Colorado State trying to escape mediocre mode

Tomorrow night’s game against Boise State is a pivotal one for Colorado State Mike Bobo, as the pressure is on for him to get out of his 7-6 rut. That’s been the Rams’ record in each of Bobo’s first three seasons, and now they’re 3-4. CSU built a beautiful new on-campus stadium with the intention of taking its program to the next level. But should the Broncos win Saturday, the Rams will have to run the rest of the table to avoid another 7-6. Bobo is working his way back from nerve damage in his feet that found him hospitalized just before the season started. A week ago he called the Rams a “bad football team,” but then they went out and beat New Mexico 20-18 on a walk-off field goal. What he can sell his players on this week: Boise State is 2-1 in Mountain West play, just like CSU.

Jaylon Henderson’s journey from Park High School outside Houston to UTSA to Trinity Valley Community College to Boise State now finds him carrying backup quarterback status for the Broncos, as Chase Cord is out for the year. Although Henderson’s skill set may be comparable to Montell Cozart’s last year, his experience is not. Cozart had the Big 12 on his resume. There’s a difference between that and junior college ball. But Henderson is taking this opportunity to heart. The No. 3 guy now is Riley Smith, whose high school coach from Bartram Trail High in Florida, Darrell Sutherland, was on KTIK’s Idaho SportsTalk yesterday. Sutherland says he thinks Smith is an inch taller now that he’s been in Boise State’s strength-and-conditioning program. Smith is definitely thicker. He’s listed as 6-4, 206 pounds.

As for how Smith is doing thus far as a Bronco? I’ve saved this quote from Sutherland since the summer. “He’s really doing well,” Sutherland said at the time. It was really important to Smith that he take an “advanced placement course” of sorts on the Bronco offense. He didn’t want to wait. “One of the things that is so neat with technology now, is even though he didn’t enroll early, Boise was constantly giving him their installs and video. It was almost like he was there.” Smith came in prepared. Now, can he come in, if necessary, and execute?

Can we call tomorrow night’s game the “Onside Kick Bowl”? That special teams staple has played a big role in the last two matchups between Colorado State and Boise State. Two years ago on the blue turf, the Broncos led the Rams 28-3 late in the fourth quarter (there’s that “28-3” thing again), and CSU scored, converted an onside kick and scored, and converted another onside kick and scored. Boise State finally recovered the third onsider, and the final was a nailbiting 28-23. Last year, of course, the Broncos’ Cedrick Wilson went skyward to snare an onside kick that was perfectly bounced by Joel Velazquez with just over a minute and a half left, and that led to the tying touchdown as Boise State grabbed the stunning 59-52 win in overtime.

It’s a “trap game week” around the Mountain West. The road in the conference can be tricky, and Utah State has to go to Wyoming and Fresno State to New Mexico Saturday. It’s hard to imagine either of the Aggies or Bulldogs stumbling, though. USU could score at will—like it has been against everyone else—versus a Cowboys defense that has underachieved. Fresno State’s defense has been keenly focused under Jeff Tedford and should shut down the Lobos. The Bulldogs are allowing just 13.5 points per game, are forcing almost three turnovers per game, and are holding opponents to an absurd 26 percent on third down.

Here’s your Leighton Vander Esch update. The Dallas rookie is coming up on his fourth NFL start when the Cowboys travel to Washington Sunday. Last week Vander Esch led the team with 11 tackles against Jacksonville on just 48 defensive snaps and now leads Dallas for the season with 51 stops, 31 of them in the past three games. Veteran Sean Lee, whose hamstring injury propelled Vander Esch into the starting lineup, has had to watch from the sidelines. But even Lee has been impressed. “For a rookie to be able to handle as much of the reads and to play as clean as he’s played, it’s not easy,” Lee said. “He’s made it look easy.” Vander Esch has missed only five total defensive snaps in the three games he’s started.

The Idaho Steelheads are dressing up CenturyLink Arena for their 2018-19 home opener tomorrow night against Utah. The Steelheads are 1-1-1 after their inaugural road swing to Wichita and Tulsa last weekend. One Steelie had multiple goals on the trip—Brad McClure tallied in each of the first two games. McClure is an inspired 25-year-old forward from Stratford, Ontario, who is on his first professional contract following four seasons at Minnesota State-Mankato. Definitely a player to watch.

Boise State’s first-ever first-round NBA Draft choice makes his official debut tonight. Chandler Hutchison will be wearing No. 15, but he’ll now be in a Chicago Bulls uniform as the team opens its season at Philadelphia. As the Bulls define Hutchison’s role off the bench, the 22nd overall pick has a good idea of what he wants it to be. “My main focus is I want to defend, rebound and run the floor,” Hutchison told the Chicago Sun-Times recently. “Push ahead. Use my athleticism. Bring it down, be patient but make a play. I feel I can fit in a lot of different situations.” Hutchison averaged 23 minutes in the Bulls’ five preseason games, scoring 4.2 points and pulling down 4.0 rebounds per outing.

As preseason drills continue for Boise State men’s basketball, it’ll be interesting to see what kind of separation Zach Haney has now in the post. Haney, David Wacker and Robin Jorch are suddenly seniors, and Haney appears to be the favorite to maintain the advantage over his teammates he developed last season. The trio began their careers as interchangeable parts—but with unpredictable production. As freshmen, Haney averaged nine minutes per game, Jorch seven, and Wacker 11 before his season ended with an injury. Last season Haney started all 31 games and averaged 23 minutes, Jorch eight and Wacker 6½. The paint is Haney’s spot to lose. I remember talking to his dad last winter—Haney has been targeting his senior season for a long, long time.

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October 18, 1977: One of the epic performances in World Series history, as Reggie Jackson hits three consecutive home runs, all on the first pitch, to lead the New York Yankees past the Los Angeles Dodgers, 8-4. The Game 6 victory gave the Yankees the world championship, their first in 15 years. It was on this night that Jackson, the former Oakland star who had signed with the Yanks as a free agent in the offseason following one year in Baltimore, earned the nickname “Mr. October.”

(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.)