.

Troy Merritt begins the 2018-19 PGA Tour season with his professional colleagues today at the Safeway Open in Napa, CA. Merritt has had a month to rest up the ailing left arm that underwent emergency blood clot surgery August 3 at Saint Alphonsus. It affected the former Boise State star not only in the PGA Championship, but also in the first two legs of the FedExCup Playoffs—he missed the cut in all three events. Merritt tied for 69th at Silverado a year ago. Anders Albertson, the guy who made an incredible final-round charge to tie for second in (ironically) the Albertsons Boise Open three weeks ago, is tabbed one of the “Top 10 rookies to watch” in the new season at PGATour.com.

It’s hard to keep up with the surging Boise State cross country and women’s soccer programs this season. First, Bronco soccer star Raimee Sherle was named NCAA Division I National Player of the Week after the four goals in two games that pulled her into a tie for the Mountain West career record. Then, the Boise State women’s and men’s cross country teams landed in the top 10 in the country at the same time for the first time in school history. The women are ranked second behind Colorado in the Coaches Poll, and the men are seventh. Also, congratulations to Boise Hawks general manager Bob Flannery, who has been named the Northwest League’s 2018 Executive of the Year. Since 2015, Flannery’s first season as GM, the Hawks report that they have seen a 44 percent increase in total attendance.

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October 4, 2003, 15 years ago today: A record-shattering day for the Boise State in Ruston, LA. Ryan Dinwiddie became the first Bronco ever to throw for over 500 yards in a game, amassing 532 in BSU’s 43-37 win over Louisiana Tech. The senior quarterback was 40-of-60 on the day, on his way to 2003 WAC Offensive Player of the Year honors. Meanwhile, wide receiver Tim Gilligan broke a 30-year-old Bronco standard with 16 receptions. As a team, the Broncos set marks with 569 passing yards overall and 732 in total offense.

(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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