And…Bhonapha is back

When Winston Venable stepped down as Boise State running backs coach last Thursday, many placed the return of Keith Bhonapha in the “wishful thinking” category. But that was the plan all along, as Bhonapha officially signed on with the Broncos on New Year’s Eve. He was in the same position at Boise State for the first five years of the Broncos’ 11-year run of 1,000-yard rushers from 2009-13. Bhonapha’s assignment now is to get Boise State back to the glory days of the running game. The decline between 2019 and 2021 is especially stark: from 167 yards per game to 120, from 27 rushing touchdowns to 15, and the most painful number—from 4.4 yards per carry to just 3.1. Bhonopha will have George Holani and prized recruit Ashton Jeanty to work with, plus somebody from the transfer portal, perhaps?


Venable’s resignation from the Boise State coaching staff came after my final column of the year last Thursday, so I haven’t had a chance to salute him. But Venable was an all-timer as a Bronco. He may have seemed like a fish out of water as running backs coach, and we may never know if that played a part in his stepping down. Venable’s imprint on the two greatest teams in Boise State history in 2009-10 will live on, though. As a linebacker, he’ll forever be remembered for his interception of TCU’s Andy Dalton at the end of the 2010 Fiesta Bowl. And the viral highlight of his career was a hurdle over a Fresno State blocker in 2009 that resulted in a tone-setting sack of quarterback Ryan Colburn in the first quarter at Bulldog Stadium.


Well, things worked out rather well for Central Michigan. After Boise State had to withdraw from the Arizona Bowl, the Sun Bowl came a-callin’, and the Chippewas won it 24-21 over Washington State. The Chippewas were keyed by the nation’s leading rusher, Lew Nichols III, who ran for 120 yards and a touchdown. It would have been interesting to see how the Broncos would have done against Nichols. They had tamed some really good running backs in October and November, including BYU’s Tyler Allgeier, Wyoming’s Xazavian Valladay and San Diego State’s Greg Bell. I think the best job the Broncos did was against Allgeier, holding him to 73 yards and 3.8 yards per carry in the 26-17 win in Provo. For the season, he rushed for 1,130 yards and averaged 7.5 yards per attempt.


Octavius Evans is going to test the NFL waters rather than come back for a sixth year at Boise State. So here’s one way to look at it. Between Evans, Khalil Shakir and CT Thomas (who parted ways with the program in October), the Broncos are going to be without 409 career career catches, 5,204 yards and 36 touchdowns. On the other hand, the team is brimming with depth—and optimism—at that position. Stefan Cobbs will be back and is a good bet to be the feature receiver. Billy Bowens returns, too. Davis Koetter is likely to be invited back as a super-senior, and Latrell Caples is poised for a major breakout. You also have redshirts Eric McAlister and Kaden Dudley waiting in the wings. And don’t forget Borah High’s Austin Bolt, who may yet end up at what would seem to be his natural position.


There must be a Mountain West war room in Colorado Springs right now as conference hoops games are being postponed left and right. According to CBS Sports, there were 112 men’s basketball programs affected by COVID protocols as of Sunday, with 68 of those (including Boise State) currently unable to practice or play. The Broncos men’s game at Wyoming was called off less than a half hour before tipoff Saturday, and Tuesday night’s contest at Utah State is a no-go. The Boise State women were supposed to play in Laramie tonight, but it was COVID concerns within the Pokes program causing that one to be postponed. It’s happening everywhere. So the conference is left to decide how many of these games it can re-schedule, and how to draw up formulas to figure out seeding in the league tournament in March.


Utah State coach Blake Anderson proved himself this season as a deft user of college football’s transfer portal, and he took it up a notch with a commitment from former Wyoming quarterback Levi Williams last Thursday. Will the Aggies-Cowboys game next fall in Laramie be awkward, or what? The blue turf is getting to be familiar territory for Williams. He played on it in Wyoming’s 23-13 loss to Boise State in November—and again in the Cowboys’ 52-38 win over Kent State a couple weeks ago in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Now Williams will be right back in Albertsons Stadium next fall with USU.

It’s hard to keep up with this stuff. Williams isn’t the first player—nor the first quarterback—to transfer in-conference this winter. Hawaii QB Chevan Cordeiro ended up at San Jose State, for example. The Rainbow Warriors have been decimated by the transfer portal amidst allegations of coach Todd Graham mistreating players. Last week UH lost its best defensive player, linebacker Darius Muasau, who has already transferred to UCLA. Muasau led Hawaii with 109 tackles and seven sacks this season. Both Muasau and Cordeiro were co-captains. Then there’s this: Michael Graham, a walk-on who played on five special-team units this season for the Warriors, has entered the transfer portal. He is coach Graham’s son.


To prevent more game postponements due to rising COVID-19 cases, the NHL has returned to taxi squad rules that allow a reserve roster of up to six on-hand players. That has wreaked havoc with hockey’s minor leagues, to the point that 2007 Kelly Cup Champion Jeremy Yablonski came out of retirement after 6½ years to sign with the Idaho Steelheads at the end of last week. Yablonski, now 41, hadn’t skated with the Steelheads in almost eight years, but the team took him to Allen over the weekend, and he was active for Sunday’s game against the Americans (he didn’t register any stats). Amazingly, Yablonski debuted with the Steelies 20 years ago when they were members of the West Coast Hockey League. By the way, the Steelheads were swept in the three-game series at Allen, including a 5-3 loss on Sunday.

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January 3, 2016: In his third game and second start for Dallas, former Boise State star Kellen Moore throws for 435 yards in the Cowboys’ season-ending 34-23 loss to Washington. The yardage was the sixth-most in Dallas franchise history. Only twice in his stellar career as a Bronco did Moore pass for more. He also threw three touchdown passes against two interceptions. After a wait of more than three years, Moore finished his brief inaugural season completing 61-of-104 passes for 779 yards with four TDs and six interceptions. It would turn out to be the final game of his NFL career.

(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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